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Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 575

Dr KLUGMAN (Prospect) - I start by reassuring any females who may have been listening to the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) that one does not catch venereal disease only from taking the pill; there are other ways. I was interested to observe that the honourable member for Boothby noticed that the clock had stopped. He apparently takes some interest in the time but is not aware that it is 1973. The proposition put forward by the honourable member for Boothby seemed extremely confused. He trotted out all of the arguments against including oral contraceptives and other contraceptives in the pharmaceutical free list and for removing the sales tax on contraceptives and concluded by saying: 'I support the measure. I wish we had introduced it earlier.' That is certainly an interesting way of arguing. However I do not intend to deal with the arguments of the honourable member for Boothby because they were almost nonexistent.

I shall take only a few minutes in debating this Bill; I will not take up the 20 minutes available to me. This afternoon, interestingly, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), probably in his capacity as shadow Treasurer, spoke on this measure. I was impressed by the new speech writer who had written the first part of his speech because I certainly agree with the general proposition as expressed to that stage, namely, that the question of the abolition of the sales tax and the inclusion of oral contraceptives in the list of items available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme was, of course, a focus of symbolical significance to women. There is no doubt about that even though sometimes, I must admit, as one who supported the abolition of sales tax and so forth, that I was somewhat depressed by reasonably intelligent women arguing the way the previous Government had argued, namely, that many people in the community who became pregnant were unable to take the pill because of the cost I do not accept that argument. The previous Government, of course, did accept that proposition and having accepted it decided not to include the pill on the pharmaceutical list. I find that rather remarkable. 1 draw attention to the costing by the previous Government of the Labor Party's health scheme. This appeared in an answer by Dr Forbes to a question on notice last year. He was talking about the estimated cost of the Labor Party's proposal to make oral contraceptives free as a pharmaceutical benefit. He claimed this would cost between $26m and $3 6m a year. Apparently the estimated cost has now dropped to $5m. To illustrate the main argument used then I quote from the answer of Dr Forbes as follows:

The estimate of the number of women who might use oral contraceptives if they were listed as benefits is based on a total population of women, 18 years to 45 years of age, at 31st December 1970 of 2,346,614.

It is estimated that at present between 700,000 and 725,000 women are using oral contraceptives.

It has been assumed that 50 per cent of women in the 18 to 45 years age group who do not at present use oral contraceptives would use them if they were free and that those at present using them would continue to use them.

On this basis it is estimated that a total of 1,536,000 women would use oral contraceptives if they were free.

This is a remarkable argument. The argument is that there were, according to the previous Government, about 815,000 women who were unable to use oral contraceptives even though they wanted to use them, because they did not have the money for them. The total cost of oral contraceptives, of course, is not exceedingly great. It was, as the Leader of the Opposition put it this afternoon, of symbolic significance only, though, as I said, I was rather depressed that some women seemed really to believe the facts as put by the then Government. The cost to women was somewhere between $1.25 and SI. 50 per month, or approximately 30c to 40c a week. I find it difficult to believe that there were about 815,000 women in Australia who wanted to use the pill and were unable to afford that amount. In fact, when I asked the then Minister in a follow up question the basis of the reasoned estimate, as he described it, given in an earlier answer which enabled him to say that an additional 824,000 Australian women would use oral contraceptives if they were available free as pharmaceutical benefits, the then Minister replied:

The estimate was based on an assessment of information provided ... by the pharmaceutical industry on the number of women using oral contraceptives, statistics on the population of females . . . and Departmental experience related to the listing of new items as benefits and the removal of restrictions on existing benefits.

So the previous Government calculated the number of women who would use oral contraceptives, if they were included in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, on the same basis as it might calculate if aspirin or any other sort of tablet were included on the list Obviously it is a ridiculous method of calculating. I should like briefly to mention one other topic. I want to attack honourable members on this side of the House and on the other side, as well as the people who are not in the House at all, who are rabid supporters of the zero population growth movement. I do not attack them so much on the basis of what they argue. I think one can argue for or against their belief. Rather, I am concerned about the almost hysterical attitude that is developing among them. They now argue - to some extent one can support this sort of argument - that we might change the legislation dealing with abortion on the basis that a woman is entitled to say whether she wants to have babies. I think that is a reasonable argument. I do not accept it completely but at the same time I see it as a reasonable argument oh the part of women that they should have control and should be able to decide whether they are to be mothers, even at a stage when they have conceived. But I do not accept the proposition put up now that anyone who opposes ZPG is in fact attacking women's rights.

I do not think women, or even men, in our society have any more right to tell other women that they should have children than they have to tell them that they should not have children. I strongly objected to the proposition which was current in this country and which certainly was current in places such as pre-war Germany where the state itself encouraged women to have children and where it insisted that it was in the national interest for them to do so. In countries such as Germany women were told that they should have children for the sake of the state. I strongly objected to that proposition. But on the same basis I also object to the proposition that to oppose the principle of ZPG is somehow an attack on the rights of women. This type of thinking comes into exactly the same category as telling women to have children. I think it is purely a personal matter for a woman to decide whether she is to have a child.

I think it is almost impossible to advance any reasonable argument in Australia to support the contention that a woman who has more than 2 children is harming this country. In any case, even if families with more than 2 children were harming this country I think that a woman is perfectly entitled to weigh the pluses and minuses and to come to her own decision. I wanted to raise the point in the House tonight that there are quite reasonable and intelligent people - and I am therefore surprised at their attitude - who will argue that there is some right on the part of the state to tell women not to have children, but will accept the proposition that there is no right on the part of a state to tell women to have children.

I commend the legislation before us to the House, if on no other basis than on the basis that sales tax on oral contraceptives and other contraceptives is a regressive form of taxation and I am therefore opposed to it. I believe that taxation as far as possible should be raised by the progressive method and that people such as the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) should pay more than people who are not so well off. I think that is a proposition which is terribly important. I support the proposition that we remove sales tax on contraceptives, as on most other items in our society.

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