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Thursday, 13 September 1973
Page: 945

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - I move- (1) That in the opinion of this House, a Federal Judge should be appointed as sole Commissioner In accordance with the provisions of the Royal Commissions Act to inquire into the social, educational and legal aspects of sexual relationships with particular emphasis on the concepts of responsible sexuality, responsible parenthood and family life, such inquiry to investigate and evaluate the following matters in Australia and comparable countries and make recommendations for areas within the jurisdiction of the laws of the Australian Parliament:

(a)   The extent and effectiveness of existing sex education programs in providing a sound basis in the fundamentals of sexuality and as a prerequisite for the understanding of reproductive potential and voluntary fertility control;

(b)   the extent and adequacy of existing birth control studies in medical schools as a means of providing comprehensive medical training in contraceptive techniques and encouraging acceptance by the medical profession of its responsibilities in the field of contraceptive counselling;

(c)   the provision, adequacy and effectiveness of existing fertility control facilities, such as family planning clinics; educational and motivational information on fertility control; and methods of evaluation of all contraceptive techniques;

(d)   in the event of failed contraception and consequent unplanned, unwanted pregnancies, the social, psychological and medical results of termination and failure to terminate such pregnancies, and adequacy and effectiveness of existing medico-legal determinations in relation to termination of pregnancy, including the incidence of such terminations, the factors influencing their occurrence, the adequacy of medical training in, and evaluation of methods of termination and the consultative rights of the family and other parties to the pregnancy, and

(e)   the provision, adequacy and viability of pregnancy support services, adoption services, counselling and other forms of assistance for families, mothers and mothers-to-be, given the social, economic, medical and social welfare problems in which they may find themselves involved.

(2)   That all matters relevant to these problems be investigated with regard to the sanctity and preservation of life, and to enabling the maximum number of persons to act according to their own religious, social and moral convictions.

Sexual ignorance, sexual irresponsibility and sexual exploitation are imposing a heavy burden upon our community in both economic and human terms. Two-thirds of pregnancies which occur in this country are unplanned and a third of them are terminated by abortion. One child in every 5 is conceived out of wedlock and each week up to 1,000 children are subjected to cruelty of a criminal kind. Our failure to come to grips as a community with our sexual behaviour and its consequences is reflected in the fact that between 1963 and 1972 the incidence of births occurring out of wedlock rose from 5.71 per 100 to 9.68 per 100. This situation is reflected in articles currently being contributed to a Victorian newspaper by a former senior member of the Victoria Police Force who was imprisoned along with 2 of his colleagues for a criminal association with backyard abortionists.

It is reflected in human tragedies such as that of the father who plunged the feet of his 9-month-old baby into boiling water; the mother who murdered her 3-year-old child by beating him, sitting on him, and finally putting him in an electric oven; and the couple who pulled out by the roots the fingernails of their 5-year-old child. We are faced by a rising tide of human misery for which our present social welfare, health and law enforcement agencies can provide no remedy. The extent to which we can overcome these problems will be the measure of our maturity as a nation and our elevation of reason and common sense over ignorance, superstition, prejudice and fear. Honourable members made it clear earlier this year that they were appalled by the incidence of abortion in our community. We should be no less appalled by the social, economic, medical and social wefare problems which make of pregnancy not a human joy but an economic disaster for many families, mothers and mother-to-be and by the shortcomings in sex education and family planning services of which abortion is but one sympton. We should be no less appalled by the frequency with which unplanned pregnancies and unwanted births occur, by the disproportionate share of this burden which falls on those sections of the community which are least able to carry it and by its tragic consequences for many an unwelcome child.

I make clear the position by reference to statistics drawn from official publications and from academic studies and surveys. Whereas 87 per cent of married couples of childbearing age practise family planning, only 40 per cent rely for protection upon effective techniques such as oral contraception or the use of an intra-uterine device. Among that great majority of couples who constantly run the risk of an unplanned pregnancy, 1 per cent rely for protection upon douching, which has a failure rate of 31 per cent; 2 per cent upon spermicides, which have a failure rate of 20 per cent; 5 per cent upon diaphragms, which have a failure rate of 12 per cent; 9 per cent upon condoms, which have a failure rate of 14 per cent; 14 per cent upon the ovulation method, which has a failure rate of 24 per cent and 19 per cent upon withdrawal, which has a failure rate of 18 per cent.

Whereas among couples from professional, managerial and white collar backgrounds 37 per cent rely for protection upon oral contraceptives and intra-uterine devices and only 2 per cent for protection upon withdrawal, among couples from unskilled backgrounds 36 per cent rely for protection upon withdrawal and only 15 per cent rely upon oral contraceptives and intra-uterine devices. Whereas in South Australia in 1971, of the women who were aborted 43 per cent had never used any form of contraception and a further 34 per cent were not doing so on the occasion when they became pregnant, 74 per cent of the women who were aged under 20 had never used any form of contraception and a further 16 per cent were not doing so on the occasion when they became pregnant. These figures explain the fact that although unplanned pregnancies are much too prevalent in all sections of our community, they are most prevalent among the poor and the young. Whereas 5 out of every 10 Australian children are born as a result of unplanned pregnancies, among low income families 6 out of every 10 children are unplanned. Whereas only 11 per cent of the mothers of 2-child families would rather not have had their last-born child, 28 per cent of the mothers of 3-child families, 41 per cent of the mothers of 4-child families and 45 per cent of the mothers of 5-child families would rather not have done so. Whereas one in every 10 Australian children is born outside marriage, among women under the age of 21 one birth in every 3 occurs outside marriage and among Women aged under 21 years 2 out of every 3 children are born less than 9 months after marriage.

The 'Medical Journal of Australia' on 3 February this year pointed out that:

The vast majority of young girls seeking an abortion had sexual relations for some months at least before conception occurred. Some had tried to obtain help but had been refused by the medical profession. Others had not sought advice because they did not know to whom they should go for assistance.

We should all acknowledge that the situation with which we find ourselves confronted is one of appalling ignorance and irresponsibility on the part of a great number of couples, compounded by an equal, if not greater, irresponsibility on the part of the society to which we all belong. We should acknowledge that by failing as a society to make proper arrangements for matters such as sex education and family planning, we have allowed ignorance and irresponsibility to make rich men of many abortionists, parents of many couples who have neither the inclination nor the temperament for parenthood and battered babies of many children of whom it can be said quite literally that they would have been better off if they had never been born. In the 'Medical Journal' of 20 March 1971 Dr Bishop wrote:

The number of children at risk appears to be increasing - increasing to the point where it would appear that their plight and number constitute the largest single public health problem awaiting solution.

The Medical Superintendent of Brisbane's Mater Children's Hospital was quoted in the Sunday Mail' of 20 June 1971 as saying:

Most of these cases are terribly tragic - some of the babies are treated just like animals. Children, beaten by a parent in a fit of wild rage, come in with broken bones, and skulls, and covered in bruises. We know for certain that about 6 baby patients admitted here every year are victims of beatings, but there are undoubtedly 3 or 4 times this number who we suspect have been maltreated by their parents.

Only last Saturday the 'Medical Journal of Australia' listed battered babies, emotional and physical diseases in children, juvenile delinquency, marital upsets, divorce and depressive illness as aspects of what is called the enormous social and medical problems associated with unplanned children'. The 'Medical Journal' concluded its leading article with the words:

Let us hope that Australia wakes up to their own problems of [population control and tackles them honestly and effectively.

It is in the same hope that I move today for an inquiry into the social, educational and legal aspects of sexual relationships with particular emphasis on the concept of responsible sexuality, responsible parenthood and family life. Judicial inquiries, like royal commissions, are a means of obtaining information which would otherwise be unavailable, of drawing to public attention facts which would otherwise be neglected and of reconciling points of view which would otherwise remain opposed.

I move for an inquiry in the conviction that by reasoning together we can come to agree upon ways of developing responsible patterns of sexual behaviour in our community. I move for an inquiry so that individual Australians, voluntary agencies, local government, the States and the Australian Government can each give their views on what is to be done and each indicate the part they are prepared to play. We do not have to settle for arrangements under which the responsibility for sex education, which parents increasingly fail to discharge on an adequate basis, is left instead to secondary school biology teachers who treat it in so perfunctory a fashion that the average mark out of 7 for the human reproduction question on last year's Victorian Higher School Certificate biology paper was 2.3. The chief examiner commented that it was the worst answered question on the paper. Nor should we suppose that the need for sex education would be met even by teaching excellently the anatomy and physiology of reproduction as they are set out in the average biology course. Earlier this year, the Director-General of Education in New South Wales, Mr Buggie, was quoted as saying:

There is a need to remove sex education from the secretive, distorted and often bewildered processes of the peer group, from the unhealthy distortions of commercialised sex and from the over-simplified approach which can dangerously isolate sex education from the full development of personality and responsibility.

The South Australian Director-General. Mr Jones, said:

The whole Swedish sex education program is based on the respect and respectability of one human being for another, and I would like to see our sex education develop that attitude.

Despite these enlightened statements on the part of senior spokesmen for State education systems, Australia remains in matters of sex education among the most backward nations in the developed world. The Australian Science Education Project has never recovered from the insistence of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), when he was the Minister for Education and Science, that as far as sex is concerned the role of schools is . not to teach but to preach. The Australian Science Education Project was associated in its first and second trials with a special teacher education course, but that course has now been dropped.

Recently in Sweden, where sex education has been taught for 20 years and taught throughout the school system as an obligatory subject for 10 years, I talked to a distinguished family psychologist and sociologist, Mrs Birgitta Linner. I was warned by Mrs Linner that if we did not prepare our teachers for sex education their inhibitions might make their guidance worse than no guidance at all. How we are to train the teachers, prepare the courses and manufacture the sort of teaching materials for which Sweden has earned a worldwide reputation are all matters in which I would hope to see a judicial inquiry take an interest under its first term of reference. Another function of the inquiry in respect of this reference would be to foster a nationwide concensus on the need for sex education of the kind which can respond with sensitivity to what has been described by one sociologist as:

The desperate yearning of the young for acceptance and identity, the need to be meaningful to someone else even for a moment without implication of a pledge of undying fealty and foreverness

We do not have to settle for arrangements under which the responsibility for family planning services falls almost exclusively upon community organisations which until this year have been denied Australian Government support. On 30 May this year the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) listed for me no fewer than 1 1 aspects of family planning over which approaches had been made repeatedly to the Australian Government. I seek leave to have that list incorporated in Hansard.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)

"Mr Mathews asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:

(1)   What approaches on family planning have been made to the Government in each of the last 5 years.

Dr Everingham - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   The approaches made to the Government on family planning and the years in which they were made are listed below:

(i)   requests to exempt contraceptives from sales tax- 1968 to 1973 inclusive;

(ii)   requests to allow gifts to family planning associations as income tax deductions - 1968 to 1973 inclusive;

(iii)   requests for financial assistance - 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973;

(iv)   requests to reduce the cost of the contraceptive pill, for example, by listing it as a pharmaceutical benefit- 1971, >1972, 1973;

(v)   requests to remove legal restrictions ora the advertising of contraceptives - '1971, 1973;

(vi)   requests for information on Government involvement in family planning - 1970, 1972;

(vii)   requests for a Government initiative in the provision of family planning services - 1969, J972;

(viii)   invitations to attend or send observers to conferences on family planning - 1970, 1971;

(ix)   request to evaluate family planning services - 1972;

(x)   request to participate in a family planning education project - 1972; and

(xi)   request that the Government ensure that the effectiveness of contraceptives is recorded on the packet - 1973.

Mr MATHEWS - On 17 August the Minister told me in reply to a question on notice about the response of the former Government to these approaches:

Where direct financial commitment by the previous Government was concerned, my understanding is that the granting of $10,000 to the Family Planning. Association of Australia in 1972 to assist in sponsoring the First Medical and 'Scientific Congress of the International Planned Parenthood Federation was its only response.

Since the present Government came into office on 2 December it has provided grants of $225,000 for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, $125,000 for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, $200,000 for the Family Planning Association of Australia and $100,000 for the National Catholic Welfare Committee of Australia which will be repeated as an annual commitment. It has lifted sales tax from contraceptives, made oral contraceptives available as a pharmaceutical benefit and removed restrictions on the advertising and marketing of contraceptives and family planning services in the territories under its control.

What we need now is a national approach to the provision of family planning along the lines which were being developed in Britain by the public servants and officers of the Family Planning Association with whom I talked 2 months ago. Faced with legitimate criticism of some of the consequences of the 1967 Abortion Act, the British Government has responded not by repealing or amending that Act but by setting up a committee of inquiry under Mrs Justice Lane to report upon those aspects of administration over which abuses have arisen and by upgrading family planning services in order to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies. The Secretary of State for Social Services, Sir Keith Joseph, outlined the expansion of family planning services to the House of Commons on 12 December last year in a very brief statement which I ask leave to have incorporated in Hansard.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -


3.   1 Statement to the House of Commons (12 December 1972) by the Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph):

My Right Hon. Friends, the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland and I have carried out a comprehensive review of the provision for family planning services within the National Health Service. We have concluded that a substantial expansion is needed if the numbers of unwanted pregnancies are to be reduced". With modern contraceptive methods available there should be fewer abortions and much less of the unhappiness and ill-health which results from unplanned pregnancies.

There are three areas in which we need to improve our family planning services - advice, education, and free supplies for .those who need them.

First my right hon. Friends and I propose to expand the family planning advice services, which from April 1974 will all be the responsibility of the new National Health Service authorities so that a comprehensive service of advice is readily available free of charge to all who wish to have it. There will be more clinics, more easily accessible, giving free advice on contraceptive methods, and the domiciliary services will be further expanded to enable all who wish and need advice in their home to receive it. More emphasis will be placed on the offering of advice and where appropriate treatment, to patients in hospital, particularly maternity and abortion patients.

Many people will prefer to consult their general practitioners. At present they receive full advice and services under 'the National Health Service only where there is a medical need for contraception. I therefore propose to enter into discussions with the medical and pharmaceutical professions to see whether satisfactory arrangements can be agreed with them under which the fees which general practitioners may at present charge National Health Service patients who have no health reasons for avoiding pregnancy, for the work of prescribing the pill Or the fitting of an appliance, can be replaced by appropriate remuneration from official sources.

Secondly it is clear that we still need to do more to inform the public about the services available and to encourage them to use them. I intend to make extra funds available to the Health Educa tion Council for this purpose and am providing money for special training courses for professional workers.

Finally, my right hon. Friends and I have concluded that there should be free contraceptive supplies for those who have a special social need and who would otherwise be unlikely to undertake effective contraception and also for those with a financial need. We also propose a new category for automatic exemption from charges for family planning supplies, that is women who have had a baby or an abortion within the previous .twelve months. Apart from these, people with a medical need will pay, no more than the standard prescription charge. Others will pay the full cost of their supplies.

I believe these new arrangements will be generally welcomed. They will be implemented as soon as possible. Their cost will depend on the use which the public makes of the new services. We expect that in response to this demand the total cost for England, Wales and Scotland will build up to about £12m per year over the next four years compared with current annual expenditure of about £4m. This represents total additional expenditure of £20 million over the four year period".

Mr MATHEWS - On one hand the Secretary's statement proposed that family planning consultation and advice should be provided without charge for everybody who chooses to take advantage of them, that general practitioners should be encouraged to undertake more family planning work and that hospitals should offer more family planning advice. The upshot of this decision is that every municipality in Britain before long will be offering its own family planning services in cooperation with the Family Planning Association. On the other hand the statement proposed that charges should be made for the supply of contraceptives to all but a limited number of impoverished or medically at risk women. I hope that in this last matter a judicial inquiry might accept the view of the House of Lords which twice passed by overwhelming majorities amendments calling for the supply, of. contraceptives without charge.

I hope to see a judicial inquiry take: note of the experience Of the city of Aberdeen where family planning services were taken oyer by local government from a voluntary agency in 1946, expanded greatly in the early 1960s and reorganised in 1967 so that advice and contraceptives could be provided without charge. A recent report notes that in Aberdeen the benefits of free and energetic family planning 'have included notable reductions in the birth rate, the fertility rate, high risk maternities, illegitimate birth rate and unwanted pregnancies, while Aberdeen has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world'. The only reason we have tolerated our present inadequate family planning services so long is that we have been ignorant as a community of the great advantages conferred by services of a higher standard upon cities such as Aberdeen. An inquiry is needed not only to sweep away that ignorance but also to test the assumptions upon which our present attitudes to family planning are based and to open our eyes to the process of innovation which is going on in countries comparable with our own.

Medical research workers to whom I talked in Sweden expressed new doubts about the ovulation method of contraception arising from new evidence that there are circumstances in which ovulation is triggered outside its normal place in the menstrual cycle. Research workers in Copenhagen told me that field trials of a once-a-month contraceptive, which is administered nasally, have been completed in Prague. At the London offices of the International Planned Parenthood Federation - which, as I have already mentioned, is supported by the Government - I was shown minute springloaded clips which hold out for women who might otherwise have had to undergo surgical sterilisation, the option of a reliable, readily reversible occlusion of the fallopian tubes. These are all developments relevant to the problems with which Australian couples find themselves confronted. They are all matters with which the sort of inquiry for which I am moving would necessarily be concerned. This inquiry like the royal commission for which I moved in May is not concerned with abortion in particular but with responsible sexual behaviour, the welfare of children and their parents and the shortcomings in fertility control of which abortion is one aspect. It is an inquiry which gives regard, as I and my seconder emphasise in the final paragraph, both to the sanctity of human life and to enabling as many people as possible to act in accordance with their own religious, social and moral convictions.

Yesterday honourable members received a letter from the National Right to Life Association which concluded with a demand that this motion should be rejected 'either outrightly or by the acceptance by the Parliament of an amendment which would broaden its terms so as to allow for a truly meaningful investigation'. Neither honourable members, the electorates to which they are responsible nor the victims and potential victims of un planned pregnancies within those electorates will be deceived by manoeuvres of this kind. Any amendment which seeks to insert into the terms of reference matters such as housing, child minding facilities, pre-school facilities, domestic assistance for families and working mothers, the social status of women in the community and other assistance to women employed in industry will be seen as an attempt to replace an investigation of specific, pressing and practical problems with an inquiry into the whole human condition. It will be a fraud and it will be seen as a fraud by the people to whom we are all answerable. Equally, an inquiry which omits abortion will be as irrelevant as an inquiry into abortion alone, and will be seen as such.

I was disturbed in May when officers of the National Right to Life Association went behind the backs of many hundreds of their members who were urging me by letter and telegram to record my vote on the Medical Practices Clarification Bill, and suggested instead that I should absent myself from the House. I was disturbed again when, instead of supporting my call for a royal commission to secure action against abortion as I had expected, those officers organised opposition to the commission. I was disturbed and finally disillusioned when I became aware of the true status of the evidence submitted to Mrs Justice Lane's committee of inquiry into the Abortion Act 'by people described in newspaper reports as Drs Arthur and Margaret Wynn, circulated to honourable members by the Right of Life Association and quoted again by the Association in yesterday's letter. (Extension of time granted.) Like other honourable members, I quoted in good faith from the Wynn document on 10 May, but when I raised it recently with responsible and, I think, impartial people in Britain, I found that it was not taken seriously there. I was referred to the House of Commons Hansard for 3 April this year in which the Secretary of State for Social Services, Sir Keith Joseph, is reported as saying - witta what I think is called typical British understatement - in reply to a question:

I have great respect for the 2 authors of the report to which my honourable friend refers, but they are non-medical and there are possible shortcomings in the evidence and conclusions which make it unwise to depend entirely upon them.

I was referred to the May issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine in which the evidence of the Wynn's is utterly demolished by James

Trussell, the visiting Professor of Obstetrics at Nuffield College and, one might note, a medical authority.

We should all learn from this experience something about the wisdom of accepting uncritically overseas evidence even when it is reported in the London 'Times' and sent to us by an organisation aspiring to the stature of the Right to Life Association. The wisdom of a Judge is needed, if for no other reason than to sort out the chaff from the grain. A number of honourable members have expressed the view that the .terms of reference of which I gave notice originally gave insufficent emphasis to responsible parenthood and family life. This view appears to be shared by the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, the Most Rev. Dr T. V. Cahill. My seconder and I have been impressed by these views, and accordingly last night we amended our motion along the lines suggested by the Archbishop and the members concerned. We thank the Archbishop in particular for providing the form of words through which an intention which was always present in our motion has been given additional clarity and emphasis.

In conclusion I ask honourable members not to accept the shadow of an inquiry in place of an inquiry of substance. I ask them not to reject the questions which are relevant in favour of questions which may seem safe. We can procrastinate but the problems we evade today will return tomorrow and look us in the face. An amendment which is too coy to mention sex education and too timid to evoke any aspect of abortion other than its causes is relevant neither to our needs nor to our times.

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