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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 2976 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

who was employed, to take a specific case, by Reproductive Healthcare Services would not be able to provide independent advice under this legislation to a woman who came through the door and who was proposing to go to Reproductive Healthcare Services to get her abortion.

I say to members that that is a perfectly logical kind of barrier to inappropriate relationships and inappropriate perceptions of conflict of interest arising. It is an entirely appropriate state of affairs to guard against and a very appropriate reason why there ought to be some prevention of that kind of thing taking place.

Mr Speaker, this has been referred to by some as a provision which closes down the Family Planning Clinic that conducts abortions. That, Mr Speaker, I think is a gross exaggeration. What it does is says that the Family Planning Clinic needs to ensure that a doctor it has within its premises - if it wants to have a doctor within its premises, that is fine - to provide advice to women about an abortion, which is fine as well, should not be employed by Reproductive Healthcare Services Ltd, nor should he or she be engaged in the management of that organisation or a shareholder in or director of that organisation.

That, Mr Speaker, is not an inappropriate thing to ask for. In other settings, in analogous settings, the Assembly would demand at least that much separation between people with a potential conflict of interest. We would demand it in other settings. It should be no different merely because we are talking here about a person seeking an abortion. If we expect information to be provided objectively, then there is no reason why the information cannot be provided by a person who is even located physically within the walls of the Family Planning Clinic. But to expect that the person can be entirely independent and offer impartial advice to a woman when that practitioner, for example, is actually employed by the very clinic which is going to conduct the abortions is inappropriate. It is a leap of faith to expect that in all cases that practitioner will divorce himself or herself from the interest that they have in, or the obligation that they owe to, the abortion clinic when they are providing the advice to the woman who has come through the door.

Mr Speaker, I would say to members: Imagine that we are talking about something entirely different, some different kind of service. Members would not hesitate to say, "Yes, there should be an appropriate separation". It should not be any different merely because we are talking tonight about abortion. That separation should be there. It might be seen merely as a Chinese wall, but at least it preserves some modicum of separation between the person providing the advice and the organisation actually conducting the abortion. That is a fair and appropriate separation.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (11.40): Mr Humphries spoke, I thought, very eloquently about conflict of interest, and I hope that I can speak almost as eloquently about continuity of care. What this amendment that Mr Humphries puts up interferes with is the doctor-patient relationship. This is about continuity of care. Let me give another example, rather than use the one that Mr Humphries gave. Rather than use the Family Planning Clinic, let us move to the hospital. Let us take somebody whom we have all heard speak, Professor Ellwood, who is a world authority on foetal abnormality.

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