Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 2981 ..
MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (11.57): Mr Speaker, I move:
Page 3, line 28, subclause (1), omit "Imprisonment for 5 years", substitute "50 penalty units".
This is amendment No. 7 circulated in my name, the penalties amendment. I propose that we omit "Imprisonment for 5 years" and substitute "50 penalty units", in other words $5,000, a penalty unit being $100. The reason for this amendment is that penalties ought to be set as penalties for procedure infringements, not as penalties for criminal behaviour. After all, this is health regulation legislation; it is not criminal law. Therefore, we must make sure that the penalty is appropriate. The notion of five years' imprisonment for breaching a health regulation is way over the top.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (11.58): Mr Speaker, in clause 5, subclause (1) refers to a person who is not a medical practitioner and subclause (2) refers to a person performing an abortion except in an approved facility. What kind of approach are we trying to identify? What kind of activity are we trying to outlaw or stigmatise with this particular provision? The best description I can use in respect of that kind of activity is that of a backyard abortionist, a person who conducts an abortion outside an approved facility when he or she is not a medical practitioner.
I do not know about other members of this place, but I think that backyard abortionists deserve at least five years' imprisonment. I think that people conducting activities in that unsafe way without proper qualifications pose a huge risk to the safety of the women concerned, and their activities should not be condoned in the slightest way by the lowering of the penalty that we impose in an area such as this. Mr Speaker, the penalty was chosen not especially because of a desire just to pluck a figure out of the air and put it in there but as the kind of penalty you might find in other provisions for an offence of similar gravity.
Why should a person without qualifications who conducts abortions in an unsafe or unapproved place be able to avoid the most serious penalties that the law can provide? Why should that person not receive a penalty of imprisonment for five years? Obviously, they will not get the maximum. Obviously, for a first offence someone would get something much more like six months or even less. I think it is quite appropriate to attach a severe penalty to this provision. We are talking about something which is extremely serious. I would be very surprised if any member of this place felt that we should send a signal that a $5,000 maximum fine for these sorts of activities is not all that bad. That is only for the most severe cases of repeat offenders. More likely, a person on a first offence would get a $500 fine for conducting a backyard abortion. That does not seem to me to be appropriate at all, Mr Speaker. I think the penalty provided in the Bill is appropriate.