Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 9 Hansard (2 September) . . Page.. 2843 ..
MR BERRY (continuing):
information. It is a doctrinaire approach to abortion that has been adopted by Mr Humphries. That is a great shame. It is something that I think will be remembered for some time; I trust until the next election.
This Assembly has deliberated on this expert panel and rejected it if this regulation is passed today. Mr Speaker, how can we, in good faith, abandon the principles which were enshrined in the legislation passed by this Assembly a while ago? Some of us opposed it, indeed; but why have we not got the guts to come in here and amend the legislation if we do not like the outcome? I cannot understand that. Why are we trying to proceed with a regulation which, on the face of it, is doubtful and might be challenged? Why did we not set out to change the legislation? I just wonder. I am curious. If the expert panel is not up to the job, why do we not ditch it and let Gary Humphries decide what women should see?
Mr Humphries' contribution to the debate was quite an unctuous one. He set out to mislead the community on what he was on about. His construction would mislead nobody because it is very clear that what he wants to do is overturn the expert panel that he appointed. (Extension of time granted) This Assembly will revisit this matter well into the future. I think that we have made some advances in the past in relation to the provision of abortion in the community. Access to abortion in the ACT has been improved and I hope that in future the law will be changed to decriminalise abortion. Something like 1,600 to 1,700 women now have access to that facility in the ACT. If it was not available here, they would go to New South Wales. It has been provided in the ACT. I cannot for the life of me understand how we can possibly abide by a law which says that it is a criminal offence punishable by 10 years in gaol. That just strikes me as quite odd.
Somebody said that abortion is enshrined in the law of the ACT. It is enshrined in the law as a crime. The courts have seen it to be unreasonable and the legislation that we are now trying to add to seeks to override the judiciary. It is a curious turn of events when you take into account the history of the criminal law on abortion. Somebody moaned about my accusation that in many ways there were some parallels with the approach that was taken in the nineteenth century in relation to women. I do not know what they are moaning about. It is quite clear to me that what we are saying is that women shall receive this information whether it is needed or not. We are interfering with the doctor-patient relationship and we are interfering with medical ethics and no-one will thank us for that.
Many of us declare our vote on this issue as a conscience vote, a personal vote and those sorts of things. I hope that members will sit down and think about their approach to this issue on the basis of their conscience. They do not have to be supporters of abortion, but they have to be supporters of reality and they have to be supporters of decent, proper approaches in our legislative process. You cannot support a situation where you tell the community that you will put in place an independent expert panel, sing its praises and then ignore it. I make no apologies for my position that there is no need for an expert panel and there is no need for this law in the first place - it ought to be handled between the doctor and the patient - but this Assembly has made a decision to hand it over to an expert panel and, to our eternal embarrassment, we will be reminded that we have overridden it if this regulation is passed.