Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (8 August) . . Page.. 2532 ..
MR BERRY (continuing):
Our Crimes Act is modelled on the New South Wales Crimes Act, which was in turn based on the United Kingdom's Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Let us now consider how things were in 1861, when this law was put in place in the United Kingdom.
Women in those days were considered the property of their father until that possession was transferred to their husband. Continuing the family line-that is, bearing children-was considered essential. Women did not work outside the home. Women were not allowed to own property until 1870. Women could not become members of parliament in the United Kingdom until 1919, and they did not get the vote until 1928. In Australia we were much more progressive. Women were granted the vote in 1902, but the Crimes Act was passed in 1900.
Things have changed since then, and attitudes that prevailed in 1861 are thankfully a thing of the past. Changes in community attitudes have been recognised through the courts. Rulings by judges have meant that the Crimes Act 1900 has not been enforced, but the crime remains on the statute books.
The other draft bill here repeals the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act 1998. It is a much more recent act, but its impact is equally outdated. It assumes that women are unable to make choices for themselves. That act was put in place after the last election. It seeks to force women considering an abortion to look at pictures of foetuses, among other things. It is a controversial measure that was put in place over the outraged condemnation of many people in the community, particularly women potentially affected by the legislation and health professionals who pointed out the flaws in it. The outrage was fuelled by the concern that this proposal had come before the Assembly without any warning in the election that elected current members of the Assembly.
I do not believe that we can go back to the electorate at the next election without everyone declaring what their policy is on this important issue. We cannot ignore our responsibility as legislators. Ineffective and outdated law is bad law and should be ditched. It is not appropriate to allow laws to be breached. If we believe they are no longer to be enforced, we must do our duty and change them. It is a sign of the weakness inherent in the legislation that the harshness of the law has been ameliorated by the judiciary to reflect community standards. We are, after all, the law makers.
Quite simply, I do not believe that the community would countenance laws which could result in a woman being sent to jail for 10 years because she had an abortion. Nor would they accept that her doctor should suffer the same fate for performing an abortion. Surely a woman faced with the difficulty of such a decision should be granted our support, not threatened with a jail sentence.
Equally, I do not believe that the community accepts that women considering an abortion should be forced to look at pictures of foetuses. Most recognise it for what it is-an attempt to coerce women. Society has moved a long way from 1861, and it is time we brought our laws into line with community attitudes on this issue.