Page 4454 - Week 14 - Tuesday, 22 November 2005

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DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (6.00): First of all, I want to say what I failed to say when I was speaking to Ms MacDonald’s matter of public importance this afternoon, that is, that I support her MPI. I think I forgot to say that and it is important that I have that on the record.

We have been talking today about women—there was Ms MacDonald’s matter of public importance and there was my question about women’s access to home births with midwives whose insurance is covered—and this evening I want to speak about the ban on the drug RU486. People are probably aware that there is a discussion now occurring nationally as a result of the Democrats in the Senate giving the government notice that they will move an amendment to the Therapeutic Goods Act when the government introduces its own amendments to this piece of legislation, which may be as early as next week.

It is very good that this debate is occurring and that the federal government has had to take a stand on the issue, but it is very unfortunate that this debate is shaping up to be, again, one about the rights and wrongs of abortion and therefore there is now a discussion about its being a matter for a conscience vote in the federal parliament. I note that Labor set the tone for that by giving its members a conscience vote a few weeks ago. The Prime Minister is now playing catch-up and signalling that the government may do the same.

I want to emphasise that this is not a debate about abortion, which is and will remain legal in Australia. It is a debate about whether drugs—it is incidental whether they induce early non-surgical abortion or treat cancer—should be evaluated by the health minister or by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. It is really about whether medical evidence or the personal religious views of the health minister should determine whether RU486 is safe and effective and is available to the women of Australia. It should be noted that Australia is one of the few OECD countries where RU486 is not available through a doctor’s prescription to women.

As it stands, RU486 is the only drug that is currently evaluated by the health minister and not by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. We really need the government to take the lead on this issue and support the Democrats’ amendment, which is designed to lift the ban on RU486. Once the ban is lifted, all questions about the drug’s safety and efficacy for city and country women will be turned over to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is actually the only body with the capacity to deliver an impartial ruling based on the medical evidence. As health minister, Tony Abbott has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted to act with the necessary degree of professional impartiality on this or other questions to do with women’s reproductive health.

I wanted to raise this issue here because I am a member of the lobby group Reproductive Choice Australia. I have been a member of the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance for some years and I think it is extremely important that we get the facts of this debate out into the public and also that those people who are concerned about this issue have the

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