Page 2726 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 26 September 2007

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message, and the Australian Medical Association agrees with us. I know it is discomfiting for the Attorney-General. He does not like to hear it, but that is the case. The Liberal Party in the ACT draws the line at the cost of bringing up a child because that places some value on the child, which we hold to be wrong.

In claiming that I have drawn an artificial line between a healthy and a disabled child, the Attorney-General has missed the point. The point is not that a healthy child is a blessing to a parent and a disabled child is a curse, which is essentially what he said before; far from it. He does not understand the basic laws of tort which he is supposed to uphold. The point is that a child, sick or well, wanted or not, is a human being. A disability as a result of medical negligence is a harm to that child and, indirectly, to the parents. That harm to that child and indirectly to the parents is something which is compensable. It has always been compensable, and nothing about this legislation will change that. Thus, it is not a case of a disabled child being a harm; rather, the child is a child, and the disability it suffers is the harm.

Today, the Stanhope government had a chance to stand up for children, to stand up for their rights and to ensure that they were not treated like chattels. Today, it had a chance to send a message—if we are talking about messages—to the community. It had a big chance to send the message that it would uphold the rights of the child that it set out in its own bill of rights. But the message that the Stanhope government is sending out from this debate today is that it is the most extreme Labor government of all extreme Labor governments in this country; that it will not support the right of the child to be treated as a human being, a sentient being, and not, as Mr Justice Hayne described in Cattanach v Melchior, as a commodity such as an antique car, a new dress or something that could possibly be appraised, like a partially paid out mortgage. We are talking about children, and the Stanhope government does not like it. It is sending a message to the people of Canberra that, despite the high level of outrage about the case before the Supreme Court at the moment, despite a groundswell of outrage at that, it will not draw a line in the sand and say that this will never happen again in our jurisdiction; that never again will a child born in Canberra be treated like a commodity. The Stanhope government has said that it does not care.

Mr Corbell: An absurd, emotional argument.

MRS DUNNE: The message, despite Mr Corbell’s interjections, is loud and clear. For them, children are mere chattels. They have left it to the activism of the courts to decide one way or the other. As Mr Seselja rightly said—and what Mr Seselja said reinforced the views expressed by Mr Justice Kirby—it is the job of the legislature to take the lead in these things. The justices in Cattanach v Melchior bemoaned the fact that there was no precedent and that there was no direction. We seek to give direction. We seek to reassure people and children in the ACT that children are not chattels. The message from the Stanhope government is that they do not care about children, and they do not care about the public clamour for a change to this law.

Question put:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

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