Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 08 Hansard (Thursday, 6 August 2015) . . Page.. 2419 ..
The Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015 proposes defining a specified area called a privacy zone around an approved medical facility within which protests and other public displays regarding abortion will be prohibited. The bill aims to prevent certain actions within a defined area and defined times around relevant declared medical facilities. These actions may act to increase emotional distress or, in a worst case scenario, discourage a woman from accessing a legal medical procedure. The bill does not seek to engage in debate regarding a woman’s right to access abortion services. Safe and medically supervised abortions were made legal in the ACT many years ago. This bill is about a woman’s right to access those services with privacy and dignity and free from the intimidating conduct of others.
Importantly, this bill seeks to create a completely service-specific protest-free zone meaning that all forms of protest, by any means and from any side of the debate, will be prohibited. The intention of the bill is to ensure that both staff and patients may enter and exit the facility without interference. The limitations, however, only apply to specific subject matter relating to abortion and related health services. The extent of the restriction on people’s right to assemble created by the privacy zone in the bill would be minor as they are site specific and apply only to a small geographic area. This declaration would be made by the responsible minister under criteria that mean the area must be the smallest necessary to allow women to access the health service unimpeded. As I indicated earlier, I have provided a copy of a proposed map as an example of the declaration.
I strongly reject the notion that this bill curtails free speech. I believe the bill is a proportional response to the issue, and the aim is to achieve its outcomes with the most minimal limitations on people’s human rights. The privacy zone declaration will not interfere with a person’s more general right to protest in relation to abortions or make their objections known to others in the community. People will remain free to protest anywhere else they choose across the city or right across the ACT subject to other lawful limitations created by other acts which, of course, put some limitations on the right to protest for a range of reasons.
The ability to keep protesting could occur either through a physical protest—for example, outside the Legislative Assembly—which may be considered more appropriate as the seat of parliament responsible for approving the policy in law, or by otherwise engaging in public debate—for example, by writing letters to newspapers or other publications. Further, the privacy zone would apply only within a defined period to coincide with the opening hours of the facility—that is, 8 am to 5.30 pm. This would allow staff and patients to access the facility in privacy. Of course, if people want to protest outside of those hours, that would be fine under this proposal.
To be honest I would prefer that we did not have to legislate and that people could consider voicing their objections in more appropriate areas, but as that has not been the case to this point, I have prepared what I believe is the most sensible response. In the short time since the Greens released this exposure draft we have received a lot of correspondence. As may be expected, the issue has raised passions and created considerable community debate. But it is fair to say that the majority of comments