Page 3854 - Week 12 - Thursday, 29 October 2015

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Abortion is, of course, legal in the ACT. It is reasonable to expect that those who disagree with that political position should target their activity towards lawmakers, not individual citizens exercising their personal and legal right to access this form of health care. The government supports proportional and reasonable action to affirm the rights of women and therefore will support this bill proposing exclusion zones around abortion clinics in the ACT.

The government will be proposing minor amendments to the bill that seek to improve its workability. Further work in regard to the implementation of the bill is required before it can commence. An approach to enforcement needs to be carefully laid out. A detailed plan, including risk management and communication, needs to be developed to support its implementation. Given this, the government will move a minor technical amendment that will set a commencement date that allows an appropriate time for implementation planning and the necessary preparation to be undertaken.

In addition, Labor government members will also be moving an amendment to provide for a minimum exclusion zone of 50 metres. This would provide a minimum baseline size for the setting of the protected area. The protected area could then still be increased via disallowable instrument, as currently provided for in the bill. However, the amendment provides that the exclusion zone could not be reduced below 50 metres by disallowable instrument.

The government and Mr Rattenbury have both engaged with the ACT Human Rights Commission in the development of this bill, and the bill reflects the feedback from the commission received during that process. It is our view, as it is the commission’s, that the bill appropriately balances the human rights of protestors and the public interest in protecting an individual’s right to access safe and legal health care. The limitations on human rights in this bill are proportionate and justified because they are the least restrictive means available to ensure that Canberrans seeking pregnancy termination services can engage in this legal activity without the potential for intimidation or harassment. Nor does it prohibit protests from occurring elsewhere in the city.

In this respect it is not dissimilar to provisions in other forms of legislation that prohibit demonstrations in particular circumstances, such as in relation to a declaration of major events in our city. It still allows a protest to occur but not in relation to the proximity of particular activities.

This bill supports the government’s goal of working to ensure that all Canberrans enjoy the benefits of living in a community that is safe, inclusive and respectful of human rights, that all Canberrans are able to fully participate in community life and that those who are vulnerable in our community are respected and supported.

This bill has been developed following a good process of community engagement and discussion. It has had that component of human rights consideration and there has also been the opportunity for individual community feedback and discussion on how we approach this difficult and complex issue.

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