Health Care (Safe Access) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I rise to indicate my support of the bill, and I have a few comments to add. I think the provisions of the bill have been well canvassed. I just place on the record that in 2015, in Victoria, there was an application before the Supreme Court to consider whether the City of Melbourne had an obligation to enforce the nuisance provisions of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act against a group harassing and intimidating people at a clinic that provides reproductive health services, including abortions. The court refused to make that order requiring the council to take specific action but found that the council's advice to the clinic to refer the matter to the police to have it dealt with as a private nuisance was not effective. Clearly, this was the beginning of exposing that there was no real protection for women or the workforce this bill now seeks to protect.

I think there are three areas that have dealt with pregnancy and/or fertilisation in my lifetime that have evoked considerable concern and public division with a passion. One was the early work for in-vitro fertilisation and the advances in science, which were pioneering at the time, creating test-tube babies, as they were described, to enable infertile couples to have children. It was very passionately opposed by members in the community who took the view that this was to supplement a determination by God. In the time of the 1980s, that was an issue of significance, even though perhaps today we see this as a very valuable tool available to couples or parties who are seeking to have children. Nevertheless, it was very hotly contested.

Stem cell research was another one, the use of unrequired frozen embryos, which have a 10-year life in South Australia before they have to be disposed of, and that means thawing them out and flushing them down the drain. There was major debate—again, a passionate contribution from the community—about the use of embryos, destroyed and used for the purpose of scientific research to help people with MS or Parkinson's, for example. These were the types of diseases that were raised. It was very passionate and heartfelt, and I respect that. As a mother, I supported both those reforms. I stand here privileged to have been able to have children without difficulty, but I do understand the plight of those who cannot and the enormous difference that science has made to couples who face that dilemma.

In this area, parliament gets a report every year that tells us there are about 4,000 abortions a year, what age group does it the most and whether they are married or single. This is the information we receive because it is a process, required by our laws, to report to us. I think there are some bigger picture issues that need to be resolved in that area, but that will be for another day.

The South Australian Law Reform Institute has done a body of work that will form the base of similar reforms I propose to introduce to the parliament when we are ready. There is still further stakeholder consultation being considered of amendments they are recommending. All those are being very carefully considered, but this is an area they did say does need to be followed. It has been done in Tasmania and it has been done in Victoria.

I briefly refer to the High Court. There has been reference to the High Court action that confirms the validity of legislation such as this. That is an important endorsement. It is also important that I note for the parliament's benefit that Christopher Brohier, who is a junior I think in the High Court challenge against this legislation, recently went on radio to suggest that this legislation would interfere with the right of private prayer for people who are objecting to this.

I take issue with that. I think the bill does not traverse that. I think it will allow for silent prayer. However, understand this: if there is someone who wishes to go beyond that and display words or images that are likely to bring about fear or anxiety in response by the person who is trying to enter the clinic, then they will be vulnerable to be prosecuted. That is precisely what this bill will do. If they wish to have silent prayer, and they wish to do that in the front area on the roadside within the 150 metres, in my view, and I make this very clear, that is perfectly valid.

I understand there is a foreshadowed amendment to actually cement that, but I do not think it is necessary. I will not oppose it, but we sometimes let things go through just to make them absolutely clear. Similarly, I make the point that this legislation now before the parliament accommodates a number of things that I as Attorney have asked the mover of the bill to incorporate, and she has done so. I appreciate that because they are weaknesses that I think would have made it very difficult to support in its previous form.

Firstly, I think there needs to be a provision for a financial penalty, as distinct from the original five-year imprisonment proposal, and so we are back to what I think is much more appropriate. Secondly, there is wording in this that follows the interstate approved High Court stamp of approval legislation so that we do not fall foul of inadvertent crushing of the right to speak of those who wish to do so.

There is a journalist clause in ours that gives special provision. I know the member for Badcoe has raised this. Again, I do not think it is absolutely necessary, but I am happy to leave it in there because it is very clear that it is not to silence people who have a passionate view about the principal issue of terminations or whatever other procedure becomes controversial. In my experience, they do about every 10 years and they are passionate, but on this issue we want to make clear that they do have a right to have a view and they can publish it. Most these days will do it on social media, but if they want to have the old-fashioned protest they can do it, but it has to be 150 metres away and not cause distress or anxiety for those who are going to use this service.

I remind members that this is not in any way varying or modifying or relaxing or making more strict the law in relation to terminations. It is purely to protect those who are lawfully entitled to seek one for that purpose.