Safe Access Zones

Safe Access Zones

(Bills - Second Reading Debate, 7 June 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018 is a vital reform that will ensure women can safely access the health care they need at reproductive health clinics without harassment, intimidation or obstruction. As the member for Londonderry said, today should be a proud day for the New South Wales Parliament. We are always at our best when we work together, across party lines, to support vulnerable people and create a safe environment for our constituents. This is what this bill achieves.

The Minister for Multiculturalism, and Minister for Disability Services, the member for Castle Hill, said it was his mother who instilled in him the importance of a woman's right to choose. For me, it was my grandmother Jacqui, who shared with me when I was 10 years old that she had written to the then President of the United States of America—she was American—George Bush. She told him that he had no right to tell a woman what she should do with her body.

She instilled that value in me, and it is because of that value that I am proudly pro-choice and a proud supporter of this bill. Reproductive health clinics that provide abortion services have become a target of activists who try to hinder, harass, moralise, intimidate and distress women and staff. They are not "counsellors". As the member for Maitland said during her contribution to the debate, a counsellor is a qualified professional. Counsellors have offices; they do not operate on the street. They are not counsellors and they are not providing useful information that could help women; they are harassing women. Women can get the information they need about their treatment from their treating doctor; not from strangers who know nothing about their situation.

The reproductive clinic in Surry Hills neighbours on my electorate and I hear from many constituents living adjacent to it about the offensive conduct of protesters. Parents with children have told me they have to take detours to take their children to child care or school to protect them from the distressing, offensive and gruesome images on posters and pamphlets. There are many reasons for attending a reproductive health clinic, abortion being just one. Clinics also provide contraceptive advice and administration, sexually transmitted infection checks and curettage procedures, to name a few. Whatever the reason for attending, including if it is for an abortion, it is a personal, private health matter that has nothing to do with anyone else.

The argument that this bill breaches free speech principles has no weight. Safe access zones cover only 150 metres around reproductive clinics that provide abortion services, which does not prevent people who oppose abortion from speaking out and handing out flyers in any other public place. The member for Baulkham Hills talked about the importance of political freedom and how people's political views should not be infringed upon in Australia. On election day, we have rules that create a zone around polling booths where people cannot canvas. We do not consider that a breach of free speech, and I do not consider the bill to be a breach of free speech either. Furthermore, constituents who have regularly contacted my office during the six years that I have been a member of Parliament and who have seen the conduct of protesters at reproductive clinics tell me that their behaviour could hardly be considered to be making political comment. What they are doing is interfering with women's attendance for medical treatment. Women have the right to determine the treatment they need and to access it safely.

I find the libertarian argument against this bill puzzling. It comes from some who believe in government so small that it fits into a woman's body. I believe in government that respects people's right to get the medical attention they need without interference from those wishing to impose their beliefs aggressively on those seeking medical attention. The bill is important and I encourage members to ensure that is passes so that women can access the treatment they need free from harassment. Along with many previous speakers, I commend the Hon. Penny Sharpe, the Hon. Trevor Khan, the member for Port Macquarie and the member for Maitland for working together to introduce this bill. It shows that this topic transcends politics.

Anyone who has worked on legislation with the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Hon. Trevor Khan knows the rigorous and robust process they follow, including looking at best practice in other jurisdictions, to ensure the best outcome. They have achieved that with this bill and calls for an inquiry are simply tactics to delay the bill. Let us make today a proud day for this Parliament and pass the bill without hostile amendments and make life less tough for women seeking access to health care.


To read the speeches of other Members on the subject, click HERE

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!