Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018

House of origin: Legislative Council

The bill seeks to introduce safe access zones around reproductive health clinics at which abortions are provided in order to protect the safety, wellbeing and privacy of patients and employees. The bill creates new offences relating to the behaviour and actions of persons within a safe access zone, the obstruction of access to health clinics, and the unauthorised recording and distribution of visual data which would identify persons in a safe access zone.

The bill was introduced by Ms Sharpe (Opposition) on Thursday 17 May 2018 when she gave her second reading speech (see Hansard for details). The bill is co-sponsored by Mr Khan (The Nationals).

The second reading debate resumed on 24 May 2018. Before the debate commenced, the President called on visitors in the public in the gallery to remain quiet while watching the debate.  28 members spoke on the bill, Mr Khan being the first speaker on resumption of the debate.

Members in Members supporting the bill spoke of the need for the legislation noting that in their view, existing laws do not adequately protect the safety, dignity and privacy of women, and their partners, who are confronted by “sidewalk counsellors” when attending re-productive health clinics. Members cited letters and emails from constituents detailing the distress and intimidation experienced in these circumstances. In the view of its supporters, the bill strikes the right balance between the right to free speech and protest and the need to protect people accessing health clinics for lawful health services.

Opponents of the bill objected to the restrictions in the bill of the fundamental rights of freedom of political communication, assembly and religious expression. Many members defended the sidewalk counsellors, noting that they are not intending to intimidate or harass, judge or obstruct people but are there to provide information and to talk to and support women before they enter these clinics. Some members also cautioned that the bill was being introduced in haste and that consideration of the bill should be deferred until the outcome of the High Court challenge to the constitutionality of similar Victorian legislation. Members also objected to the bill on grounds including that they believed the penalties to be too severe, the 150 metre area of the access zones to be arbitrary, the suggestion that the construction of the bill was faulty and included ambiguous language and ill-defined provisions.

Mr Mason-Cox moved an amendment to refer the bill to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for inquiry and report. The amendment was defeated, 12 votes to 26, members of the Liberal and National Parties exercising a conscience vote. The second and third readings of the bill were agreed to on the voices and the bill was forwarded to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.

Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms) Bill 2018

(Revd Mr Nile, Christian Democratic Party)

House of Origin: Legislative Council

The bill seeks to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to prohibit discrimination on the ground of a person’s religious beliefs or activities and to prohibit public authorities from subjecting faith-based entities to detrimental treatment on the ground of faith. The bill also amends the Anti-Discrimination Act to provide that the Act does not affect the appointment of persons by faith-based entities, or the discharge of duties by chaplains or other practices of faith-based entities; and that the Act does not affect the conduct by persons who hold the belief that marriage and family are based on the concept of the union between a man and a woman or that a person can only be one of two genders.

The bill also seeks to amend the Education Act 1990 to require that the liberty of parents to ensure religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions is to be respected by the State, and that beliefs or convictions about marriage or gender taught at non-government schools should not prejudice Ministerial decisions about financial assistance to those school.

Revd Mr Nile introduced the bill and gave his second reading speech on Thursday morning (see Hansard for details). On introducing the bill, Revd Nile said that the bill was arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation that he had introduced into the House under the name of the Christian Democratic Party. At the conclusion of Revd Nile’s speech debate was adjourned for five calendar days.

Adjournment debate

The following members spoke to the adjournment debate:

  • Mr Borsak – Greyhound Racing Industry
  • Mr MacDonald – Black Tie and Boots Ball
  • Mrs Houssos – Australian Head of State / National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • Mr Brown – Taxi Industry
  • Mr Colless – Palliative Care
  • Mr Secord – Norco Milk Cooperative
  • Dr Phelps – Australian Head of State
  • Mr Moselmane – Library and Information Week.

See Hansard for details of the debate.