Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access) Bill 2015

Written on the 16 September 2015


2 September 2015

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the private members bill before the house, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access) Bill 2015, which has been introduced to Parliament by Ms Patten. I support the intent of the bill, and I will make some comments in relation to my very strong personal view on Victorians women in this case being able to access Victorian health services. I strongly believe it is the right of all Victorians to be able to access health services, including in this instance clinics that offer terminations of pregnancy or reproductive health services that are legal in this state. Whilst there are a range of views within the community in relation to elements surrounding those two aspects of our healthcare system, they need to be respected. Equally other people's rights and choices also need to be respected.

I acknowledge those who have spoken so far for the respectful manner in which they have put forward their views on this topic. Some have very strong views regarding what they feel to be appropriate or right, and this is a very healthy debate to be had.

The bill mirrors the Tasmanian act, and Victoria is certainly looking to replicate elements of that legislation. Under the Tasmanian act, a protest in relation to terminations that is able to be seen or heard by a person accessing or attempting to access premises at which terminations are provided and that occurs within an access zone is prohibited behaviour. An 'access zone' is simply defined by the Tasmanian act as an area within a radius of 150 metres of a premises at which terminations are provided. Ms Fitzherbert eloquently described in her contribution concerns about some of the minor details, and the 150-metre radius exclusion zone is of concern. However, in relation to the intent of the bill, in general those access zones are to prohibit behaviour that includes besetting, harassing, intimidating, interfering with, threatening, hindering, obstructing or impeding a person; protests in relation to termination that are able to be seen or heard by a person accessing a clinic or footpath; and intentionally recording someone trying to access that facility.

From personal experience, as someone who worked at the Royal Women's Hospital for 10 years and I do not think too many midwives have come through this Parliament during that 10 years I saw women come through the doors at times when they were most vulnerable and when they were in need of support and counselling, but equally they were in need of services that were provided by the hospital. Many of us in Parliament know the Royal Women's Hospital very well. It provides many services to many Victorians and does an extraordinary job, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. As someone who has been involved at the coalface, I can attest to the fact that it is difficult and that emotions run very deep for those people accessing such services. They are worried, pressured, confused and upset. They feel guilty, they feel sad, they feel stressed, they feel depressed and they are grieving.

Nobody can understand that unless they have experienced it, so we have to be very careful here. We are talking about people who are at their most vulnerable, who may be experiencing all those emotions and who, in their eyes, are being harassed or intimidated whilst they are seeking services. Those services might include counselling and let us not forget that those services do include counselling for all options, not just one. That is important to understand. Whilst people have a right to express their views and to protest, I very strongly believe that people also have the right to choose and the right to access those services in a non-intimidating way.

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights has some guiding principles; it is something I am familiar with, having worked in the healthcare system for as long as I did. It represents true beliefs that probably constitute the reason I worked in the public health system as long as I did. I feel that the public health system is there for those of us who are most vulnerable and who are the sickest. I believe that some of these principles and healthcare rights go to what we are talking about here. The charter refers to:

 

Access - a right to access health care.

Safety - a right to receive safe and high-quality health care.

Respect - a right to be shown respect, and to be treated with dignity and consideration.

Communication - a right to be informed about services, treatment, options and costs in a clear and open way.

Participation - a right to be included in decisions and to make choices about your health care.

Privacy - a right to privacy and confidentiality of your personal information.

Comment - a right to comment on your health care, and to have your concerns addressed.

 

As I said, those principles are very important in relation to how we conduct the healthcare services in this country. We in Australia are very fortunate to have such a robust healthcare system; that needs to be acknowledged. I want to go to just a couple of those principles. Firstly, there is respect. As the charter notes:

You have a right to be treated in a way that respects your dignity. Healthcare staff also deserve to be treated with respect and consideration, and without discrimination.

Secondly, there is privacy. The charter states:

Everyone involved in your treatment and care has a professional and legal duty to keep information about you confidential.

These principles relate to the women accessing a service who are being approached by some of those individuals those kerbside counsellors who are offering to give their views and to offer their support. That is fine, but I think people need to respect the privacy and the considerations of individuals who want to access these healthcare services. As others have said, many other people are involved in this. Ms Wooldridge has described how police have spoken to her about the limitations in what they can do to assist such people going about their business.

Others have been involved in the recent court case mentioned by other speakers and I will not go through those details again. Certainly there are barriers in the way of Victorians wanting to access these services. Again, I note that this is about the ability to access a legal service in Victoria. That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about what does or does not happen within those services. It is about the ability to access those services without being inhibited or intimidated. I think the intent of this bill goes to those purposes.

Whilst, as I said at the outset, I have some concerns about some elements of the bill, I note that the government has indicated it will be looking at the bill in more detail in coming weeks to assist in the process and see if some of these issues can be sorted out to ensure we get the bill right. Regardless, the legislation goes to the core principle, which I think is absolutely imperative here, and I am very pleased to be able to rise and speak to the way I really feel about this issue. It is something I strongly believe in, and I am very pleased that our party has given all our members a free vote on this.

I know some of my colleagues do not share my feelings. I completely respect their views and think they have a very important contribution to make to this debate. I think we need to take those contributions on board. I think we all need to listen to everybody's views. As I said, I am very appreciative that our party has given members of the coalition a free vote on this and that I have been able to speak on Ms Patten's bill in relation to what I consider is the right of Victorian women to be able to access these legal health services in Victoria.

 

 


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