Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2015

Written on the 26 November 2015

24 November 2015


Second reading


Georgie CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan)

I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to the debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2015. As other speakers have reminded members in the house, it was not so long ago that we were debating Ms Patten's bill, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access) Bill 2015, which she introduced in August this year. When I spoke on Ms Patten's bill in September, my views were very strong in relation to the ability of women and their families to access legal health services here in Victoria, and my views in relation to this bill remain the same.

As others have stated, there are a number of sections in this bill which will provide for safe access signs around premises at which abortions are provided to protect the safety and wellbeing and to respect the privacy and dignity both of people accessing the services provided at the premises and of employees and other persons accessing the premises in the course of their duties and responsibilities, and to also prohibit publication and distribution of certain recordings. Those two areas are relevant in relation to women and families being able to access services.

In talking about this bill there has been mention of the East Melbourne clinic which was established in 1972. It was the first of its kind, providing services as well as treatment for various health-related issues such as miscarriages, vasectomies, contraception advice and general sexual health services. Women and their families, and in some instances men who are seeking advice on their reproductive health issues, have every right to be able to access this legal health services in Victoria. Whilst I support people and groups being able to express opinions and have the right to protest, I believe that what has been occurring around this particular clinic over many years needs to be addressed and certainly this bill does that. I support the ability of our community members to have free speech, but it is not limited to certain circumstances. We have various laws such as defamation laws that ensure that freedom of speech does not actually harm others in certain regards in relation to what is being said.

As somebody who has also been a health professional and as a former midwife I have spoken about various health issues I am very familiar with issues surrounding women's fertility issues, the issues surrounding abortion and miscarriages and all the reproductive health issues that women often seek treatment for. Certainly the Royal Women's Hospital, which provides a range of services including terminations, is a well-known and well-regarded health service here in this state and in fact within Australia and internationally for providing a high level of service to women. Unfortunately in my 10 years at the Royal Women's I have seen protesters come into the hospital and put signage close to the labour wards in relation to right-to-life issues. It is unfortunate that this issue has been going on for so long. I think women have to be protected in being able to access these services, and I strongly support that.

Previously in my contribution to Ms Patten's bill I spoke about the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights, which had some guiding principles that were certainly areas that I followed closely during my time as a healthcare practitioner. I remind members about the rights the charter refers to, which are:

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.

Certainly anybody who is seeking the services that are provided in an abortion clinic needs those principles to be upheld, and I strongly believe from my past experience as a former nurse and a former midwife that those principles should be adhered to. I do not believe that anybody should be harassed or intimidated or have their rights impinged when accessing a health service.

I want to make mention of some of the issues that have been raised in the Supreme Court case Fertility Control Clinic v. Melbourne City Council conducted earlier this year. Some of the actions of the protesters that the court heard about, I believe, were robust in relation to their information and included approaching women apparently coming to the clinic, imposing their presence even when clearly unwelcome; harassing women entering or leaving the clinic, engaging in arguments with the women and passers-by; attempting to block women's entry to the clinic; blocking the footpath outside the clinic; entering the laneway that runs along the side of the clinic to follow patients or stand and pray, sing and shout outside the clinic's consulting rooms; jostling and striking people passing the area and entering the clinic; making offensive, frightening and misleading statements to patients and staff; engaging in loud singing, praying and shouting, clearly audible in the clinic; intimidating and harassing patients of the clinic, with the effect of deterring patients from attending the clinic; and causing significant injury to the personal comfort of staff members, patients and others. That is what the court heard and they are the actions contained in the findings it handed down.

I realise there have been other instances when there have been altercations between security guards and protesters which have also unfortunately ended in unsatisfactory behaviour in the way those situations have concluded, but if that is what our courts are hearing, if that is the sort of behaviour that one has to be confronted with, I do not think it is acceptable. I strongly believe that women and their families need to be able to access legal health services without the threats, harassment or intimidation that perhaps some people undertake in their belief of what they are trying to express to another individual. They too have a right to express their belief, but not in the manner in which I believe it has taken place over too many years.

As I said at the outset, with Ms Patten's bill I had a strong view at that time, and I still hold that view in relation to this bill.

I will be supporting the government's bill



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