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

I’m pleased to confirm that The Greens will be supporting this bill.

I’ll keep my contribution brief, given the agenda today and given the substantial contributions already made to this debate in the Legislative Council when the Sex Party’s private member’s bill was introduced earlier this year.

I’m very pleased about this bill because Safe Access Zones are the great area of unfinished business in the area of abortion law reform.

Everyone in our community has a right to access lawful health services without interference and in a manner that protects their safety, wellbeing, privacy and dignity.

It follows that when having an abortion was at long last recognised as a lawful health service in 2008, women and staff and others who access abortion clinics should be protected from being harassed and intimidated when they do so.

The Greens of course wanted Safe Access Zones to be included in the Abortion Law Reform Act when it came into the parliament back in 2008.

That was ultimately the approach taken in Tasmania in its 2013 legislation that decriminalised abortion.

I’m particularly pleased to be voting in favour of this bill, because the East Melbourne Fertility Clinic is within my electorate of Melbourne, and it is the conduct of some people outside that clinic that has unfortunately given rise to the need for this legislation.

This bill is a good one, because it protects and balances competing rights in a commonsense, practical and sensitive way.

Women accessing abortion clinics as patients, their support people, staff who work at those clinics, and indeed everyone else who needs to access the clinics for a legitimate purpose will have their right to privacy and freedom of movement protected.

A woman’s decision to have an abortion is an intensely personal one, and in many cases is one of the most significant decisions she will ever make.

On the other hand, this bill also protects the freedom of expression and assembly of those people who want to continue to protest against a woman’s right to have an abortion.

I could not disagree with those people more strongly, but we all recognise the absolutely central importance of the freedoms of expression and assembly – and indeed the right to protest.

This bill will continue to protect the rights of anyone to protest against Victoria’s abortion laws wherever they want – just not within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.

This bill says that within Safe Access Zones, the rights of women and workers to privacy, their freedom of movement and their right to access lawful health services without being harassed must take precedence over the rights of anyone else to protest against abortion.

That is a very sensible balance and The Greens wholeheartedly support it.

Like the Abortion Law Reform Act in 2008, this bill is a triumph of years and years of tremendous effort by many, many people.

The staff of the East Melbourne Clinic have been tremendous, not just for the work they’ve done over many, many years but also for their resilience and determination to get the law reformed.

And on this particular issue, we’ve seen the very best of cross-party negotiation and cooperation.

The Sex Party should be commended for forcing this reform onto the legislative agenda.  The government should be commended for taking on the reform job.  And the opposition should also be commended for the attitude they’ve taken thus far.

I wish the Bill speedy passage through the House.

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