Second reading debate: Assisted reproductive treatment amendment (consent) Bill 2019

Ms BRITNELL (South-West Coast) (12:43): I rise today to speak on the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment (Consent) Bill 2019. The intention of this bill is to amend the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 so that a woman who is married and separated from her spouse does not need the consent of her spouse to access assisted reproductive treatment using donor sperm. It will also make consequential amendments to the Status of Children Act 1974 so that the presumptions of parentage in the act operate consistently with the amendments to the ART act.

On face value obviously this is something that is pretty easy to agree with. In this day and age with the progressive nature of how we operate as families—respect for all is the basis of that—it seems absurd that a single woman can make a decision on her own to use donor sperm to fall pregnant or attempt to fall pregnant through ART services and that a woman who is in a de facto relationship that breaks down can automatically then continue with assisted reproductive treatments without any consent from her previous de facto spouse and yet a woman in a legal marriage, if separated from her spouse, does not have the right to have treatments because she is still married although separated. That discriminatory element obviously does need to be changed.

This has all come from a situation that went to court in September 2018 where the Federal Court realised that by law a woman was not able to continue with assisted reproduction treatment while she was still married unless she had consent from her spouse. Let us be clear: it was not consent from her spouse so she could use his sperm, it was about donor sperm.

However, this does raise some questions around clarity and the complications that can arise from lack of definition. We found that the word ‘separation’ does not have a clear definition. We know we have 25 centres in Victoria that are helping couples or women with assisted reproductive treatment, and it quite surprised me to find out that the government did not consult with these specialists. No-one knows the lay of the land in the area that they work in better than the people who work in that area. So it did surprise me that people from the organisations that do this wrote to the opposition concerned about the fact that they have been left out of the consultation process.

Whilst there is no way that we would not agree that a woman needs to have the respect of being able to make decisions about her future and whilst we are supporting the bill, we are asking the minister in the other place to actually take the time to go and talk to the community. We know Labor have a long history of not consulting, and that seems to be getting bigger and bigger in their agenda. We saw that in the last sitting weeks of Parliament, when we had two bills introduced and rushed through, with no time to consult on or debate them, which is not the normal process.

We have now got in the upper house being debated as we speak the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2019. Many of us have major concerns about the future of volunteering within the CFA because of the treatment of the volunteers, and an example of that is the lack of consultation. So please do not continue to repeat that behaviour. The whole legislative process is based on respect and on us being representatives of our communities and going and speaking to the people who need to be consulted with.

There are seven weeks until we meet again in this place. Obviously we want to move forward with this because people who are themselves time constrained want to have that right and freedom to move on with their life of trying to create a life that will give them the joy that all of us who are fortunate enough to be parents understand implicitly.

I also find it quite concerning that Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has also written to the minister, and if those two things do not raise some level of concern, just a little bit less arrogance than what we are seeing at the moment would be the way to approach this. Hopefully the Premier can see that this arrogance is not appropriate.

I also find it interesting that the other side are pontificating about respect for women and equality for women while we have a situation where we have a union boss, John Setka, being allowed to continue—

Ms Thomas: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member on her feet has already strayed from the bill in talking about completely unrelated matters to do with the CFA. Now she is talking about a construction union. I ask that you bring her back to speaking about the bill. It is a very important bill, and for her to stray off, as only the second speaker, just goes to show how little they have to say on this important issue.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): Order! I would ask the member to refer back to the bill.

Ms BRITNELL: Certainly. What I am talking about is respect for women and the fact that this bill is highlighting that we need to have the ability to be equal and respected as women in our decisions. So it is really difficult for me to talk about the bill and not think about the fact that here we have the Labor Party saying one thing and doing another, allowing someone like John Setka to continue in his role when he has obviously got no respect for women.

Ms Halfpenny: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, this is such an important issue: IVF treatment for women and their rights and their ability to make decisions. To then start talking about this other stuff—think about the women that really need this legislation—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): What is your point of order?

Ms Halfpenny: The point of order is relevance—the member is being irrelevant.

Ms Staley: On the point of order, Acting Speaker, the member for Macedon in her contribution made reference to other parties’ positions on women’s capacity to participate and their views on reproductive rights. She talked about reproductive rights being under attack. It was very much about the broader scope of women’s capacity to participate, so I would ask you to not uphold the point of order.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): Thank you, member for Ripon. I was not here for all of the member for Macedon’s speech; apologies for that. I also have no idea, because I have just come into this, as to how wideranging the discussion of this bill has been so far. I would ask the member to refer to the bill in her speech.

Ms BRITNELL: I am more than happy to and feel that that is really important—that we talk about the respect for women, the choices we have to make and our ability to stand up and be supported by other women and by men, because it is about equality of women and men. We had to have the Leader of the Opposition at the federal level call out the poor behaviour of someone who you continue to support, and the Premier has not—

Ms Green: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, this member is clearly not interested in the bill. Her comments have been totally irrelevant. I would have thought as a former nurse and with the women in her community wanting to get access to reproductive—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): Member for Yan Yean, your point of order is relevance?

Ms Green: It is; she is not being relevant.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): I will again ask the member to please refer back to the bill as she continues her speech.

Ms BRITNELL: Thank you, Acting Speaker. I suppose really my point is we need to respect the fact that women need to have the choices that are important to them. This legislation is an important piece of legislation. Where a woman is separated from her husband we need to have that defined so that she has the right to continue with the assisted reproductive treatment that she would like to undertake, so that she can go ahead with her plans. But the legislation in its current form is concerning, and it is with respect to that that we ask the government to take some time to consult and not be arrogant, please.