Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (9.22 p.m.)-In many respects, the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005 has become a proxy battle for a debate for which the Australian public and few parliamentarians have an appetite-the rights or wrongs of abortion. State and territory parliaments determine the legality of abortions and the circumstances under which they can occur. This parliament does not. The law in the states has created what might be called a demilitarised zone in this area of social policy. There is a community consensus on state law as it stands. There is no desire in the community to reopen the abortion debate. This is not a concession to moral relativism by our state parliaments or the community; it is merely a recognition that life is sometimes very complex and not as neat as we might like.
But this bill is not about the pros and cons of abortion, although it has been used by some as a vehicle for some shadow-boxing. I very much regret that some aspects of the debate have taken on the characteristics of a referendum campaign. A yes-no referendum style approach, with associated campaign tactics, helps neither to inform nor to edify discussion on a bill of this nature. We all need to recognise, regardless of our views on abortion, that it is an awful thing. No-one rejoices in it. There are no winners. It is a terrible and difficult decision for any woman. But we live in an imperfect world; there is often no ideal way to handle the circumstances in which people find themselves. We must also recognise that people have a god-given free will. The exercise of that may not always please each of us, but people have the right to exercise it.
This bill is not about the whether or the when but rather the how of abortion. In my view, judgements on the safety, efficacy and appropriateness of a drug or a procedure should be a matter for determination by competent authorities, doctors and their informed patients. But I should make it clear that my vote for this bill in no way reflects a lack of confidence in Minister Abbott. He is a man of character and of great intellect and compassion. He is a diligent and competent minister. But these should be matters for determination by medical experts and by informed individuals, not by ministerial discretion.
Although this is a conscience vote, I thank my constituents and the members of my party in Victoria who have taken the time to put their views to me from both sides of this debate. I have many friends who I know will not agree with my decision but whose views and counsel I nevertheless value and respect. I have a deep regard for the rationale of many who want to maintain ministerial discretion. Indeed, I share the world view of many of those who oppose this bill. But that world view leads me, on this occasion, to a different conclusion. I will be supporting this bill in the Senate.