ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TREATMENT FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL 2013
The Labor Party is not opposing the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Further Amendment Bill 2013.
I noted the comments of the opposition lead speaker, the member for Brunswick, who explained very eloquently and succinctly that what we are considering today is a legislative change from a three-tiered system of rights that is unfair to a two-tiered system that remains unfair. Incrementalism is the lot of Labor MPs in opposition. There are limits on what we can achieve, but there are no limits on our advocacy or on our desire for change. There are no limits on people’s rights. Conservative parties by their nature want things to stay the same. On this side of the house we hear from those on the other side a lot about the rights of individuals but not so much about their rights in relation to the legislation being discussed and debated in this house on this matter. I believe there is a collection of citizens across the political divide who seek to see equality reign in every facet of our lives. I suspect they do that to give every fellow citizen in our society the same rights and opportunities under the law.
I thank the donors; they are extraordinary people.
I thank those from the donor-conceived community who we have met through the Law Reform Committee — which has since been abolished by the government — for their stoicism, grace and humility. The access to and protection of some records under legislation before the Parliament will be of benefit to some in the donor-conceived community. Our advice from discussions with those stakeholders, individuals and people we have come to know so well over the years is to take what wins we can and to press on for lasting change to the law that is truly fair and just for all.
I refer to the ALP platform document entitled A Safe and Fair Society, which on page 71 states again what Labor’s position is today and will remain so as we pursue these matters at the election in November:
Labor believes that all persons born as a result of donor conception have a right to know their genetic heritage.
Currently, people born prior to 1998 have no right to identifying information about their donor fathers.
Labor will introduce legislation that ensures that all donor-conceived people have the right to identifying information about their donors regardless of when they were born and whether or not the donor believed they would remain anonymous.
We would ensure that the legislation contained a safeguard of contact vetos for those donors who do not want contact with their offspring in recognition of the fact that donors may well have more than one donor child. Labor notes that the legislation proposed by the government does not go that far.
Labor is determined to ensure that the unanimous recommendations of the Law Reform Committee that have driven a lot of this work come to fruition in the Parliament. We can go back to March 2011 and to when the report was tabled in Parliament in March 2012, after close to a year was spent working on it.
I quote from the from the foreword to the report the comments of the committee chair, the member for Prahran, which stated:
The committee unanimously reached the conclusion that the state has a responsibility to provide all donor-conceived people with an opportunity to access information, including identifying information, about their donors.
There were some 30-plus recommendations in the report. I quote from some of the people we met, who through this process provided their personal stories, including Myfanwy Cummerford, who said:
I felt really disempowered and disenfranchised and I felt like a second-class citizen because I knew that that information was sitting in a filing cabinet and I was not entitled to access it. That made me incredibly angry, and still makes me angry today to hear from counsellors that they have got this information and it’s on the computer and that my friend Narelle [Grech], who is associated with that clinic, is not allowed to do anything from that information.
We also heard from Ian Smith, a donor, who said:
One thing is very clear for me. That is that the interest and wellbeing of the children — all of them — are paramount. Regardless of what the legal framework was at the time of my being a sperm donor, I believe that I do have responsibilities to the children born as a result of my sperm donations. At the least, these children have a right to know what my part of the genetic heritage is — more if they want more.
The donor-conceived people whom we dealt with and who provided evidence to the committee are now adults and citizens. They are empowered to act as advocates for their rights, whereas previously, as newborns and as children, they entrusted those rights to be protected and advanced to this Parliament and to those who came before us. We cannot fail them now.
On 5 March 2013, not long after the process undertaken in this Parliament around adoption practices and changes to the law, the Minister for Community Services said in this place:
We also pledged to amend the Adoption Act 1984 to allow birth parents to receive identifying information about their sons and daughters. We believe a mother should be able to know the name of her child.
And so it goes in relation to the consideration of these matters that the Labor Party has pursued and the changes proposed by the government that do not go far enough. Surely children also have the right to know who their father is.
We have heard much about Narelle Grech and her contribution in pursuing these matters on behalf of donor-conceived people for virtually half her life. I know she is someone whom we are all thinking about today. It took, as we have heard, her extraordinary work and her meeting with another extraordinary person in the form of the former Premier, the member Hawthorn, for her to obtain the information she needed to get closure by meeting her father, Ray. Most of us will not become Premier and most of us will not be as extraordinary as someone like Narelle, but there are many people in this place who work very hard for the voiceless and much more ordinary people in our community who do not have the drive of someone like Narelle or the mindset and ability to resolve life-changing issues like the former Premier.
It is important for us to note other comments from Ian Smith, who was a donor and has made several contributions in relation to the work of our committee, which have appeared in the Age. He said:
Victoria can be a world leader in taking a compassionate, progressive and rights-based approach to the issue of granting donor-conceived people access to information about their heritage. I hope that Parliament will do just that when it considers how to respond at act on this report.
We remain disappointed at the government’s delay in responding to the findings in the committee’s unanimous report. It took the introduction in the upper house by Gavin Jennings, the shadow Minister for Health and a member for South Eastern Metropolitan Region, of a private members bill, which was defeated by only two votes, to pressure the government to bring legislation before this house in December last year.
And it has taken further discussion, debate and the raising of the issue by members on this side of the chamber to finally have this bill debated — and here we are today, in August 2014.
Not only is it extremely disappointing that we have had to wait so long to debate these matters but it also shows contempt for the many people who have a personal stake in the legislation. Naturally they will continue to pursue the access they seek, which is not fully provided for in the legislation introduced by the government. I am pleased that we are debating this bill today, but I reiterate that the Labor Party is determined to ensure that the same rights apply to all citizens in Victoria. We need to make sure that the changes put forward by the government are not the end of the matter.
We accept that with good grace the stakeholders would like us to accept the government’s changes, and we are not opposing them.
However, they have also given us great encouragement to continue to pursue a just outcome for all citizens in Victoria to ensure that their rights are no less than those of any other Victorian. This is something we will pursue, not only in this debate and debate of Labor’s amendments in the upper house but hopefully also in future Parliaments if we are unsuccessful. Labor will not walk away from these issues.