Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:47:37):
I am pleased to rise to speak to the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment (Consent) Bill 2019. I must say I do not think it was something I was really planning to speak on or to be involved with, and oddly enough my interest in this bill was drawn out of the spent convictions inquiry that is being undertaken by the Legal and Social Issues Committee, and I will get onto that in a moment.
This bill does meet recommendation 4 of the Gorton review, which recognised that married women are discriminated against and married women within the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 are treated differently to single women and women in de facto relationships or women leaving de facto relationships. Specifically, women separating from marriage are treated differently, and this bill goes to rectifying that. I think that is commendable. I think it is a very outdated provision; it has that notion that the man still has control over the women’s body.
I do not think there is anyone here in this chamber who would disagree with this. I do understand that in some circumstances this refusal of consent has been around family violence and has been around male domination, which have been some of the reasons why these women have separated and have left their marriage.
And as previous speakers have mentioned, this was highlighted in the Federal Court decision in EHT18 v. Melbourne IVF last year. That case also found that this provision was inconsistent with the commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, but they only ruled on that specific case and did not broaden their ruling to say that all married women in a situation of separation could rely on that decision.
In this context I am pleased that the government is moving swiftly on this matter. Anecdotally I am aware of six or seven women who are currently being negatively affected by the provision right now, so I am pleased that we can act quickly in this Parliament today to assist them.
Looking at some of the issues that were raised by the sector in a letter that was sent to us last month, certainly in my eyes the response from the minister’s office to the questions that the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee raised goes a long way to answering the concerns of the sector. I think it is also important to note that this is a recommendation from the Gorton review, which actually consulted with the sector very broadly.
So I do not think this should come as any surprise. I suspect there is some disappointment in the sector that they are not seeing all of the Gorton review implemented as swiftly as they would like, because the Gorton review found that this legislation is in desperate need of renovation. It is not really, as they would say, particularly fit for purpose.
But I have spoken to the minister about this and she assures me that there is a tranche of reforms that will be coming through shortly and quickly to really meet a lot of the issues that were raised in the Gorton review. But one issue, and the issue that certainly piqued my interest in this from a personal and a professional perspective, was the use of police checks and working with children checks as part of the application process for accessing IVF.
We know that it is a very stressful time for families undertaking IVF, and this adds just another absolute level of stress. While the Gorton review said that this was outside the scope of their review, they made note, and I would just like to quickly quote a section from the review looking at ‘Presumptions against treatment’: In terms of presumptions against treatment, many responses to the Review’s consultations suggested that Victoria’s system of conducting police and child protection checks for all people undergoing ART and establishing a presumption against treatment could be reconsidered.
As reported in the Review’s Interim Report, this requirement received more comment during the public consultations and survey conducted in 2018 than any other issue with the exception of cost. So this was the biggest concern. During the Gorton review those police checks were the highest concern of any other issue, probably equal to cost.
The report went on to say: In later consultations with stakeholders, including clinics, patients and service users, this issue continued to be raised. The Review has heard many reports of the cost, burden, delay and distress caused by this requirement. The Review has not heard any evidence of the effectiveness of this system in preventing the abuse of children.
The system could be dismantled without creating significant risk to children, or revised to better target the risks of family violence and the risks to children. And this would be welcomed. I thought that this was a perfect vehicle to meet those concerns and to finally put to rest this burdensome and unnecessary regulatory hurdle that families and women are having to undertake. I think this is absolutely urgent. We know that allowing separated women to access assisted reproductive treatment now is also urgent.
We know it is always a time game—time is of the essence in the circumstances—so any barriers and anything that causes delays should be, as much as we possibly can, reviewed. I was talking to someone who was talking about women with cancer having to urgently freeze their eggs before they could undertake treatment.
As they now have to wait for a police check and a working with children check before they can do this, this adds an extraordinary amount of stress. So I have formulated an amendment which would remove this discriminatory requirement under the act, because I think it is an important one. I am wondering if my amendments could be circulated quickly now.
Fiona Patten’s Reason Party amendments circulated by Ms PATTEN pursuant to standing orders.
While that is being distributed—obviously I have clarified what that main amendment is—today the minister presented me with documentation that they have now put out a review process to consider this.
I guess I am an impatient person, and I suspect most of the people on IVF are impatient people too. Well, not impatient; they have probably been working very patiently towards conceiving, but when they are undertaking IVF every second, every minute, every hour can matter, so I do think that this is an urgent reform. I am encouraged that the minister has sent out a background paper with an option for removing this requirement.
I have to say, in going back and looking at the Gorton review I think it is very clear what the sector has to say about this, and while it might have been outside the scope of the review it was the most common issue that was raised in that review, so I will accept that the minister is doing this and accept her proposal, which is in response to the feedback that was received in the Gorton review, that the government is now considering removing this requirement for police and child protection checks as a precondition to accessing assisted reproductive treatment.
I accept that, and I look forward to hearing the minister make some assurances on the floor about how that process will happen because, as I mentioned, very often we know women do access IVF later in life, when they have realised that other options have failed them or have not come to pass, so we know that all burdens and all things that delay the process, delay that person undertaking treatment, just make it more difficult.
I look forward to seeing further amendments. I look forward to seeing this act being renovated and this program being renovated wholeheartedly in line with, I think, some of the very sensible suggestions from the Gorton review. Apart from that, I am happy to lend my support to the bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Speech given 15/8/19