ELECTION SPECIAL 3: by Richard EganNews Weekly
Voters must challenge candidates on moral issues
, September 25, 2004
Never have society's most basic values - a human being's fundamental right to life, the status of marriage and traditional community standards - been under such sustained attack as they have been in recent years.
Numerous pressure groups and aggrieved minorities have campaigned on many fronts to effect radical changes to Australia's laws on marriage, cloning, experimentation on embryo stem-cells, access to in vitro fertilisation (IVF), euthanasia and illicit drugs.
The outcome of these battles will help determine, for good or for ill, what sort of society Australia will become.
It is incumbent upon voters who subscribe to traditional values and who want their children to grow up in a moral society, to ascertain from parliamentary candidates where their respective political parties stand on these issues. Voters should not neglect the opportunity to make their own views clearly known.Abortion
The Federal Parliament continues to leave untouched the existing Medicare arrangements under which $10,544,761 of taxpayers' money was paid to abortionists to perform 73,191 abortions, including 637 second-trimester abortions, in the 2003/04 financial year.
The present Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, has made a series of public comments on the issue of abortion which have indicated his strong desire to do something effective, to curtail Medicare funding of abortion and to limit the availability of the "abortifacient morning-after pill". If he were to be Minister for Health in a re-elected Howard Government, there is some possibility that a private member's bill to stop Medicare funding of late-term abortions may at least be given time for debate.
This possibility is most unlikely under a Latham Government.
Latham has been a strong supporter of Emily's List, which funds pro-abortion female politicians in the Labor Party. He announced that he would not be viewing the recently aired documentary My Foetus
, saying, "I haven't any interest in the subject matter" (News Weekly
, August 28).
Prime Minister Howard's position on abortion can best be described as personal opposition, combined with an unwillingness to force the issue.Embryonic stem-cell experimentation
In December 2002, a majority of federal parliamentarians, in both houses and from all parties, voted for the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002, which permits destructive research on human embryos. Licences permitting the destruction of up to 1,256 human embryos have since been issued. In April 2005, a temporary limit on the pool of embryos available for research will be lifted with even freshly created human embryos being made "fair game", if the woman or couple for whom an embryo was created can be persuaded to declare it "excess".
This Act is subject to a three-year review, due to be initiated in December 2004 and completed by December 2005. The review will also deal with the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002, which was passed unanimously by both houses of Federal Parliament. This Act comprehensively bans human cloning for any purpose, including research.
As Minister for Health, Tony Abbott would also be in a good position to ensure that the review of the embryo research and cloning legislation is conducted responsibly.Euthanasia
The outcome on euthanasia has been more positive.
It will be recalled that a bipartisan majority in both houses passed the Euthanasia Laws Act 1996 which overturned the Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 under which Dr Philip Nitschke had killed four patients.
Recently, as the Senate rose for the election, it was poised to pass the Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide-Related Material Offences) Bill 2004 which would have made it an offence to promote or instruct in methods of suicide using the Internet.
Labor has expressed support for this Government bill, with only the Greens opposing it in the House of Representatives, on the grounds of an alleged right to know how to most effectively kill oneself!Same-sex marriage
The recent passage of Prime Minister John Howard's Marriage Amendment Act 2004 was a major victory for pro-family lobby groups, notably the Australian Family Association (AFA).
The Bill, which finally passed the Senate on August 13, with the Labor Opposition voting with the Government, upholds marriage as "the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life." It also specifically bars recognition in Australia of any same-sex unions solemnised overseas.
The Federal Labor Party has reiterated its firm commitment to follow the practice of many State Labor governments of laboriously combing through every piece of legislation that mentions married couples, and amending these to give de facto
couples, including same-sex couples, equivalent status, including, in three jurisdictions, access to adoption.
This will mean that, under Commonwealth law, same-sex couples would gain equivalent status to married couples in relation to veterans' affairs, social security, superannuation, etc.
Nicola Roxon, Labor's shadow attorney-general, has also committed Federal Labor to investigating the possibility of registered civil unions for same-sex couples. This system, established in Vermont, Tasmania, and some European countries, and under consideration by the British Parliament, gives same-sex couples formal legal and public recognition as a kind of parallel to marriage.
While pro-family Labor members may object to these measures in caucus debates, ultimately they are bound by party discipline to vote in the Parliament with the caucus majority.
Despite Mr Latham's comments about the need for fathers, Labor has also refused to support legislation to prevent adoption of overseas children by same-sex couples and to stop forcing the States to permit recourse to IVF for single women.
The Greens and the Democrats support same-sex "marriage" and, like Labor, would allow same-sex couples to adopt children.
The Howard Government has been consistent in its opposition to giving any legal recognition to same-sex couples. Even in extending the eligibility for concessional tax rates on superannuation death benefits, the Government was careful not to base such eligibility on a same-sex relationship as such, although same-sex couples may qualify as "financially and emotionally interdependent".Internet pornography
A substantial proportion of teenagers these days are exposed to hardcore pornography through the Internet.
These images frequently involve children/teens, sexual violence, bestiality and other disturbing material.
Many websites use aggressive, deceptive or intrusive techniques to induce viewing.
Exposure to pornography is a form of sexual assault against children and should be considered, like all sexual abuse of children, as a serious matter causing lasting harm.
Children as young as nine have become sexual abusers of other children after prolonged exposure to such pornography.
It is inadequate to charge individual parents with the chief responsibility for protecting their children from Internet pornographers determined to promote their product, or to expect parents to teach children to cope with the damaging effects of pornographic images after
exposure to them.
An effective way to protect children from this exposure, and from the damage it can cause, would be for the Government to legislate for mandatory filtering of pornography at Internet Service Provider (ISP) level.
ISPs should accept responsibility for protecting children from Internet pornography, including liability for harm caused to children from Internet pornography, including liability for harm caused to children by inadequate efforts to protect minors from exposure.
Mandatory filtering is now technically feasible. It would cost $45 million to set up and $33 million to maintain annually. The initial cost should be funded by the Government with the annual cost being met by a modest levy on each Internet subscriber.
The Coalition Government has protested that this is "too expensive" and wants to leave all responsibility to parents to supervise their children's Internet access. This will not protect children in vulnerable living situations and is unrealistic, given the accessibility of the Internet at schools, public libraries, Internet cafés, friends' houses, etc.
The Labor Party has also been reluctant to adopt this proposal.How to voteNews Weekly
aims to sell its policies on these issues to all sides of politics.
Overall on family and bioethics issues the Coalition has a better track record and better prospects for improvement than Labor. However, voters should not underestimate the importance of individual Labor candidates with a clear pro-life voting record or firm pro-life commitments. Without such pro-life Labor MPs, the Labor Party would be more like the US Democrats and we would still have legalised euthanasia in the Northern Territory.
Consideration should also be given to giving first preference on the ballot paper to an independent or minor party candidate who endorses absolute moral principles. Even if such a candidate fails to get elected, your vote is not "wasted", provided you give careful thought to whom you allocate your second preference. Whoever is subsequently elected should be reminded that he or she was elected on the preferences of pro-family voters.
All parties allow a conscience vote on the life issues of abortion, euthanasia and human embryo research. It is therefore essential for the conscientious voter to establish where the individual candidates for their electorate and for the Senate stand on these issues.
Voting records on the Euthanasia Laws Act 1996 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 are available to be viewed at www.newsweekly.com.au
For non-sitting candidates, and on the issue of abortion, the only way to be sure is to ask candidates for a written commitment.
- Richard Egan is Western Australian president of the National Civic Council.