ABORTION: by Babette FrancisNews Weekly
National senator's key role in RU-486 fiasco
, May 13, 2006
The National Party cannot claim to be a conservative, pro-family party if its gives status to pro-abortion parliamentarians such as Senator Fiona Nash and Bruce Lloyd MP, argues Babette Francis.During the debate on the RU-486 Bill - which ended up taking control of this abortion drug away from the Minister of Health and handing it to the Therapeutic Goods Administration - the name of Brian Harradine was frequently invoked by RU-486 supporters.
The inference was that the former Tasmanian independent senator had succeeded in arm-twisting both Labor and Coalition governments to ban the importation of RU-486 into Australia in return for his vote on crucial issues.
This claim was repeatedly made, even though, in the previous debates on this drug, its use was opposed by Liberal, Labor and Green parliamentarians.
The role of National Party Senator Fiona Nash in sponsoring and promoting the RU-486 Bill (the Therapeutic Goods Administration Amendment Bill) has been particularly damaging to the National Party, especially in Victoria where the Nationals are facing an uphill battle to retain parliamentary seats and their party status at the state elections due on November 25.
Some rank-and-file National Party members have considered resigning their membership. Furthermore, members of some of the minor (pro-life) parties - on whom the Nationals may depend for preferences to put them ahead of the Liberals in contested seats in the country - have indicated a lack of enthusiasm for supporting the Nationals. This is particularly significant as Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan has indicated that the main threat his colleagues face in the seats they hold comes from the Liberals, not Labor.
Senator Nash's very prominent presence at the Nationals' Victorian state conference in Bendigo (April 7-8) - a presence that was totally unnecessary as she is a NSW senator and not a minister - was not reassuring to rank-and-file Nationals.
Her role in promoting RU-486 was not merely a vote of conscience, as she has tried to claim; rather, it was an aggressive promotion of this abortion drug through a Bill she co-sponsored with feminist senators from other parties.
The picture of the Gang of Four, Senators Nash (National), Judith Troeth (Liberal), Claire Moore (Labor) and Lyn Allison (Democrat) celebrating with champagne the advent of this drug which kills unborn babies, and sometimes their mothers as well, was an unlovely spectacle.
Not content with promoting RU-486 in Australia, the Gang of Four have now turned their attention to Australia's overseas aid program. Under current restrictions, Australia does not fund abortion, abortion services or advocacy for abortion in our overseas aid funding. All this will end if the Gang of Four have their way.Code words
They have lobbied Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and his department to overhaul AusAID, and give more funding for "sex education and reproductive rights". (In UN-speak, "reproductive rights" are code words for abortion, contraception and sterilisation).
According to the four senators, the existing aid program is too narrowly focused on security and governance in neighbouring countries such as East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
The Gang of Four have named "reproductive rights" for women in developing countries as an area they are keen to pursue. "East Timor is the poorest country and the country with an enormous fertility rate with high rates of maternal and infant death," Senator Allison said.
The senators have overlooked the UN's recent finding that legalising abortion does not reduce maternal mortality, and that what mothers need are better pre-natal care and skilled attendants at birth. Ireland, where abortion is illegal, has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world.
The Gang of Four complain that much of the health and education work in East Timor is done by church groups. Their submission says that these groups should be required to report on rates of disease and how they are directing their funding.
AusAID recently reopened a small section on "reproductive health", after disbanding it due to pressure from former Senator Brian Harradine.
The Gang of Four senators' submission argues that spending on sexual health programs would result in higher productivity because more women would be able to take on paid employment rather than staying at home. The submission overlooks the fact that unemployment is high in some of AusAID's target countries, and staying home and looking after the children may be the most productive activity a woman can undertake.
At the National Party's Victorian state conference in April, former National Party MP for Shepparton, Bruce Lloyd - who has had run-ins with Margaret Tighe and the Right to Life Association - congratulated Senator Nash for her role in "dismantling the last of the Harradine tentacles".
Because of lobbying by Right to Life Victoria, Bruce Lloyd nearly lost his seat to a Liberal candidate the last time he stood for election, and on his retirement, the seat was lost, probably permanently, to the Liberals. He fails to realise that his support for abortion has eroded support for the Nationals in what is their heartland.
The National Party cannot claim to be a conservative, pro-family party if it gives status to parliamentarians such as Lloyd and Nash. If there is nothing to differentiate the National Party from the Liberals, voters may well switch to the majority party in the Coalition.
- Babette Francis is a member of the Victorian National Party.