March 24th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Britain's foot and mouth outbreak - the global link

EDITORIAL: The challenge facing John Howard

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can Howard "placate the crocodile"?

LAW: US rejects International Criminal Court

Straws in the Wind

FAMILY: Senators oppose Howard IVF amendment



COMMENT: Humane economy v. the bottom line

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: How closer Asian ties benefit Australia

EDUCATION: New assessment can mean almost anything

ECONOMICS: China's slow progress on WTO entry

HONG KONG: Has democracy a future in Hong Kong?

SCIENCE: Human cloning attempt roundly condemned

COMMENT: What would a right-wing Philippa Adams look like?

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Senators oppose Howard IVF amendment

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, March 24, 2001
Bill Muehlenberg of the Australian Family Association appeared before a Senate Committee inquiring into IVF access for single women.

A report has been released by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee following its inquiry held late last year into IVF access for singles and same-sex couples.

The inquiry was launched after Justice Sundberg of the Federal Court said restricting IVF access to married or de facto couples was inconsistent with the Federal Sex Discrimination Act (SDA).

Many individuals and organisations, including the Australian Family Association, put in written submissions, and many also gave oral testimony. The AFA made the point that there is no right to a child, that children do have a right to a mother and a father, and that the welfare of the child is jeopardised in alternative lifestyle arrangements.

The Committee, however, ignored such arguments and said that this Amendment (introduced by the Howard Government to override the Sundberg decision) would discriminate against women (as per the SDA) and would violate our commitments to overseas treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Committee also said that it believed that the Howard amendment was not the appropriate way to achieve its objective.

The Committee, chaired by Senator Payne (Lib), included homosexual rights activist Brian Grieg of WA (Dem). In its 37-page report, the Committee majority concluded:

"In reaching its conclusion the Committee is also mindful of the complex issues raised during its inquiry, and of the wide diversity of views brought to its attention on these questions. It has reached its conclusions on the basis of the legal arguments advanced. This is not because it underestimates the importance of the ethical and moral questions raised during the inquiry but because it considers a short, narrowly focussed and legally based inquiry of this type is unable to provide the detailed, expert consideration which such complex issues require."

The "too-hard basket", in other words, is where the Committee thinks the moral and ethical issues should be consigned. Legal arguments alone were considered, and ethics were brushed aside. Given that all law ultimately has an ethical basis, and most of our laws can be derived from moral and religious traditions, this trend towards amoral law-making is a great cause for concern.

The report states that "with one exception, all of the evidence from individual lawyers and from Australia's leading lawyers' groups was of the view that the proposed amendments are discriminatory". This may tell us more about the bias of most lawyers today than about the legality of the decision.

At the public hearing in Melbourne, representatives of the taxpayer-funded Australian Institute of Family Studies, which is supposed to represent families, argued that children "can be raised in a variety of different family situations," children can be raised just as well by two men or two women, there "is no biological imperative" for fathers, etc.

However, there were a few encouraging signs. Labor Senators Hogg and Collins put in a very good 13-page dissenting report. It favourably quoted AFA research, among others, and argued that the interests of the child were not being looked after in this decision. Noting that the "changes proposed in the Bill have significant public policy implications," they concluded with these three points:

1) Access to Artificial Reproductive Technology should be "properly and appropriately regulated so as to ensure that the best interests of the potential child are served";

2) Consideration of the Bill "should be deferred until the High Court has considered the matter"; and

3) It is "not appropriate for parliamentarians to consider such legislation without access to a conscience vote".

Also, a 10-page dissenting report by Senator Brian Harradine raised some important issues. He repeated the view that this decision will create a new generation of stolen children. He argued that the Sundberg decision, "if unchallenged, will have a profound effect on very fundamental values in our community".

The interests of children, he observed, "are considered less than the interests of the people wanting to obtain children". At worst, the interests of children are being completely ignored.

Thus the Committee has spoken, along with its dissenters. We still await the High Court challenge. But if it rules in a similar fashion to the Senate Committee, the outcome looks grim indeed.

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