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Speech: Health Care (Health Access Zones) Amendment Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:48): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Health Care Act 2008. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:49): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill, the Health Care (Health Access Zones) Amendment Bill 2019, is a simple bill in that it seeks to establish health access zones to provide protection for abortion care in our state. It is not a new concept. In fact, as a state we stand alone now with Western Australia as being the only Australian jurisdictions yet to have such abortion and reproductive health care safe access zones.

Queensland's safe access zones commenced in December 2018 and they stand at a 150-metre buffer with a $2,611 or one-year imprisonment penalty. New South Wales' safe access zones commenced in June 2018, again with 150 metres and a first offence providing a penalty of $5,500 or six months' imprisonment or both, or a subsequent offence demanding an $11,000 or 12 months' imprisonment or both penalty. In the Northern Territory they have had safe access zones since July 2017, again 150 metres with some $15,500 or 12 months' imprisonment as a penalty. Victoria's safe access zones commenced in July 2016, again 150 metres with a $19,342.80 penalty or 12 months' imprisonment.

The ACT commenced in March 2016 with not less than 50 metres, but I note there that there is one specific facility that their law covers and one specific set of circumstances. The prohibited behaviour brings a penalty of some $4,000 and publication of visual data has a penalty of $8,000 or six months' imprisonment or both. Tasmania has had safe access zones since February 2014, a 150-metre buffer with a 12-month imprisonment penalty or a $12,225 fine or both. As you can see, we lag behind in South Australia; however, that does not mean that we cannot have, I think, the best safe access zones in the nation sometime soon.

This debate is a timely one because, as we know, the South Australian Law Reform Institute is currently waiting to present, for the edification of parliament and for the information of those members who will soon vote on legislation, a report on abortion law reform in this state. Originally, that debate was commenced with a bill that I still have on the Notice Paper before this place which not only seeks to decriminalise abortion but to provide for safe access zones.

The bill before us today is very similar, with the provision of that particular safe access zone model, with the addition that while a 150-metre buffer zone may be declared or enshrined with regard to the Woodville Pregnancy Advisory Centre that that distance may be extended by Gazette of the minister where an additional buffer zone is required, similar to the ACT experience.

The bill is quite simple: it provides for health access zones; it provides that under 48C the minister may declare premises to be protected premises; under 48D that certain behaviour be prohibited in those health access zones, colloquially known as safe access zones but in this bill health access zones; and 48E provides that a police officer may direct a person to leave the health access zone.

It is a very simple bill but, as I say, it is a timely one because we will soon debate law reform with regard to abortion in this state, and yet we still do not have safe access zones in this state to protect those who seek abortion care. This bill will support women's reproductive health choices by ensuring that patients who seek to access health services that provide abortion can do so without harassment, without intimidation, without fear and without obstruction.

The member for Hurtle Vale and I have worked together to prepare and co-sponsor this piece of legislation, and she moved the same bill in the other place just this morning. Of course, we have done so with the support of many other members in this place and the other place, as well as the fine work of the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition.

This bill will protect patients and clinicians alike. The staff who work in reproductive support services deserve a safe workplace. Currently, that is not guaranteed. An important factor to consider as well, as we consider this, is that this bill may not be the perfect bill. Soon we will have that SALRI report. Certainly, many submissions have been made, including that by the Law Society, the Human Rights Law Centre and many other, no doubt, quite credible organisations that may inform the final version of this bill, but what is important is that we provide that safe access before the heightened situation of a debate about abortion begins.

It is also timely because today is the first day of an event that takes place in South Australia and across the globe twice a year. The event is called 40 Days for Life, which seems innocuous, but 40 Days for Life is a global movement designed to close down reproductive health care across the globe. Here in South Australia that aim and that effort is no different. Protesters were outside places such as the Pregnancy Advisory Centre down at Woodville, but across the country and across the globe, until safe access zones have put that buffer of protection for patients and staff alike.

In this coming 40 days and in the 40 days around Lent, they protest with placards, with harassment, with intimidating behaviour, impeding not just patient access to health care but providing a difficult workplace for healthcare providers doing a difficult job, who deserve the support of parliament. I hope that through this bill they will get it. I put in a freedom of information request for complaints made to the Charles Sturt council with regard to the 40 Days for Life and other similar protests.

The Hon. F. Pangallo: And you didn't get it.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I did indeed get it, very quickly. It was one of the quickest FOIs I have ever got in my time as a parliamentarian. I suspect some people at council would like to see a bill like this passed with great haste. That freedom of information request, which provided information for the last few years from the City of Charles Sturt about the activities of those protesters outside the Woodville clinic is enlightening reading. One of the website complaints that was made on 1 October 2014 reads:

I recently attended the pregnancy advisory centre in your council area…as support for a family member of mine. Upon arrival to this location there was a small group of protesters across the road from the facility clearly marking their intention of being there with their signage. I found this absolutely appalling and disgustingly judgemental by these people. I understand everyone had their right to protest but there was a lot of women from all age groups and backgrounds attending this facility and the look on some peoples faces especially the young women visiting this service was horrific. These people are entitled to their own beliefs but I do not believe council should let them stay where they are. They are making a difficult situation even more difficult for these young women and the people supporting and attending with them not to mention the staff who are subject to their stares and belittling comments as well.

A further revelation is some correspondence to the Charles Sturt council, which I think may be from February 2015, which goes to report to the council's permit officer. It states:

I write in relation to our recent conversations about the presence and location of the protesters (kerbside crusaders) outside the Pregnancy Advisory Centre…

And it goes on to give the address:

My understanding of the permit conditions are that the protesters remain within the erected bollards and not to approach or engage with people attending the Pregnancy Advisory Centre. I am mindful of the resources required by the South Australian police and the City of Charles Sturt in the monitoring of compliance with permit conditions and hence I do not report every breach.

In the last two weeks Pregnancy Advisory Centre has responded to a complaint to the Premier's department about the protesters' presence, responded to the distress experienced by attending ambulance officers who were filmed on a mobile telephone while leaving the site and staff has provided clients with support who have reported being verbally harassed and intimidated when entering the premises. The content of the verbal tirade is incorrect and seditious. Domiciliary Care who own the Pregnancy Advisory Centre building have previously reported a male person blowing a trumpet creating a noise hazard and people have wandered to the rear of the complex to peer into the back doors of the Pregnancy Advisory Centre.

The protesters attend twice each year for 40 days and are present in smaller numbers every week throughout the remainder of the year, so there is always a presence. The issues cited above are not new, however I have a responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of clients, staff and other professionals attending the service at any time.

I feel the responsible approach is to lodge a complaint about the behaviour of the protesters. I also seek your consideration about the conditions of a future permit request in light of persistent breaches of permit conditions over many years with no observable repercussions.

Maintaining safe access to abortion services is a concern for women, service providers, police and governments and is not isolated to Adelaide. The death of a security guard outside a Melbourne abortion service prompted what is known as an 'exclusion zone'. Other states in Australia have since imposed by law a minimum exclusion zone for protesters to be 150 metres from the service to enable clients attending unhindered access.

The South Australian Police has advised me that the protestors are the responsibility of the local council and I request your consideration for a 150 metre exclusion zone as an interim measure in response to persistent and consistent permit breaches.

A further revelation under FOI is a summary made on 8 March 2016, coincidentally International Women's Day, thanking the person from the council for the meeting and then going on to say:

I am keen to reiterate that I appreciate the support you have previously provided over many years and are currently providing to clients, health professionals and staff attending the Pregnancy Advisory Centre in relation to the Prayer Group 40 day vigil adjacent the premises…

As you have requested below is a summary of concerns that have been raised and incidents that have occurred during the current vigil and previous vigil in late 2014: This is not exhaustive and highlights the main concerns:

inappropriate name calling 'child killer', 'going to the devil's advocate' as reported to staff by clients

PAC staff frequently respond to clients who experience distress (frustration, tearfulness and anger) when having been approached by members of the prayer group

A support person felt exceptionally distraught when approached by the prayer group; he stated, 'I don't know what I would have done if I had not spoken to you (the counsellor) today' raising PAC's concerns for the safety of the others and the prayer group when they chose to engage

Filming ambulances leaving the premises and previously posting on a website: Ambulance officers expressed their anguish at being filmed…

People seen standing at the rear of the property to look in the back doors to the building

Frequent positioning themselves outside of the erected perimeter requiring monitoring by council

As you can see, despite the council's best efforts, the protesters continue to flout the permit conditions and continue to harass staff and patients alike. I note that many instances of the correspondence cover pictures which look to me to be intimidating and harassing and threatening and certainly not what one would expect when one goes to seek health care in this state.

A further piece of correspondence, dated June 2017, is from a local resident. A complaint to the Pregnancy Advisory Centre was made by this local Woodville resident, as a woman was walking her infant in a pusher at approximately 2.30 that afternoon on Tuesday 27 June. She was unable to get past this group of four people who were protesting outside the Pregnancy Advisory Centre on the footpath.

She did not have her phone with her, so she came into the centre to seek advice as she has previously made complaints to the council about these protesters impeding her and was asked if she could take photos the next time she encounters this. It does not seem to matter whether or not somebody is accessing health care, or indeed that they have had a baby and they live in the local neighbourhood; these protesters see fit not to respect their rights.

Everyone has a right to present their views, and this bill does not impede that. Indeed, while a patient's ability to freely access health services without fear of intimidation or harassment is, of course, an important consideration, I believe it is balanced here with the freedom of communication that is implied in the Commonwealth Constitution.

However, any implied freedom is not absolute. It is permissible for legislation to impose restrictions or burdens on that implied freedom where the purpose of the law is legitimate—as I believe this one is—and that law is appropriate and adapted to advance that legitimate purpose. That is a summary of the current WA Health Department's consulting on their soon to be announced safe access zones in that state.

I also note that the Law Society, on balance, has assessed and provided feedback to the current SALRI debate, and I draw members' attention to its feedback on safe access zones. There will be a balance between freedom of communication but also the right to access health care in this state without harassment and without intimidation—that is also a human right, the right to access health care is a fundamental human right—and they are not mutually exclusive.

I note that members may have concerns about those particular conflicting rights, and should there be amendments to tighten up any parts of the language of the bill I look forward to those contributions. I hope they will soon be informed by the SALRI report to provide some of that definitive work.

Again, I look forward to this bill's passage in a speedy and considerate manner to ensure that we protect the safety of those patients who currently run a gauntlet of protesters to access health care in our state. We have a fine tradition of accessible health care, particularly with regard to abortion in this state, despite our criminalised laws, and public provision at very minimal if not zero cost is an important part of our proud tradition there. However, when it comes to debating these laws we know that all those traditions will count for nothing and will not give those patients accessing our quality health care system the protection they deserve and that we should be giving them.

Right now, this very day, the New South Wales parliament is debating the decriminalisation of abortion. In that debate we have seen extraordinary measures taken. We have seen protesters loudly protesting on the steps of Parliament House as they have done here, and these are the places they should hold those protests. That freedom to protest should be confined to the steps of parliament or to our public spaces and parks designed for such a purpose, and not impede those who are simply accessing health care at an extraordinarily difficult time of their life.

They deserve our support and they deserve to be protected. I hope this parliament will ensure that protection is enshrined before we move much further with the decriminalisation of abortion debate. With those words I commend the bill to the council.

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