THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC RN BREAKFAST WITH FRAN KELLY
WEDNESDAY, 6 MARCH 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy; Medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru; Sydney stadium redevelopment.
FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Well Australia's abortion laws could become a flash point as we head towards the Federal election. Today Labor will announce what it claims to be the country's first National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, to boost access to safe and affordable terminations and contraception. Under the $9.3 million plan the provision of abortion services in public hospitals will be tied to Federal health funding. Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader and the Shadow Minister for Women. She joins me in the breakfast studio. Tanya Plibersek, welcome back to Breakfast.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: Access to abortion is different in every state. With this reproductive health strategy, would Labor, is Labor trying to force states like New South Wales, for instance, to decriminalise terminations? Is that what you are trying to do?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I live in New South Wales so I would certainly like to see the New South Wales laws changed, and I know there is a lot of support in the New South Wales Parliament on both sides to see those changes, and we saw last year with the safe access zones legislation that passed the Parliament, a lot of bipartisan work to get those laws past. In other states and territories abortion is legal, but of course the laws vary from state to state about where the abortions can be performed and the latest an abortion can be performed, and so on. So it's not an effort to unify abortion laws across Australia, I think actually that is very complex work and very time consuming. What we are saying that is as a Federal government we are a significant funder of hospital services and we would like to see women not have to travel six hours drive, or interstate if they need a termination but to be able to have that service in their local community, in their local hospital, where their supports, their family, their home and so on, are.
KELLY: So what you are proposing is, as I understand it, if you were in government the next five year Commonwealth-state funding agreement for hospitals, which is due to come up next year I think, you, in order to be eligible for that, all states would have to provide abortions in public hospitals. So no abortion, no hospital funding?
PLIBERSEK: Well I don't think we would go straight to that Fran. I think we’d seek to negotiate with states and territories. These are large and complex negotiations. What we are saying is that there would be an expectation that states are offering these services in their hospitals. I have been the Health Minister, we have a very good Shadow Health Minister now, Catherine King. I know that she is capable of doing the sort of complex negotiation that is required to get this across the line. But at the moment we have a situation where Tasmanian women are flying to Victoria if they need a termination. We have got a situation in New South Wales where women are having to drive for hours, and hours to get from a country town to a major city to get a termination in a private clinic and that might cost them thousands of dollars. This is a very difficult choice for a woman to make. To make it even more difficult, by saying you've got to find thousands of dollars of money to go to a private clinic, or you have got to go interstate, is just not fair, at such a difficult time.
KELLY: It is also an issue where people's views are deeply held, and for instance in Tasmania, abortion has been legal there since 2013 but surgical abortions are not available in public hospitals and a low cost clinic was closed down. So there are limited, very limited options, as you say, most women go to the mainland. But it is known that the Health Minister, Michael Ferguson, is anti-abortion for religious reasons. I mean, where do religious beliefs fit into this negotiation between governments you're talking about?
PLIBERSEK: Look I'm actually deeply respectful of people's religious beliefs. I don't think any doctor should be forced to perform an abortion if it is against their religious beliefs. But 80 per cent of Australians support a woman's right to choose and when we're running public services like our health system overall, we have to respect the majority and make laws that respect the views of the majority. I think it's very important to say Fran too, that the National Sexual and Reproductive Heath Strategy seeks to very substantially increase access to more reliable contraception. We want to prevent unwanted pregnancies before we go straight to discussing abortion. Let's talk about how we give better sex education to our teenagers, how we increase access to the contraceptive pill. In New Zealand you can get a three year prescription for the pill. In Australia women are going at least every year to get a prescription for the pill and we have very low rates of use of long-acting removable contraceptives by international standards. Let's prevent pregnancies first.
KELLY: I will come back to the-
PLIBERSEK: Unwanted pregnancies, obviously.
KELLY: I will come back to the contraception point, but if the idea is to improve access to safe and legal terminations, it's especially, as you mentioned, a problem for women in remote areas-
KELLY: -so under Labor would all hospitals be expected to provide abortion services, smaller country hospitals too?
PLIBERSEK: There may be hospitals where you don't have the staff or the clinical facilities to do it. We're not going to be issuing a blanket order to every hospital in Australia. But for women in regional and rural areas, when I was the Heath Minister we put RU 486 onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and my great hope for women living in smaller communities then was that they wouldn't have to make that difficult and expensive journey, travel days away from home, to terminate a pregnancy if they needed to do that. That has really not worked as well as I had hoped because only about 1,500 of Australia's 33,000-odd doctors have actually registered to prescribe RU 486, and even fewer of those in practice are doing it. There's a lot of pharmacists that don't stock the drugs necessary for a medical termination, so we also need to increase access to medical terminations in Australia.
KELLY: This going to be highly controversial, isn't it? I mean, extending access to terminations even coming close to, I mean you're saying it's a negotiation, but coming close to the notion of mandating public hospitals have available for surgical terminations, improving access, broadening access to the contraceptive pill. This is going to really unsettle a lot of people. These are deeply held views, pro-choice and anti-choice if you like. Why are you buying this argument in this way?
PLIBERSEK: Because it's a really important thing to do. I have heard so many stories Fran of women whose health has been compromised. There's one story that really stayed with me. When I was last the Health Minister and we were looking at RU 486, the abortion drugs, a woman who already had two children, she'd had pre-eclampsia with both of them, she lived in a tiny town, she was in a - a violent relationship, she didn't want to have a third child, she went to her local health service, they said they couldn't perform the service. She couldn't afford to go to the town where they could perform it, she couldn't afford the time away from home, she couldn't take her toddlers with her, she couldn't afford the thousands of dollars. That woman had a miscarriage - a very late term miscarriage - at about 26 weeks, she was airlifted for a Caesarean, emergency Caesarean, and the baby died. Why - why do we put women through this today, in 2019? What is already a phenomenally difficult decision for many women, why do we make it so much harder, so much harder for them? It's an important thing for us to change.
KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's seventeen minutes to eight - our guest is Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Labor Leader. On another issue, the Prime Minister's Office has released, today, some information on some of the possible tranferees, people from Manus and Nauru, who the Government describes is of 'adverse character' and they include someone allegedly charged with murder, someone accused of sexual relationship with a minor, someone accused of drug trafficking, planning terrorist activity. Is Christmas Island the best option for people like this who might need medical attention?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we've been very clear that the Minister has a range of powers to prevent people like that being brought to Australia. It's worth noting that no-one yet has been brought to Australia. I think the Government are very keen to talk about border protection but we see on the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald that the claims that were made last year - that Border Force was running fewer patrols because of budget cuts - are actually true despite Peter Dutton denying this vociferously. This is a Government that wants to talk about border protection - doesn't want to fund it properly.
KELLY: Sure, but these are real concerns. I mean, people will be concerned to read this...
PLIBERSEK: Yes, and the Minister should ...
KELLY: The Government's released this unclassified list. Has Labor seen the list and did you anticipate this issue?
PLIBERSEK: We changed our original position to make sure that the Minister had even greater powers to refuse people if they've been charged or convicted of serious crimes, and I know the Government would love to talk about this - I think it's because they've got nothing else to talk about. They don't want to talk about flat-lining wages, they don't want to talk about the fact that they've cut health and education services, they don't want to talk about underemployment, they want to go straight to ...
KELLY: And Labor doesn't want to talk about it.
PLIBERSEK: their - straight to their happy place, Fran. Straight to their happy place.
KELLY: But Labor doesn't want to talk boats - and an unhappy place for you.
PLIBERSEK: Well, no it's not. We put our - we nailed our colours to the mast in the Parliament when we supported this legislation to allow sick people who cannot get adequate treatment on Manus Island or Nauru to receive proper medical treatment in Australia - remembering, Fran, that the Government had already brought about 400 people to Australia for medical treatment. Why is it possible for them to do that, and another 500 or so accompanying family members - it's okay if they do it, but if we codify that in some way then suddenly it's a disaster.
KELLY: Okay, and just finally on another issue. The New South Wales Opposition Leader, Michael Daley, floated yesterday sacking, well basically, almost the entire the SCG Trust Board over the stadium redevelopment stoush. It's a local New South Wales issue but the football stadium is on the edge of your electorate of Sydney. Are you supportive of the idea? We're going to be talking to Tony Sheppard in a while, are you supportive of the idea of refreshing the SCG Trust?
PLIBERSEK: Oh look, I don't have a view about the Trust but I do have a view about the stadium. This is the biggest waste of money I've ever seen and I cannot believe that when we've got kids in un-air conditioned classrooms, when we can't afford to upgrade our hospital emergency departments, that we would actually spend billions of dollars rebuilding perfectly good stadiums. It just drives me nuts. We couldn't afford to keep the Powerhouse here in Ultimo and build a world-class facility in Western Sydney - apparently. But we can afford two new stadiums. I think it's disgraceful.
KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.
KELLY: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Women.