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Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019

07 August 2019

Mr MATT KEAN (Hornsby—Minister for Energy and Environment) (11:29): I acknowledge the work of the member for Sydney and other members co-sponsoring the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 in developing it and bringing it before the House. I also acknowledge and thank the people of Hornsby who have contacted me via email, via phone and in person to speak to me about the bill. On both sides, in the main, their representations have been direct, sincere and respectful. With open hearts, many people of faith have spoken to me of their profound opposition to abortion and asked me to oppose this bill. Others, people of faith and people of no faith, have spoken of their support for the bill and its aims, and asked me to vote for the bill.

My purpose in speaking today is to return to every one of them the respect they have shown to me and explain on the record how I will vote on this bill. From its founding, the Liberal Party has embraced the enduring ideals of Edmund Burke on the role of members. Liberal legislators are not the cipher of any group, nor are we bound to sectional interests. It is not our job to dance on the breeze of public opinion. As I said in my first speech in this place, it will always remain my first priority to do all that I can to serve the community that has given me the enormous honour of electing me as their member of Parliament.

To use Burke's words, in this vote and in every vote to my constituents I owe my unbiased opinion, my mature judgment and my enlightened conscience. My electorate of Hornsby is incredibly diverse, and from one end to the other you can see people living their faith. People who are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and a myriad of other faiths, form the backbone of our community organisations. I have seen for myself the hard work and the sacrifices they make to help those who are down on their luck, to serve and protect women and families in crisis, and support people suffering physical and mental illness. These are not just things I have seen as their MP. I am the son of faithful Catholics. My mother is a daily communicant at her church. In my parents' loving example and in those who educated me at Riverview I have born witness to lives full of service, love and devotion to God and to their fellow man.

There is far too much careless bigotry against people of faith. So I place on record my respect for their deeply held beliefs, and their considered and thoughtful representations to me, and my appreciation for the good they do in our community. I am Catholic. I love the church. I love my faith. But it is not right to impose my faith on the people of this State. I came into this Parliament as a progressive Liberal, and as a progressive Liberal I proudly serve today. The principles of the Liberal Party are compatible with all faiths and none. For me, they reflect my deepest and most profound beliefs. They are my touchstones in life and in this Chamber. The first objective in the Liberal constitution dedicates our party to political liberty, and the freedom and dignity of man. Understood implicitly, but worth stating explicitly, is our dedication to the liberty, freedom and dignity of women. Freedom of choice and freedom of conscience are foundational Liberal beliefs.

Neither should rest on whether a decision accords with legislators' ideas of morality. Abortion falls on the fault line between the obligation of the State to protect life and the limit on the State's control over the sovereignty of the individual. It is an issue incapable of compromise. So my Liberal principles guide me to choosing the side of freedom of choice and freedom of conscience. It is, and must be, the law of the land, not the law of any god or faith, that prevails in New South Wales. Freedom derives from the rule of law. As legislators committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of our citizens, we must strive to ensure that all laws are certain in their application. Where the law is not certain there is no real freedom. Even where it is hard—and there is no issue harder than this one—the law must be clear. People must know where they stand. A pregnant woman contemplating abortion should not be uncertain whether her actions are a crime. Her doctor, in caring for her health, should not fear the policeman's knock.

It is right and proper that this bill allows a doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer the patient or transfer their care to another doctor who they believe does not have a conscientious objection. And it is right and proper that the regulation of abortion be managed outside the Crimes Act. The judiciary has done its job in relation to abortion law. It has interpreted the law the Parliament handed down. The result is a patchwork quilt of uncertain criminality and variable penalty. As elected members of this Parliament we cannot shirk responsibility for this issue because it is hard or uncomfortable. It is our sovereign role, our right and our privilege, to make laws for the people of this State. They expect us to make laws that are sensible and certain. They respect our freedom of belief, but expect the laws we make to be secular in application. No role in my life weighs heavier on my conscience than being a legislator. My conscience says abortion should be regulated as a health issue, not a crime. I will be voting for this bill.