Golden transparency of surrogacy secrecy?
How many times have you met a person and wondered if they could talk under water? Or perhaps you have heard of some American politician who has ‘filibustered’ a debate for so long that they even resorted to reading from a telephone book or a dictionary?
Western Australia’s parliament does not allow ‘telephone book-style filibusters’. Instead, a member is restrained by mandatory obligations to remain relevant and not tediously repetitive.
In these circumstances it is quite understandable that Western Australians have been asking why I spoke for 22 hours on the McGowan government’s Human Reproductive Technology and Surrogacy Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. I am acutely aware that for some this is perceived to be a flagrant waste of taxpayer’s money.
Sadly, we are living in a period where average voter perception of members of parliament is not high and those same voters, desperate for good governance, crave integrity and honesty. Transparency is the mechanism that builds trust and ensures people making laws are able to do their job diligently.
Before the 2017 state election and throughout this term of government, Premier McGowan has repeatedly promised to ‘strengthen governance, accountability and transparency across government’.
This commitment sounds very good to voters wearied by political shenanigans, yet the government’s deceptive and bullying approach to the handling of this bill confirmed that the commitment was nothing more than hollow words.
In January 2018, the government announced it would commission an independent review of assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy legislation. It was due to be released in October 2018, yet the government extended the deadline and in the interim rammed its bill through the Legislative Assembly where it holds a significant majority.
In February 2019, the government decided that it would make this bill a top priority. As I commenced my speech, I called on the government to cease hiding the independent reviewer’s report. At first the government feigned that it did not have the report. This deception quickly morphed into denial after the government was embarrassed in question time when it was revealed it had had the report since 8 January 2019, and that the rport had cost taxpayers more than $225,000.
Not content with one round of deception, the Health Minister proceeded to tell the media the report had nothing to do with the current bill. This only was cause for further embarrassment when the report was finally tabled on 21 March and it was found that substantial sections of the report relate to the bill and foreshadowed amendments.
To make matters worse, Minister for Health, Roger Cook, says he is still considering his response to the findings and recommendations in the report. Yet, having been caught out twice deceiving Western Australians, the government arrogantly proceeded to continue to prioritise the bill expecting members to have determined their position whilst the government continued to work out theirs.
This bill triggers complex ethical issues about the rights of children and their birth mothers and consequently every member of parliament has been afforded a conscience vote. I have already made it clear that I will be opposing the bill. I cannot make a case for single men to access surrogacy. The government alleges this is an issue of discrimination and yet despite repeated requests will not reveal which state laws it says contravene Commonwealth law.
In my view this is an issue of biology. It is self-evident why males cannot birth children. Some will disagree with me, as is their right.
Ironically, if anything this bill will create discrimination as it will allow any man of any age to access surrogacy simply because of his gender. Meanwhile, women will not have this privilege. They will have to navigate a complex web of requirements and satisfy the ‘medical reasons’ test. So much for this bill addressing so-called discrimination. Why should members of parliament be expected to cast their conscience vote in support of a bill that would give a 90 year-old male direct access to surrogacy while leaving a 90 year-old female with no access?
Interestingly, even the report the government tried so hard to hide from parliament unequivocally highlights that this bill will not address all of the ‘discrimination’ issues that are alleged to exist. Why should members of parliament be expected to cast their conscience vote in support of a bill that will supposedly still leave Western Australia subject to a challenge in the High Court?
The Legislative Council debate, and questions being asked, are casting a spotlight and highlighting that this is a bad bill irrespective of what your view is about single men accessing surrogacy. Meanwhile, in a bid to deflect from its incompetence, the government resorted to bullying tactics to ram this bill through whilst continuing to hide documents from parliament. The government is now long overdue to deliver on its promise of golden transparency.
Thankfully on 10 April a majority of legislative councillors supported my motion that the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Legislation for inquiry. That Committee is due to report by 27 June 2019. If nothing else, this episode has demonstrated how crucial the role of parliamentary oversight is in ensuring governmental accountability. A win for transparency is a win for democracy.
Hon Nick Goiran MLC is Western Australia’s Shadow Minister for Child Protection
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