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Transcript 11481

Interview with Stan Zemanek, 2GB

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 02/08/2000

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11481

Subjects: IVF and Sex Discrimination Act

E&OE ..............................

ZEMANEK:

Mr Howard good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Stan.

ZEMANEK:

Did you think that your announcement would cause such a stir?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I thought some people would support it and some would oppose it. That is the case with any important decision the Government takes. But we considered it very carefully. We took the view that the right of children to have the reasonable expectation in our society that other things being equal, they should enjoy the affection of both a mother and a father. We took the view that that right was the most important thing to be considered. This is not an attack on single mothers and that's just a red herring attempt by people to discredit it. I admire the tens of thousands of deserted mums around Australia who raise their children in very difficult circumstances. That's not the issue at all, it's got nothing to do with that. Because the great bulk of single mothers in Australia were previously in marriages or otherwise stable relationships and they didn't want to become single mothers. Very few people become single mothers by choice. And I think that's a point that's often lost sight of in all of these debates.

This is about whether you believe the states who have the constitutional power should have the right to legislate as Victoria has done and Western Australia has done, and perhaps other states might do if they didn't believe the legislation would collide with federal legislation, to limit the availability of IVF programs to people in either marriages or a de facto relationships involving a man and a woman. I mean, it's not just a question of IVF being available to people in marriages, it's also available to women in a de facto relationship with a man, we're not seeking to exclude them. It's just a question though of the right ultimately of the child to have that expectation.

Now I believe that there are a lot of people in the Australian community who have that view. There are others who will disagree and the debate will go on and it will be one of the things that people will take into account when they assess governments. But we've taken a stance. We've expressed our view. We gave a lot of thought to it. And when we introduce the legislation, now the Australian Democrats have said that they're going to vote against it. I haven't heard from Mr Beazley yet. Meg Lees has said she's against it. I hope the Labor Party supports it. I think a lot of people who traditionally vote Labor would probably think the Labor Party ought to support this. But that ultimately is a matter for Mr Beazley to decide. We have experienced everything as far as getting legislation through the Senate's concerned - sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. But what we've got to do as the elected government is to decide what we think is right, announce those decisions and then as I'm doing now explaining why we've taken those decisions.

ZEMANEK:

All right, you say you've taken this step to protect the rights of children. How do you think children are disadvantaged by being brought up by a single parent who has the money, the wherewithal to look after that child? And secondly the gay rights will say, well what about lesbians who have the money, the house, the cars, everything else to look after children? What do you say to those people?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I say is that what we are defending is the right of every child born in this world to have the expectation of care and affection, other things being equal, of a mother and a father. Now, you're talking here about a category of children that from the very beginning can never have that expectation.

ZEMANEK:

All right.

PRIME MINISTER:

And that is, that puts them in a uniquely different situation from other children and we think that is quite a fundamental right. I am not arguing that you don't have love flowing in the direction of children from people in all sorts of situations, that is not, in a sense that is not the point. The point is whether children should have this fundamental right. And I am not trying to uphold some kind of idealised view of family life. I know that not every two parent, heterosexual relationship is a happy one. I know there are plenty of marriages and relationships break down, look I understand all of that. I've seen, and heard of and experienced enough of life's changes and varieties to know perfectly well that that's the situation. But, there comes a point in the decisions a government has to take where you do need to express a view about some fundamental things. And that is simply and unemotionally and very carefully what we're doing on this occasion. We're not seeking to demonise sections of the community, but we are saying that through the thicket and through all the argument and the fog of debate that surrounds these things, a fundamental principle should be asserted, and that is the right of children to have that expectation.

ZEMANEK:

Well, I've often said on this programme that IVF technology was designed to help couples who've some genuine medical condition that prohibits them from conceiving - it was not designed to offer a lifestyle choice to single mums or homosexual couples. Do you agree with that philosophy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would express it in the way I've expressed it. The way I express it is that we believe this legislation and this procedure should respect the fundamental right of every child born into this world to have the reasonable expectation, other things being equal, of love and attention and affection from a mother and a father.

ZEMANEK:

But the gay rights community will say they have plenty of, plenty of love and affection from . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

But, not from a mother and a father.

ZEMANEK:

No, that's exactly right.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's the point I'm making. Once again, it's not an attack on homosexuals, it's not. That's not the point. I mean these red herrings keep being dragged in, I am pushing them aside and I am coming back to that fundamental right and that's the way I express it. And that's the context in which the decision was taken, the spirit in which the decision was taken. It was not taken as some kind of punitive strike against people in our community who are homosexual, that's not the Government's desire at all and people who argue that are wrong. And people who suggest that we are trying to promote homophobia are wrong and I reject that absolutely.

ZEMANEK:

The Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Halliday says she was shocked by your announcement because she hadn't been consulted. Do you think she should have been consulted?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that people who are charged with taking decisions in our system of government are the ones that should take the decisions. And the question of whether this or that person should have been consulted is an issue of process, it doesn't go to the question of whether the decision was right or wrong. We have to take the decision, there's no . . .

ZEMANEK:

But this is a decision about sex though, and she is the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, it is a decision about fundamental human rights, it's not a decision about sex.

ZEMANEK:

Well it's a . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I am sorry, it is not. It's a, see this is with great respect Stan, this is the point people miss, this is not primarily an issue of sexual preference, or primarily an issue of gender balance or any of those things which are the fundamental preserve of you know, that's what fundamentally Sex Discrimination Legislation relates to. When the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, most people saw it as being an attempt to give legislative expression to the view of equality of treatment between men and women. It wasn't about the fundamental rights of children, which this is. This issue is about the rights of children.

ZEMANEK:

What about the rights of the gay community though? They say that it should be their right to have equal opportunity to be able to have children. What do you say to those people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we say that the fundamental right of children born into this world, those fundamental rights take priority over other rights.

ZEMANEK:

The gay community also says they have enormous support in the community. You say otherwise.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't express a view. This is not a question of support or for or opposition to homosexuality, that's not the issue. That is a matter of personal preference, I don't express a view on it. And I encourage total tolerance in relation to those matters. I don't think homosexual people should be persecuted or discriminated against in any way, that's not the issue. And they're not being. What we are doing here is positively upholding the rights of children born into this world to have a particular expectation other things being equal. That's what we're upholding. And that is a positive affirmation of a fundamental right. It is not a negative, punitive attack on another section of the community. People will try and paint it that way to discredit it.

ZEMANEK:

Well a lesbian mother in Queensland who conceived using IVF has accused you of homophobia and of creating hatred in the community. What's your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, she's wrong on both counts. Absolutely wrong. I've heard what that lady had to say. Well that's just wrong. I mean that is not the purpose of the legislation, that's not the purpose of the Government's decision and it's not what we're trying to do. I mean this is a classic sort of, if I may say so, leaving that lady aside, but the general response is just a classic exercise that you, you don't like a decision, you can't really argue against it on the grounds on which the decision's been taken, so you smear it with an inaccurate description in the hope of discrediting it. I mean the two smears against this decision are a) that it's an attack on single mothers which I have explained plainly it's not. And secondly, that it's an attack on homosexuality, which it's not either. It's a positive affirmation in our society of a fundamental right of children born into this world to have the reasonable expectation other things being equal, of the love and attention of both a mother and a father.

ZEMANEK:

All right. Now you were talking earlier on about getting this legislation passed between the Democrats and the Labor Party. Now the Democrat Leader, Meg Lees said earlier today that the Democrats will vote against the Government's planned amendments in the Senate. Members of the Labor Party have also now suggested they will oppose the legislation. I mean it doesn't sound like it's going to be easy to get this through, in fact it's going to be pretty well near impossible.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Stan, that has been the case with a lot of the things we've put up. The Labor Party fought very hard to stop us changing the tax system, didn't they? And look what's happened on that. We ultimately got it through. And the history of politics in the last four or five years in Australia is that governments try and try again, they often end up succeeding, even though it might look difficult in the first instance. But in the end our responsibility is to try and do what we think is right. And you don't, you don't determine whether something is right or wrong according to whether you think it's going to pass through the Senate. Now what kind of government is that? Somebody says to me what's the right thing to do in this situation Mr Howard? And I reply saying oh well I will ask the Senate whether it's going to pass it and then I will tell you what's right and wrong. I mean that is a terrible way of governing a country.

ZEMANEK:

All right, the Federal Court ruling, a lot of people were shocked by it. A lot of people were happy by it. But do you think the Federal Court is out of touch on this subject?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think the Federal Court made a clinical legal decision. Our legal advice is that the Federal Court decision was correct interpretation of the law. That's the advice we've had from the Solicitor General who's an eminent Queen's Council. That's the advice we've had from the Chief General Counsel, who's also a very good lawyer and a Queen's Council. And both of them said look, this is the effect of the law, it may not have been intended that way, but this is the effect of it. And the only realistic alternative is to either do nothing, or try and amend as we're proposing to do, the Federal Sex Discrimination Act. There's really no other alternative and that is why we are acting as we have. Our advice is that the possibility of a successful appeal is completely remote.

ZEMANEK:

All right. Now you said that the Federal Court acted appropriately.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no I said it acted in accordance with the law.

ZEMANEK:

In accordance with the law.

PRIME MINISTER:

And that is the job of courts. It's not the job of courts, it's not the job of courts in our society to become social commentators. They've got to interpret the law that's in front of them.

ZEMANEK:

All right. They acted in accordance with the law. Now a lot of people are going to say, well ok you obviously didn't like the Federal Court ruling, you obviously don't like the law, so because of your theories on the matter, you want to change the law.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's right. Well that's what parliaments are there for. I mean our society operates on the basis that parliaments make the laws and courts interpret them and enforce them. That's how our society has operated for time immemorial and always will. That's the rule of law. That's a democratic society. If the community speaking through the government of the day doesn't like an existing law, well it changes that law to one that it does like. And if the government gets it wrong, gets it wrong and changes the law in a way the community doesn't like well then the community will take it out on the government at the next election.

ZEMANEK:

Isn't life all about basically a matter of choice and basically a lot of people will say well what comes first, the horse or the cart. I mean in this particular incidence, the single mother or the lesbian couple come first before the child, the child's not even born at this present time under this proposed law that you want to change.

PRIME MINISTER:

And it's precisely because of that that we owe a particular sensitivity towards the rights of that child. That is, you've really put your finger right on it, because they are in a special position of vulnerability aren't they? Because they can't exercise a choice, can they?

ZEMANEK:

Well ok, they can't exercise a choice now, but what about the choice of the people that are there right then and now - a) the single mothers; b) the lesbian couples.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's really a question of whether you believe that their right of choice is superior to the right of a child. And that's what it boils down to.

ZEMANEK:

Should it . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no can I just dwell on that for a moment. I mean those who attack us are really saying that that right of choice is superior to the rights of children born into this world.

ZEMANEK:

Shouldn't it be equal though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it can't be on something like this. You've got to take a choice. You've got to make a decision. That's why we're having this debate. If there were no conflict, then you wouldn't have this debate, would you? And you wouldn't be required to take a decision. I mean these are not the sort of things that anybody particularly relishes taking decisions on, but you can't avoid them. When you're in government, when you're the prime minister, you've got responsibilities. I didn't wish that...you know, this has all sort of happened not as a result of anything that we've done, but we are faced with a situation, we knew that as a result of the court decision there would be a proper expectation in the community that we examine it. And that's what we've done and we've reached a decision. Now some people will agree with me and the government and can I say it's not just me. There was overwhelming support around the Cabinet table for the decision the government took, overwhelming support.

ZEMANEK:

Will you be having consultation with Mr Beazley to discuss this matter first, and also with Democrats leader Meg Lees?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if they wish to speak to me I'm happy to do so. But this has been handled in the normal way. I heard Mr Bracks yesterday saying the Prime Minister's put out a press release. Well how else do I announce a decision. I mean we've taken a decision, I put out a press release, I had a news conference and here I am explaining to your listeners, the Australian public, why the government's taken the decision. This has been done in the normal way that democratic governments in the Australian community take their decisions. As for the question if anybody in the opposition parties wishes to speak to me about it I'm happy to do so but we've taken our decision. We always do this. I mean when Labor was in government it used to sit in the Cabinet and it's the government. We're the government, we take a decision, we announce it, we explain it, and we ask people to support it. And it's up to Mr Beazley now to state his opinion. I don't know what his opinion is. I've heard from Jenny Macklin, I've heard from Meg Lees. I've heard from everybody but I'll be interested to hear his views. If he commits the Labor Party to opposing the legislation well he'll no doubt explain that and we'll put the legislation up. I hope he supports. But I can't control that.

ZEMANEK:

If he doesn't support it and Meg Lees doesn't support it, the Democrats don't support it, I mean it's all over red rover from your point of view.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there's been plenty pieces of legislation in the past that the Labor Party and the Democrats have said initially they didn't support and they ultimately do. You know that. But we will have taken a stance. I hope they do support it. But Stan, as I said earlier, you don't determine what's right or what's wrong on something like this by asking the Senate in advance whether it will support something. I mean that is a total abdication of any concept of leadership or any concept of accepting the responsibility of an office. You have responsibility, you've got to deal with these things. Some people will agree with what you do and others won't and that's always been the case.

ZEMANEK:

Mr Howard, I know you've given us some extra time out of your busy schedule today. I thank you for being on the program and we'll talk again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 11481