May 13, 2016

Queensland the archaic state

It's hard to believe but I have lived in Queensland for more than six years and only realised on Monday that abortion is illegal here. I was profoundly shocked: I felt peculiar, as if I'd suddenly been transported to a third-world state.

There was a protracted discussion in the UK decades ago about the viability of a foetus, and the stage of a pregnancy beyond which only a massive risk of death to the mother meant abortion was an option. The private member's bill introduced to the Queensland Parliament this week by Independent MP Rob Pyne still requires those details to be ironed out during debate on the floor of the house. At this stage Mr Pyne seeks simply to update a law from 1899 that criminalises abortion: 'What a woman decides to do with her body, in consultation with her doctor, does not belong in the criminal code.' Quite.

Recently, a 12-year-old girl had to appear in the Supreme Court to gain permission to have a termination. This is bordering on the inhumane.

The ACT, Victoria and Tasmania have all decriminalised abortion, but surely nationwide consistency necessitates federal jurisdiction.

The two main political parties are likely to allow their MPs a conscience vote. There will undoubtedly be a wide spectrum of opinions, from pro-choicers to typical detractors, old white men on the religious far right.

One caller to ABC Brisbane, perhaps belonging to the latter group, expressed concern that young women would use abortion as a form of birth control if the rules were relaxed. This is deeply insulting to countless women who have faced the agonising choice to continue with a pregnancy or abort, and illustrates the fact that some men with an urge to pontificate on the subject should pause for substantial thought before opening their mouths.

A few days later we learned that Brisbane's private members' club Tattersall's, bastion of tradition, 'heritage and unparalleled elegance', has offered honorary memberships to a number of male members of Queensland's government and Opposition. I am proud that Queensland currently boasts a female Premier and Deputy Premier, and 50 per cent of Annastacia Palaszczuk's Cabinet are women, but none are eligible, unless they are the partners of male members or are invited by male members.

Bizarrely, the LNP held their International Women's Day festivities at the Club last year.

I can scarcely believe I am writing about such an anachronistic indulgence. I understand men use clubs such as Tattersall's to network and do business. It is therefore all the more insulting that female members of the state government are exempt. Are they not worthy, membership being 'limited to gentlemen' but not gentle ladies? Tattersall's has a long connection to the racing industry, but Racing Minister Grace Grace was also snubbed.

The calls to talkback radio were predictable. Australian women are expected to 'just get on with it' when it comes to discrimination, otherwise they're accused of that most despised misdemeanour – whingeing. Men and women callers alike made the point that it's OK if women want to belong to all-women fitness clubs for example (for reasons other than the desire for female company, I suspect), and similarly for men to have men-only gatherings. This misses the point, however. Tattersall's didn't have to issue the invitations, drawing attention to their selectivity. As it is, they added arrogance and insensitivity to insult.

By the by, I wonder if Tattersall's issue Partner Cards to same-sex couples?

All in all, not a great week for women's confidence about their rights or equality in Queensland.


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