Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2015
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak in the debate on the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2015. This bill will amend five elements of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008: it enables people born as a result of a pre-1998 donor treatment procedure to obtain available identifying information about their donor regardless of whether the donor consents; it creates the ability for those people to lodge contact preferences; it gives the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority responsibility for donor conception registers; it gives the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority powers to obtain information about pre-1998 donations when there is insufficient information available; and it creates an additional offence of tampering with donor conception records.
Effectively this bill will end the distinction between those who were born from donor treatment procedures prior to 1998 and those born after this time. The Greens wholeheartedly support this. The bill introduces the creation of contact preferences which will allow donors to prevent or limit contact with donor-conceived offspring, with a penalty of 50 penalty units. We have concerns about that particular element. Finally, this bill will also establish the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority as the one-stop shop for those seeking information, and the Greens support this.
The Greens have a longstanding interest in progressing the rights of donor-conceived people and the goal of achieving rights for all donor-conceived people regardless of the year they were born. Often in these debates there has been a need to strike a balance between the rights of donors and the rights of donor-conceived people. These rights are not necessarily equal. The priority must be the right of a person to know about their genetic identity, which should be of higher importance than the anonymity that was promised to donors — promised not by legislation at the time but by the providers themselves, who were not necessarily looking ahead to the interests of children who were conceived and their right and need to know their genetic identity.
The Greens have a good record of progressing this issue. In 2008 Sue Pennicuik, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the upper house, was able to gain support for an amendment she moved to the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill 2008 to enable the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to attach a note to the birth certificate of a donor-conceived person to let them know that more information was available about their birth. In 2010 Ms Pennicuik moved in this Parliament that the then Law Reform Committee look into the issue of donor-conceived persons, which resulted in the committee's 2012 Inquiry into Access by Donor-Conceived People to Information about Donors report.
The committee was chaired by the previous member for Prahran, Clem Newton-Brown, with the member for Brunswick as the deputy chair. The main recommendation of its report was that the Victorian government introduce legislation to allow all donor-conceived people to obtain identifying information about their donors. Other recommendations followed, some of which qualified the overarching first recommendation, but the Greens fully agree with that first recommendation and the principle that access to information should be equal for all donor-conceived people. That does not necessarily mean there has to be ongoing contact between the donor and the donor-conceived person, but there should be the right to gain access to that information.
As members have raised, there are always going to be some issues and concerns with retrospective amendments to legislation, and some problems may be caused in the lives of families and of some donors. But the Greens would not consider this to be as distressing as the ongoing lack of information for those people who were donor conceived. People who were donor conceived have had no say in the law that was to prevail over their lives and the law that decided whether they had access to information about their biological parents.
There was a view many years ago that it was an undertaking to protect anonymity. There was a lot of thought about the needs of adults at the time but, I think, little or no thought about the needs of the children — those donor-conceived people who would want to know about their past when they grew into adults. What we know now is that donor-conceived people want to know about their biological origins, not only for themselves and their own identity but also for their health needs and those of the rest of their family — their siblings and children. They are old enough now to have their own children, and of course they have the right to know about their biological origins.
As I mentioned, we have concerns about contact statements, as we did in relation to legislation regarding forced adoption — and I believe contact statements were removed from that legislation. We are concerned that they are not necessarily in the spirit of the legislation. We are talking about contact between people who are now adults, and we question whether this needs to be regulated by the state. If there is concern about unwanted contact, we already have laws in this state to cover that.
We question whether the penalty of 50 penalty units, which would currently stand at $7583.50, is too high and whether penalty units and contact preference statements are in the spirit of the act. However, the Greens will be supporting this bill. As was outlined by previous speakers, there are some incredible personal stories from donor-conceived individuals who have sought to discover their biological origins. They have been obstructed in their efforts because of the mindset, practices and legislation of the past. This legislation will ensure that all donor-conceived people will have access to information on their biological history — information they have a right to know.