Will surrogacy reform be tossed out with the double dissolution we had to have?
My hope is that Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten will both publicly commit to reconstituting the current Parliamentary inquiry into surrogacy post the election. Without that commitment, it is likely that surrogacy reform will be dead and buried- until the next scandal comes along, and we ask ourselves- why wasn’t something done to prevent this?
Malcolm Turnbull has moved the Budget forward a week, to 3 May, with the hope that in the three sitting weeks that Parliament now has that laws concerning the Australian Building and Construction Commission will be passed by the cross-benchers in the Senate. If not passed, then he has the trigger for a double dissolution, to be called by 11 May, with the election on 2 July.
The last double dissolution was held in 1984 by Bob Hawke. A double dissolution means that all the members of the House of Representatives and all the Senators are up for re-election (as opposed tot he House of Representatives term being 3 years, and half the Senators being up for re-election every 3 years). The aim is to clear out the cross-benchers (other than Nick Xenophon and likely Jacqui Lambie), so that the Government of the day will have much greater ease passing laws through the Senate.
If there is a double dissolution, it is likely that any reform to the country’s surrogacy laws will be put on hold- at best. This is because the current Parliamentary review lives and dies with this Parliament. When this Parliament is dissolved, then so goes the review. The review is scheduled to be completed with a report to Parliament by 30 June- which of course will be about 6 weeks after Parliament is dissolved.
Any work that the committee handling the review, the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, has done, will be put on the backburner. Post the election, there will be either a Turnbull government or a Shorten government. Either government will have to revive the review for it to continue.
What form it will take- if it happens- is an unknown. Currently the chair of the committee is George Christensen, LNP member for Dawson, centred on Mackay. The deputy chair currently is Sharon Claydon, ALP member for Newcastle. Who knows whether either of them will hold their seats, let alone be reappointed tot he committee, let alone who might be the other members of the committee.
And all the while the needed reforms to our country’s surrogacy laws will be put off. There will likely be more Baby Gammy scandals- until we have meaningful reform in Australia, so that Australians are confident to and can undertake egg donation and surrogacy in Australia, and not feel as though they are being forced to go overseas.
Two statistics speak volumes. If our current framework of laws about surrogacy and egg donation are so good, why do:
- 92% of intended parents undertake surrogacy overseas, rather than do so at home?
- 3 or 4 couples per business day go to one clinic in South Africa to undergo egg donation?
Of course, if the report by some miracle is produced to Parliament before it rises, then its job is done, with hopefully some recommendations to Government and the Parliament as to changes in the law as to how to fix this mess. That will not be the end of the road for reform- just the beginning of what is probably going to be a long journey. But at least it’s a start.
We can only have our fingers crossed.