Friday, February 10, 2006


Driving down the motorway from Western Sydney yesterday I whooped at the news that the Senate had voted with a majority of 45 to 28 to support a private members bill to hand the power of RU486 from Health Minister, Tony Abbott to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

I have been getting increasingly concerned about the far right gaining more and more ground in Australia, not just in popular debate but also in policy decisions. This bill was put forward by a democrat Senator and I have been following its progress with great interest. The purpose of the bill is to allow an abortion-inducing drug to be assessed not by a politician with his (in this case it is a man) particular set of morals but by a panel of medical experts who will make a medical decision about its legality and administration.

The bill and surrounding debates raised some very interesting issues; about the separation of powers in Australian society, about gender, and perhaps most powerfully about the power of scientific over emotive discourse (still). Still, I say in this case with enormous relief, since the strongest argument that emerged in the muddied waters of this debate was the ability to take a scientific stand over an emotional one. And isn't it curious that in most cases it was women taking the scientific stand and men taking the emotional one. And isn't it curious to see that as much as the right attempted to appropriate the scientific discourse for their own ends vis a vis the reference to statistics on deaths caused by RU486, their argument could not gain ground on the point that it is more appropriate for a body of medical experts to assess this drug, as they do with all others because this is the role that has been accorded to them under a democratic system of governance that has at its core
the notion of a separation of powers.

Perhaps the far right has been able able to gain so much ground because this separation of powers has been so undermined by the present government. The entire political sphere relies on this separation to maintain power and attempts to resist it (or get around it). But in the case of our present government it is increasingly seen as more of a hindrance than a support. It is therefore not suprising to here Prime Minister John Howard's use of the word "bound" evoking an image of someone held hostage, when he said in response to the outcome of the Senate vote,

"That's democracy and we're all bound by it."

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