The final
approval of the RU486 bill yesterday by the House of Representatives was not
unexpected, but the procedural path that it travelled is interesting enough to
be worth examining.

There were
three divisions, or recorded votes, on the bill (all available on Hansard, scroll down to page 34). The first was on the amendment moved by Jackie
Kelly. This was an amendment to the second reading motion; it would
have resulted in the bill being withdrawn and replaced with a watered-down
version. This was rejected 96 votes to 49.

The second
division was on the second reading, which is the approval in principle for the
bill; it was passed 95 to 50. Once the second reading has been approved,
detailed amendments can be moved, so Andrew Laming moved to weaken the bill by
retaining a role for parliamentary oversight. His amendments were defeated 90
to 56. These votes made it clear that the numbers were overwhelming, so final
approval of the bill, the third reading, was voted without a division.

Anyone who
was serious about the “compromise” position of giving parliament the
right to overrule the TGA had to vote “yes” to the second reading, to allow the
bill to proceed to the amendment stage, and then “yes” to the amendments
themselves. But only eight MPs – Laming himself, six other Liberals and one
National – took this route. The other 48 who supported the amendments were
opponents of the bill in principle, having voted “no” on the second reading.

One of
them, Michael Ferguson, gave the last speech in the debate with an ardent plea
for “consensus”, calling on the bill’s supporters to “give some
ground in good faith” by supporting the Laming amendments.

But since he had shown his opposition to compromise by
trying to kill the bill at the second reading stage, why would his opponents,
who had the numbers, feel any great inclination to give ground?

nothing wrong with trying to amend a bill you don’t have the numbers to defeat
– it’s a common parliamentary tactic. But it’s a bit rich to call yourselves
champions of “compromise” when you do.