With preselection jostling well underway before the 2015 New South Wales election, it’s worth examining the links between the government’s factional warriors and a new law being proposed.
The so-called “Zoe’s Law” — or the Crimes Amendment Bill 2013 — seeks to give a foetus the same rights as a person, for the first time in Australia. Proponents of the bill have argued that the legislation would have no impact on the availability of abortion in NSW, despite opposition from legal and medical experts including the Australian Medical Association, the NSW Bar Association, the NSW Law Society, MDA National, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists.
Many moderate members of the NSW Coalition have spoken firmly in Parliament about supporting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and expressed concerns about the potential ramifications of this bill. Supporters of the bill include the Right to Life Association, which, in a recent letter to NSW MPs, said this:
“Unsurprisingly this legislation which aims to bring justice to an unborn child and especially to the grieving mother, has incited opposition from those who are fearful that the sacred cow of freely available abortion would in some way be threatened! Clearly such opponents believe in discrimination based on wanted-ness!”
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This ignores, of course, that abortion remains unlawful in NSW, as highlighted by legal expert Julie Hamblin on the ABC’s Background Briefing.
Abortion politics have become tied up with factional manoeuvring in the NSW government’s hard-Right. The immediate past president of the Right to Life Association is also the NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith. Smith, the member for Epping, also has several notable conservative staffers such as his chief of staff, Damien Tudehope. Tudehope has served as a spokesperson for the BA Santamaria-founded Australian Family Association and Santamaria’s National Civic Council. The AFA was “formed to provide a forum and a vehicle for those individuals and organisations in the community concerned with the strengthening and support of the family”.
Tudehope is a well-known if unsuccessful preselection candidate for the hard-Right “Uglies” faction of the NSW Liberal Party. After the state seat of Baulkham Hills was vacated, David Clarke backed Tudehope against one-time protégé (now federal member for Mitchell) Alex Hawke candidate David Elliott. This ugly factional stoush also saw Tudehope’s son Thomas resign from his position as Malcolm Turnbull’s staffer after the fight went public in a spectacular fashion involving a Downfall video and legal challenges.
Also on Smith’s staff is Audrey Echevarria, a board member of the Women’s Forum Australia. That group states that it challenges “the rhetoric of ‘choice’ promoted by an abortion industry that has a vested interest in promoting abortion as a procedure without repercussions”. Smith’s own views accord with the aims of the groups his staffers are part of. While he has mostly flown under the radar on the bill, his correspondence in relation to the legislation and his maiden speech make his views clear.
Smith, Tudehope and another of Smith’s staffers, Nicholas Santucci, are all past guests and speakers at Warrane College. Santucci was named in 2004 as leading a hard-Right stack of the Young Liberals with about 300 Warrane College associates.
All this comes at a time when the faction is under internal scrutiny for failing to deliver western Sydney in the federal election. David Clarke-sponsored candidate Jaymes Diaz’ spectacular meltdown aside, the faction preselected ideological fellow-travellers who could not deliver most western Sydney seats in play. Hartcher, along with the Uglies faction, advocated last year for changes to party rules to allow for plebiscites, which moderates feared were a recipe for branch-stacking and took to the courts.
O’Farrell has worked hard to achieve peace between these factions after the damaging 2012 court action against the Liberal State Council from the Right. A key question now worth asking is whether support for this kind of law, so beloved of conservative anti-abortion campaigners in the United States, is also part of internal factional peace-making before the 2015 state election preselections are decided.
*Claire Pullen is a commentator on social issues and has volunteered her time to the Our Bodies, Our Choices campaign, set up to lobby against the bill