Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 – Explained (Part 2)

Suspension of Government Business & Timeline of Passage

Motions to suspend all routine of business so that the debate on this extreme late term abortion bill could swiftly pass became a key factor in the debate on abortion in the NSW Parliament. The Government agreed to put all other legislation on hold until the debate concluded (with one urgent exception late in the piece in the upper house), highlighting that a deal had definitely been struck with the Independent member Alex Greenwich and the bill’s co-sponsors. Effectively, the state put all other issues on hold to in order to ensure swift passage of decriminalising abortion-to-birth.

Timeline of the bill’s passage (with an emphasis on the process which enabled it to pass):

Thursday 1st August 2019 – Alex Greenwhich introduced the bill, then delivered his second reading speech. Debate was adjourned to the next sitting day.

Tuesday 6th August 2019 – Government business time was entirely devoted to the delivery of second reading speeches on the bill (described in Part 1 of this series), with the exception of Question Time.

Wednesday 7th August 2019 – Mr Andrew Constance (Minister for Transport and Roads and Member for Bega) moved a Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders: Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 – to skip Committee Reports and move straight to the abortion bill. This was agreed to without division. Government business time was again almost entirely devoted to the delivery of second reading speeches on the bill. At the end of the day, the Racing Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 was introduced then quickly adjourned.

Thursday 8th August 2019 – Minister Constance once again moved a Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders: Routine of Business which specifically stated that the abortion bill was to “take precedence of all other items of general business...”. This was agreed to without division.

Consideration in Detail – where the bill was questioned at length from the floor of parliament – began this same day where amendments were debated (which will be explained in a future post). Late that night, the bill passed the lower house with amendment.

Tuesday 20th August 2019 – which was the first sitting day after the bill had passed the lower house – the bill was introduced into the upper house. The Hon Penny Sharpe immediately moved: “That standing orders be suspended to allow the passing of the bill through all its remaining stages during the present or any one sitting of the House”. This was agreed to without division.

A further motion was moved later in the day by the Hon Don Harwin which outlined that the abortion bill would “take precedence over all other business except questions on this day” (Tuesday 20th), on Wednesday 21st, on Tuesday 17th and on Wednesday 18th September. This was agreed to without division. Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st August were then devoted to second reading speeches, with the bill passing the second reading debate on Wednesday night.

Thursday 22nd August – the upper house moved on to debate private members’ business. The Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (Coal Seam Gas Moratorium) Bill 2019 was introduced by Mr Justin Field, and a motion on manufacturing jobs was debated at length. It is important to note that Thursdays are private member’s days – government business is not usually debated on this day.

Tuesday 17th September – the next sitting day after the 22nd August – returned the attention of the upper house to the abortion bill. The Committee stage where amendments were debated began. This continued into Wednesday 18th September, in accordance with the motion agreed to on Tuesday 20th August.

On Thursday 19th September, private member’s business was set aside in the upper house and the debate on amendments resumed. This debate did not conclude.

Tuesday 24th September, the next sitting day after Thursday 19th September, saw the Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders: Conduct of Business moved by Hon Don Harwin. The motion stated “[t]hat proceedings on all of the remaining stages of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 take precedence over all other business, except questions on Tuesday 24 September 2019, until concluded or adjourned”. The motion was agreed to without division.

On Wednesday 25th September, the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 was debated. Then, in accordance with a motion moved by Hon Don Harwin, “following the conclusion or adjournment of proceedings on the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, proceedings on all of the remaining stages of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 take precedence of all other business, except questions, this day until concluded…” This motion was agreed to without division. (The Justice bill was an urgent bill brought in after anti-terrorism legislation had lapsed.)

The abortion bill then passed on Wednesday 25th September.

On Thursday 26th September, the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 returned to the lower house where it was passed, without division, after five speakers spoke in agreement to the amendments passed in the upper house.

The fact that an Independent MP was enabled by a Liberal government, to take up an unprecedented allotment of government business time to debate abortion must give us all cause to pause.

It is now, more than ever before, important to join a political party today so that you can have influence on the candidates being put forward for the next state election. If you are already a member of a party, it is important for you to get involved actively in pre-selection votes. Make sure that you ask your party candidates where they stand on pro-life issues. Get them to pledge to Stand for Life in the coming term. This is the only way we will be able to rebuild the parliament of NSW and this is the only way we will ensure that the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 will be brought down next term.