Australia

NSW abortion decriminalisation bill heads to the upper house

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MPs are preparing for a long week in NSW parliament as the upper house debates a bill decriminalising abortion, which passed the lower house by 59 votes to 31.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has taken a veiled swipe at federal Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce over his involvement in the state's abortion debate.

In the call, Mr Joyce - who holds the NSW regional seat of New England - argues the draft legislation would allow abortions to be performed "for any reason" up to birth.

"Please don't #robocall me ...," one recipient posted on Twitter. "Your opinion has been weighed, measured, and found wanting."

Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday took aim at the former deputy prime minister's involvement.

"The NSW parliament is for NSW parliamentarians to get views from their communities, to look at their own consciences and vote accordingly," she told reporters in Sydney.

"This is an issue for NSW MPs."

Ms Berejiklian dismissed criticism from some MPs that the draft legislation has been rushed through.

"I have been in parliament for nearly 17 years and I can't remember a bill having so much debate in the lower house," she said.

Hundreds of pro-choice activists rallied in Macquarie Street on Tuesday morning.

Sydneysiders attend an early morning rally at Parliament House in support of decriminalising abortion
Sydneysiders attend an early morning rally at Parliament House in support Of decriminalising abortion
Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

The private member's bill to remove abortion from the state's Crimes Act, which passed the lower house 59 to 31, was last week considered by an upper house committee ahead of the debate.

MPs are preparing for a long session to deal with the legislation, with upper house opponents planning to table amendments.

Christian organisation FamilyVoice Australia on Monday said the short time allowed for the committee inquiry had disenfranchised thousands of people, and the overall management of the bill lacked due process and procedural fairness.

Some MPs have also written to the premier seeking more time for the committee process, but chair Shayne Mallard said it has completed the work and received a broad range of submissions.

"My personal view is that if we had six months we'd still have the same information. I can't see how anything would have changed," he told AAP on Monday.

"This issue's been debated since the 1960s and so my personal view is that you could have a six-month inquiry or six-day inquiry, everyone was ready to push print and send in their submissions."

Mr Mallard expected the committee's report would be tabled in parliament on Tuesday as initially planned, despite the inquiry receiving about 14,000 submissions.

The Liberal MP had personally received 10,783 emails regarding the bill, and counting, as of Monday afternoon.
"Every member of parliament, it's the same situation," he said.

Labor MP Penny Sharpe, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she remained cautiously optimistic it would be passed despite some vigorous opposition.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has received some criticism over her handling of the draft legislation, which is opposed by several frontbench MPs including Dominic Perrottet, Anthony Roberts and David Elliott.

The premier, fresh from an overseas trade visit on Monday, said conscience votes gave colleagues latitude and she had no issue with them expressing their views.

"My only restriction is please be respectful of other people's views and that's the expectation that I have," she told reporters.

Mr Mallard - who, like Ms Berejiklian, supports the bill - said the issue had been around a long time and he didn't agree with the criticism of the premier.

"This (the bill) is not an ambush, it's not a surprise and putting it at the feet of the premier's not fair," he said.

Opponents of the proposed laws in the upper house include Christian Democrat Fred Nile, who previously described the bill as "a tyrannical piece of legislation that enforces secular morality on everyone".

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