"Pretty historic": Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison reflects on safe zone win

Historic moment: Jenny Aitchison said her address to the chamber regarding safe access zones was one of the hardest speeches she'd ever written.
Historic moment: Jenny Aitchison said her address to the chamber regarding safe access zones was one of the hardest speeches she'd ever written.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison has called the establishment of ‘safe access zones’ around NSW abortion clinics an historic moment for women’s reproductive rights in the state. 

Ms Aitchison was highly visible during the marathon discussion of the bill, which passed state parliament late on Thursday night following a 13-hour debate.

“It was pretty historic, it’s the first piece of legislation that has been positive around this space for women probably ever,” said the Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Ms Aitchison said the lengthy discussion about the bill, which makes it illegal to film or harass staff and patients within 150-metres of a clinic, reflected its highly personal nature.

“It was one of those bills that a lot of members thought deeply about,” she said. 

While it eventually passed by 61 votes to 18, the Maitland MP admitted it came as a relief after hearing multiple MPs speak in opposition to the move.

“When you’re only hearing the opposite view it’s quite worrying,” she said, adding that she thought MPs speaking against the bill gave “credence to the ridiculous idea that sidewalk counsellors provide any tangible help” to patients. 

Among the MPs who notably voted against it were Minister for Women Tanya Davies, and Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward. 

Ms Aitchison wrote to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian the following day urging her to reconsider the pair’s portfolio positions. 

“If you’re going to be Minister for Women, you need to be be Minister for Women 100 per cent of the time,” Ms Aitchison said of Ms Davies.  

While lashing the opposition, Ms Aitchison praised the bill’s architect, fellow Labor MP Penny Sharpe. 

“I have to give credit to Penny Sharpe and the way she went about this and the patience she addressed it with,” Ms Aitchison said.

She added that it was a proud moment of her own parliamentary career. 

“I’m so pleased to have anything to do with it,” she said. 

“It’s the first piece of legislation Labor has got up since they were in government and I think it’s extremely symbolic that (the bill) is something so important and personal to women.”