More than 2,000 mothers and children have gathered in the rain outside Canberra’s Parliament House to protest against federal government plans that would see homebirths effectively made illegal.


“We’ll continue to campaign, but I really think the penny as dropped,” said Homebirth Australia president Justine Caines.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert addresses the rally.

A sea of purple hands with pictures of children born at home were placed on the Federal Mall lawns.

Amid the sea of umbrellas were placards proclaiming homebirths as a woman’s right.

Debate on the government’s health legislation amendment for midwives and nurse practitioners was taking place inside parliament during the rally.

Addressing the crowd, opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said homebirths was a choice that should be protected.

“In Australia in the 21st century, this is about a basic, democratic argument that this government has tried to switch off,” he said.

Labor introduced laws to parliament in June which proposed, among other things, to establish a national midwifery register.

Under the legislation midwives must be insured to join the register but private insurers no longer provide cover for homebirths.

And the federal government does not want to subsidise professional indemnity for homebirth claims.

As a result, up to 200 independent midwives faced deregistration from July 2010 and, if they continued working, risked fines of up to $30,000.

But following a meeting of state and territory health ministers in Canberra on Friday, Roxon announced a two-year exemption from holding indemnity insurance for privately-practising midwives who can’t obtain cover for attending a homebirth.

“We can’t put people in limbo for two years,” said Caines, adding that mothers would continue campaigning in thier home electorates. “We will hold firm,” she said.

In the lower house where debate on the contentious issue resumed on Monday, opposition frontbencher Ian Macfarlane paid tribute to the demonstrators.

Macfarlane said Health Minister Nicola Roxon only listened “when women stand in the rain to get a voice in the house”.

He said the government had been on the verge of banning homebirths and welcomed Roxon’s “massive backflip”.

But she had provided a two-year breathing space, not a solution, he said.

Labor backbencher Jill Hall said listening to opposition MPs saying they support choice for women “really turns my stomach”.

Hall said midwives had been unable to get professional indemnity insurance since 2001, when the coalition was in power.

Labor wasn’t trying to make homebirths illegal and Roxon hadn’t backflipped, she said.