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Attorney-General authorises Bishops to mount IVF challenge in High Court

The Federal Government has followed up last week's announcement that it will be intervening in the Catholic Bishops' challenge to a Federal Court decision allowing single women access to reproductive technology.

Attorney-General Daryl Williams announced on Tuesday that he has granted a fiat to the Bishops to given them the necessary standing to challenge last year's Federal Court decision in McBain v State of Victoria case.

The Bishops' Conference has issued a statement welcoming the Commonwealth's support for its arguments that the Sex Discrimination Act is not inconsistent with the Victorian Infertility Treatment Act.

The Bishops have launched a High Court challenge to a decision last year that state legislation prohibiting single women and lesbians from accessing in vitro fertilisation technology was in breach of the Federal Sex Discrimination Act.

This latest development follows last week's announcement by the Attorney-General that the Commonwealth will be intervening in support of some of the Conference's arguments in the IVF High Court Case.

Legal Counsel for the Bishops' Conference, Mr David Jackson, QC, Mr John McCarthy, QC and, Michael Christie appeared on behalf of the Bishops at a directions hearing held on Tuesday at the High Court in Sydney.

A fiat is an authority that enables a person or body to commence or maintain court proceedings that the Attorney-General could bring to assert a public right. A fiat can be granted to a person who could not otherwise seek court orders in their own right. The last fiat granted by a Commonwealth Attorney-General was in 1991.

Last year a Victorian woman challenged state legislation that prohibited her from accessing reproductive technology, arguing that it was in breach of the Federal Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of marital status. The Constitution dictates that where federal and state legislation conflict, federal legislation takes precedence.

Archbishop Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, warned that people would be "appalled by the thought that our children have no right in law to a father".

"We are on the verge of creating a whole new generation of 'stolen children'."

Catholic Church awarded a fiat by the Attorney-General in IVF High Court Case (ACBC)
Background material regarding IVF challenge (ACBC)
Catholic Bishops granted a fiat for High Court case (Attorney-General Media Release)
Bishops welcome Government decision to join battle (Catholic Weekly 19/8/01)
Catholics get Coalition aid in IVF fight (The Age 15/8/01)