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Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Page: 5385

Mr CAUSLEY (4:48 PM) —I rise to speak on the Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002. Mr Deputy Speaker, like you I have been in politics for quite a long time. I think, in my 18 years of representation in both the state and federal parliaments, there have been very few occasions when a conscience vote has occurred within the parliament. I do not recall one in the state parliament, and this is the second conscience vote in my time in the federal parliament—the first being with the euthanasia debate.

I acknowledge that this is a very difficult debate. There are, no doubt, some very strongly held views on the subject. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the views held by a number of people are steeped in religion and history, and they are entitled to hold those views. Undoubtedly, people of my generation were brought up in a very strong religious era. I came from a very strongly Anglican family, and I still practise the Anglican religion. But I do think sometimes that we have to try to separate some of the religious beliefs from areas such as the Australian parliament, where decisions have to be made for future generations.

It is interesting to sit in the chair and listen to the debates. There have been some very good speeches from both sides about their position on this particular bill. Sometimes I believe the language has been too emotive from both sides. It is a matter of being objective on this particular issue and trying to analyse exactly what the debate is about and what the opportunities are. I do not pretend to be a scientist and, while I might have some rudimentary knowledge of DNA and genetics, I am certainly no expert in that particular field. But, from listening to the debate, it seems to me that it comes down to an argument about whether the embryo can be considered to be a living being that would become a Homo sapien. The opposition to it is that the embryo is alive—that it is a living thing, and it is being killed.

Coming from my background as a rural person and a farmer, you tend to analyse why you would come to that conclusion. With some of our backgrounds in religion, the old parable about the farmer sowing came fairly clearly to me. The parable very clearly said that when the seeds fell, some fell upon the rocks, some fell amongst weeds and some fell on fertile ground. Those people in opposition to the bill would say that it is a quantum leap to go from a fertilised grass seed to a fertilised seed of the highest mammal in the world—and maybe it is—but I have to say that I do not think the analogy is any different. I dare say that some of the confusion comes from whether the fertilised human seed is considered to be alive; whether it has already progressed to that stage. I do not believe it has. In my opinion, if it has not connected itself with the female and it has not started to reproduce as a human being, then it is no different from a seed that has never found a place to grow and to be nourished.

That is the position that I come from. Whether you can guarantee that these terrible diseases will be cured by way of research—claims that are being made by both sides—is not a conclusion we can come to at present. But science has to start somewhere and it is often a very long road. When we look back in history at some of the great achievements of the human race, we see that some of the scientists that put forward views centuries ago were indeed considered heretics. Often they were burnt at the stake for the views they held. Humans have progressed and, as science has been developed, it has meant that we do not suffer from the terrible plagues that used to ravage the planet in the past, which kept the population under considerable control. Thousands and thousands of people died from the black plague, smallpox and diseases that this generation has conquered because of science. People have gone out and achieved these results in the name of all humanity.

I accept that in my electorate there are people who hold some very strong views and they are entitled to hold those strong views. Some of my constituents entirely object to these embryos, as we are calling them, being used in the name of science. I have spoken widely to communities in my electorate. If I were asked to make a judgment, I would say that the majority of people believe that the bill, and the bounds it puts on research, should be supported as it gives opportunity for great results in the future. The divide is very strong, but those who oppose this bill would never come to that conclusion. As representatives of the Australian people we have to make the decisions, the judgments, on what we see as the position of our electorate. That is the way that I see it in my electorate.

It would be helpful to talk a little about the area of stem cell research, because there has been considerable debate about adult stem cells versus embryonic stem cells. On the advice I have been given, both areas can achieve results in the long term. I do not think that either area is going to give many short-term results, although there could be some short-term results with Alzheimer's. The research will go on for a considerable amount of time. Again, on the advice that I have been given, the flexibility of the embryonic stem cells makes them valuable to science. I am a little disappointed at times with scientists in general. There seems to be quite a strong division within the science community—it could be jealousy or because of the funds made available for science or whatever, I do not know, but it does disappoint me. I would have thought that science was fairly black and white: something can or cannot be achieved. I do not think that some of the arguments that have been put forward by some of the people who have been trying to influence members of this parliament are really scientific arguments, and that does disappoint me.

There are constraints in the bill: there are limits on the number of embryos and there has to be consent from the parents of the fertilised embryo. I emphasise the fact that there is a sunset clause—a very important part of the bill. Issues such as this, particularly when there are those who argue that we are going down a particular track, should always come back to the parliament. Under our system of democracy, which I strongly support, we represent the people. I am not keen to send off some of these decisions to scientific boards or experts. I think that it should always come back to the parliament and to the representatives of the people—whether it is today, in five years time or in 20 years time. The parliament should make the decisions that would have a big effect on the community. It is a point that we should remember and respect. The strength of our system is that the people speak through us. If we do not speak for the people, we will not be here next time. Someone else will be here who will put forward their views.

I am not going to name people, because I do not think that is the right thing to do. I think it is highly emotive. I have known a number of people in recent years—some very close friends and a couple of relatives—who have developed some of these debilitating and destructive diseases. We would be doing a disservice to the community if we did not allow research in this field to continue. We need to put restraints in place and to make sure that people cannot step outside the bounds of what the community believes is reasonable. I would hope that were the case in other countries, although I doubt it in some instances. I doubt that the types of restraints in this country would be embraced by other jurisdictions. It is important that we continue to strive to overcome some of these diseases. Scientists believe that this is within our grasp. It would be quite wrong if we cut that off and did not allow it to continue.

When we think very carefully about this—especially with the argument that it is unnatural, that it is killing—we have to come to terms with the fact that, when we went down this track and accepted in-vitro fertilisation, we were accepting the fact that an egg could be fertilised outside the body. That is unnatural. It is not the way we know natural fertilisation to take place. So we took that step of fertilising an egg outside the body fully knowing with the science that we had that embryos—and, as I said, I prefer to call them fertilised eggs—would be created. We have also been told, and it is fairly evident from the debates that we have heard in this place, that in fact there are surplus embryos available. I also accept the argument put forward by some that that should not be the reason we should go forward and say, `Let's use them.' I do not think that is the reason at all. I think the reason is that we can see hope. We can see an opportunity. We see a resource that is going to be lost, but that resource is an extraordinary resource.

When I read some of the papers and I saw that the scientists call these cells immortal—we might have a religious debate going on about that—and that they can be reproduced over and over again in the laboratory, that was an extraordinary revelation to me. It just goes to show me how important and how different these embryonic cells are. The benefits that this could yield came through clearly to me then. As I said, I am not stupid. I know that it will not be tomorrow and it may not be in my lifetime, but certainly, if we continue to do this research and look at the benefits that can accrue for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, this will give them great benefits in some of the areas we struggle with at the present time.

Undoubtedly, nature is an incredible being. If you look at it in its entirety, yes, there will always be problems. I have heard in the debate that because they are embryonic cells there may be some rejection. We have rejection at the present time with the implanting of cells and foreign organs into the body. It is something that we have had to learn to overcome. I do not think anybody these days would say we should not do a heart transplant or we should not do a kidney transplant. There was probably a time when people disagreed with that. Rejection is a problem we have gradually been overcoming. If there is a rejection process with embryonic stem cells, that will be something that science will have to overcome again. In the long term, I would not support the idea that embryos should just be developed for science. That is certainly not the way the Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 is put forward. It is something I would not support.

I want to touch on something else which has been raised by members on this side and certainly has been commented on by members opposite, particularly the Leader of the Opposition. As it is put forward, this bill is two bills. It is certainly an anti-cloning bill and a bill on embryo stem cell research. Some members have expressed the view that coupling those two bills inhibits their conscience vote. I would agree with that. I thought that the Leader the Opposition was wrong when he said he would not give his members a conscience vote on that because it is clear to me that I have not heard or seen any member of this place who would support cloning as such. As I said earlier, I am not a biologist and I am certainly not an expert in genetics, but I have some very grave concerns about cloning a person. That is a very big step. Maybe one day that will happen. I am not going to argue that point. At this particular time, I think members are rightly concerned about having those two coupled. There are people who have a genuine view that they would want to vote either way. If members proposed that they would like to split the bill, I would support that because it gives a genuine conscience vote to those people who want to vote against cloning yet want to express a view otherwise on the embryonic stem cell bill. Because it is such an emotive subject and because people hold some very strong views, we should be able to allow the members of this parliament to express their views on both those issues.

I think I have covered most of the ground. Obviously, I am at difference with my leader. This is a conscience vote. On the balance, as I weigh it up on the evidence I have before me and with the benefits that can accrue from this type of research, I would have to support the bill.