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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2008


Senator POWELL(5.09) —I too wish to make some comments in relation to the resolutions of the Australian Agricultural Council's 125th meeting and in particular its findings in relation to the Lazenby report on plant breeding in Australia, which is found on page 44 of its resolutions. While the Council supports plant variety rights for Australia-indeed the Parliament enacted plant variety rights legislation a little while ago-the report also notes that plant variety rights `has the potential to change the marketing of publicly bred varieties and may affect the scope for collaboration between research institutions across States'. This of course was one of the concerns of the Australian Democrats when opposing the plant variety rights legislation in February of this year-that is, a decrease in the free exchange of scientific information on plant material.

In opposing plant variety rights the Australian Democrats were joined by many groups in the community, including the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the social justice committee of the Uniting Church in Victoria, Friends of the Earth and the Australian Council of Churches, as well as a large number of smaller community groups with an interest in organic agriculture and related activities. The Democrats fought the passage of the Plant Variety Rights Bill but the Opposition supported the Government, which itself has done an about-face on the issue since it took office, as it has on so many other issues-for example, uranium sales to France, tertiary fees for students, overseas aid, multiculturalism, and on goes the list.

As a fall back position the Australian Democrats tried to make to the Plant Variety Rights Bill amendments which included the requirement for merit testing for new plant varieties produced both within Australia and overseas. We were particularly concerned with quarantine, disease and unsuitability for Australian conditions. We also attempted to amend the Bill so that greater public access would be provided to information regarding applications for rights for new plant varieties. We wanted increased appeal mechanisms for people objecting to the granting of rights for a plant variety. We attempted to introduce a clause relating to the liability of a grantee in the event that a variety should turn out to be a weed, a disease carrier, a virus or toxic. Not one of the Democrats' 27 amendments was accepted by the Government or the Opposition.

Plant variety rights means the private ownership of living things. The Australian Democrats totally oppose this in principle and in all its forms. A recent decision by the United States Patent Office to allow patenting of new types of animals which are produced by human intervention is a most horrifying extension of plant patenting. From the patenting of plants it seems there could be a move to the patenting of animals. Perhaps the next step is the patenting of new human gene forms designed in scientific laboratories around the world, including Australia. With Australian scientific teams leading the world in animal and human biotechnology and with the great profits to be made it is almost a sure bet that Australia will follow America's lead, as it has with plant variety rights. The links between genetic engineering in animals and humans are so close that one of Australia's leading experts in in vitro fertilisation techniques, Alan Trounson, is a veterinarian. The people of Australia must be told of the excesses which scientists in genetic engineering are taking with living things-human, animal or plant genetics and biotechnology. I am disappointed at the short-sightedness of the Australian Agricultural Council with respect to plant variety rights and I can only hope that it, the Parliament and the Australian people will have the common sense and the foresight to see the dangers of extending plant patenting to animal patenting.