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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6356


Senator HOGG (12:07 PM) —I have not participated directly in the debate this morning but, having listened to the debate on this issue, I now share the concerns that have been raised by Senator Evans in his non-party-political hat, speaking as Senator Evans. These concerns have also been expressed by other colleagues around this chamber. I think this really gets to the difficulties that may well be experienced in this debate. I think it is something, as Senator Evans has said, that needs to be taken into consideration. The committee knows that I have moved a number of amendments to this bill. I have always been an advocate of this bill progressing as swiftly as possible and that is what I have always endeavoured to do in my attempts to participate in this debate.

It seems to me that a number of the amendments that I have raised arise specifically out of the issue of COAG. It is very important—and I think this is something that needs to be done, as Senator Evans has indicated—that those amendments be taken into consideration over the next fortnight. In that way it may well be that the bill will be expedited in its passage through here. There are still going to be other issues where there are fundamental areas of disagreement between the views of a number of people around this chamber and the government view. I think that will lead to a healthy, robust debate.

As Senator Evans said, if you have the consent and agreement of a sufficient number of colleagues in this place on your amendment then it will get up. That is fair enough. On this occasion, many of the senators are paying very close attention to the debate that is taking place. I think Senator Evans was correct in saying that shifts and changes in voting patterns will take place on a number of amendments that are before this chamber. One would hope that is the case, otherwise it will be a very sterile debate indeed. It will be a debate that, at the end of the day, will account for naught in terms of giving the Australian people the best piece of legislation that this parliament can possibly deliver.

I looked at the COAG agreement and I just want to refer to a couple of the clauses, because I think this really gets to the heart of things. In clause 6 it says:

The following principles should underpin nationally-consistent legislation ...

Clause 6.1 says:

... legislation should ensure appropriate ethical oversight of research involving embryos based on nationally-consistent standards ...

So that is fine. Clause 6.2 says:

... the nationally-consistent standards should be clear, detailed and describe the ethical issues to be taken into account, research which may be permitted and the conditions upon which it may be permitted ...

It goes on:

... these national standards should be applied consistently throughout Australia, recognising that jurisdictions may use different mechanisms to establish that proposals comply with the national standards ...

So we are not necessarily trying to write legislation for the individual states; we are adopting Commonwealth legislation for use by the Commonwealth government. Obviously, the aim of that legislation is that there will be consistency throughout the various jurisdictions in Australia. Clause 6.4 then goes on to say:

... the system should provide for public reporting of research involving embryos so as to improve transparency and accountability to the public ...

Forget the reporting for one moment. To me, transparency and accountability are significant issues in any piece of legislation that comes before this parliament and none more so than in this piece of legislation. There should be both transparency and accountability. The transparency comes about in the application of the COAG agreement. While this is meant in the end not to dictate to but form part of a nationally consistent framework, one would expect that this committee nonetheless will bear in mind the appropriate agreement that has been made through the COAG principles.

I turn to appendix 1, which is headed `Regulatory regime criteria for research uses of excess assisted reproductive technology (ART) embryos'. It states:

Governments agree to put in place a strict regulatory regime ...

So it is not a loose regulatory regime, but a strict regulatory regime. To me, the word `strict' is fairly confining and defining. Yet, based on the issue that has been raised by Senator Bishop and a number of others here today, although I have not got Senator Bishop's amendment before me at this stage—and while Senator Evans says that he thinks the objects clause is not the correct place for the issue of limiting the number of embryos available for research—that clearly is the intent of the COAG agreement. The third dot point under appendix 1 says:

... the procedure involves a restricted number of embryos and a separate account of the use of each embryo is provided to the ethics committee and the national licensing body ...

So I do not think it is unrealistic for Senator Bishop to ask in his proposed amendment for a limit on the number of human embryos used in regulated activities to the minimum necessary to achieve the purposes of those activities. I do not think it is unfair at all. I am not going to proceed much further because I think that the debate should really be got on with, but I believe, Minister Patterson, that there needs to be some fairly solid analysis done of the amendments that are being proposed where they raise issues of consistency with the COAG agreement. Whilst the government may not necessarily agree to the words proposed by the various amendments, it may well be able to seek an alternative amendment which may be acceptable to the proposers of the amendments. I think there is an opportunity here for a number of the amendments to be worked over and an agreement to be arrived at.

I do not know about other senators' amendments, but when I circulated my proposed amendments—and I note that Senator Bishop and Senator Collins did the same—I added a small explanation as to why each amendment was being sought, because of the difficulties that a number of senators are having in this debate. It is quite different from debates on other bills, because they are being asked to address the issues based on their own conscience, and for everyone to get around every amendment and understand the importance of that amendment to the person who is proposing it is not necessarily easy. Not everyone is watching this back in their room at every moment of the day. People have other commitments. I know that would upset a few people, but there are committees of the Senate sitting and there are people with other commitments who do not know precisely what is going on in the debate. That is why I have circulated my amendments with those explanations. I do not know if it is possible for any other senator who is involved in this debate to do that for their amendments, but it may well assist the process of expediting this bill through the Senate. Senator Bishop has raised some very valid issues indeed. I commend to the minister that the issues that I and others have raised be taken into consideration over the next non-sitting fortnight.