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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7112

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (11:14 AM) —I will not be supporting Senator Harradine's amendment requiring labelling of pharmaceutical or cosmetic products developed from, or tested on, human embryos or human embryonic stem cells. Leaving aside the objective of the amendment, which is outside the scope of the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, I would have to oppose it purely on the practical grounds of its being impossible to implement as described.

I listened to Senator Harradine and Senator Boswell. I can understand the motives for doing this for people who have a philosophical objection to the use of embryos or embryo products to the end of some therapeutic benefit, and I have actually said here that people who oppose the bill ought, in all honesty, to oppose accepting any therapeutic treatment arising from the outcome of the bill. That would be consistent with the position. I can therefore understand why Senator Harradine and other people would be arguing this case.

Senator Harradine used the example of warnings on cigarette packets. I think all of us who feel that smoking creates a burden on health care support warnings indicating that people are likely to suffer life-threatening illnesses. He mentioned that. But that labelling was not done under the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act. In recognition of the complexity, and because it was not within the scope of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Bill at the time, that was more appropriately done under the Trade Practices Act. It did not occur within the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act.

The other point I make is that some people have a moral objection to animals being involved in any testing, even in the production of pharmaceuticals. There is no legislation to require that for pharmaceuticals for which, at some stage in their development—and it could be 20 years back in research—the intellectual know-how was developed out of work on animals. Those people might feel just as strongly as people here arguing about the possibility of embryos having been used in the—

Senator Harradine —But this bill is not about animals.

Senator PATTERSON —I know this bill is not about animals, Senator Harradine. I have been in this chamber for 2½ or three days and I have really understood that this is not about animals. I might not be very bright, but I understand that.

Senator Harradine —What are you talking about then?

Senator PATTERSON —You were talking about smoking. This is what I find really difficult. I do not interrupt you when I think you have gone off the track, but it is all very well when I am developing an argument for you to question my argument. I am saying that we are possibly requiring a task which would be nigh on impossible: to go back through all the permutations of the development of a medication—and, as I said, some medications we take now may have been tested on animals way back—and even to trace how far back animals were used to develop the intellectual know-how that led to the development of that medication. Where do you draw the line?

We do have people voluntarily labelling for commercial purposes. They make a choice that they will label to say that food is kosher or halal in the way it is prepared, or that various products are not tested on animals. To require it—to make it mandatory— is an exercise which would put a burden on those who are developing therapeutic products in the future, especially if it carries a penalty—in the way it does in Senator Harradine's amendment—that is onerous in the extreme. But, if the argument is to be had, this is not the appropriate bill—for the same reason that the issue of labelling for cigarettes was done under the Trade Practices Act and not the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act. We do have requirements for pharmaceuticals and for food under different acts; but this is about the testing of embryos, not about the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. As I said, it is outside the scope of this bill and for that reason I will not be supporting the amendment.