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Tuesday, 17 June 2003
Page: 11646

Senator MURPHY (2:35 PM) —My question is to Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, and it relates to the risk management regimes of and for the National Stem Cell Centre which was established last year. Given that taxpayers have invested some $43½ million in this centre, can the minister inform the Senate whether or not the Commonwealth has any legal obligations in respect of any dispute that may arise between the NSCC and participating organisations or third parties over intellectual property or the commercialisation of intellectual property or research outcomes?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —The Commonwealth and the National Stem Cell Centre, the NSCC, did sign a deed of agreement establishing the Biotechnology Centre of Excellence on 30 May this year. Under that executed deed of agreement, the centre is defined as the Biotechnology Centre of Excellence. The centre will be operated by the centre institution, which is defined as National Stem Cell Centre Ltd, the NSCC, and includes the directors, officers, employees, agents and subcontractors of this centre institution where that is relevant. So the NSCC is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee which is governed by the Corporations Act. The NSCC will enter into agreements with participating organisations and an affiliated commercial entity of the NSCC in order to carry out the NSCC's obligations under the deed executed with the Commonwealth. That recently signed deed of agreement required the company to have appropriate private insurance to protect itself, and I am advised that National Stem Cell Centre Ltd, which operates and has responsibility for the Biotechnology Centre of Excellence, is a company in its own right and that the Commonwealth has absolutely no liability for its activities.

Senator MURPHY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the Commonwealth has the right, as I understand it, to approve or disapprove commercialisation arrangements, why wouldn't the Commonwealth have some legal responsibility if the NSCC were sued?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I do not know that I can add much more to what I have said. The Commonwealth has executed this deed of agreement with the National Stem Cell Centre to operate the Biotechnology Centre of Excellence and the liability, as I am advised, under the deed of agreement does rest with National Stem Cell Centre Ltd. If there is any alteration to that in relation to your question, I will advise you as soon as I can. But I am confident that there is no liability on the Commonwealth; it rests with the NSCC under the deed.