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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 361


Senator VIGOR(11.08) —I am quite disturbed that there has not been an effort from Senator Collard to speak to this amendment. It is extremely important that we should protect Australia's genetic pool from pirating. Basically, what this amendment seeks to do is stop people coming into Australia and treating it as an area in which they can prospect for seeds, taking things that we already own, pirating them and then selling them back to us at our cost. This is actually turning a lot of our genetic advantage, our genetic heritage, into a disadvantage to the people of Australia. I do not agree with the whole Bill, but unless this amendment is passed we are really making a giant step backwards. I would like to commend the drafting people who suggested this idea in the original Nixon Bill. I am surprised that Senator Collard and his colleagues are not supporting what was originally put forward by their colleague.

I would also like to get from the Special Minister of State, Senator Tate, who is at the table and who I know is a very fair-minded person in these matters, his reaction and that of the Government. Is the Government really prepared simply to allow people to come in to pick up varieties of plants in Australia and say: `I have discovered this; it is now mine'? It seems reasonable, if people work for many years breeding something and doing some biotechnology and such, that they should have some personal interest and gain from the work that they did. But if it is simply a prospecting exercise then not only will it be possible for a person to patent a wild plant but also it will be possible for somebody who finds that wild plant later to be accused in the courts of having used patented seeds. There is no way in which this even makes legal sense. Senator Tate, with his legal background, will, I believe, recognise this. There is no way that the rights for a plant variety found in this way could be enforceable in the law courts.

This amendment makes it clear that there is no way a person can patent a plant simply because that person has discovered the existence of that plant. Somebody else may discover it later and then be bound by laws which are very difficult, almost impossible, to follow. We are creating a legal nightmare and an impossible situation for the people of Australia. I commend to the Minister the consideration of this matter and urge him to give us a reasoned argument for rejecting this amendment, which I believe would give us some protection at least against people walking into Australia, picking up a plant and saying `this is mine', and selling it back to us at a later stage.