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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 362


Senator MASON(11.14) —A number of points raised by Senator Powell and Senator Vigor are still flying loose in the wind, as one might say. The point really being made by the Australian Democrats is that if a natural thing exists it ought to be protected. It is well known-and we hear this time and again-that our rainforests represent one of the world's most important gene originating areas. A great deal of work needs to be done there. What we are saying now with this legislation is that anybody at all in the world can come into Australia and use that resource as a sort of mine and that that mine can then be exploited-not necessarily for our interests, but possibly even against our interests.

The other point that needs making is that not only could something be picked up which has not been discovered, but something might well be picked up and patented which is already used by people to whom it would never occur to take out a patent. One has only to think of the Aboriginal people and the food they use. I can see a situation arising here where somebody might come in and pick up a particular staple, or type of, food or drug that the Aboriginal people use, walk away with it, patent it and then come back and say to the Aboriginals: ``You can no longer use it because I have the patent''. I would be most interested in the Minister's comments on whether this amendment, even if it provides that kind of safeguard, might not be worth while. My view and the Democrats' view is that in the Committee stage of this Bill-and I know that this is a serious accusation-the Government is taking an irrational and completely unjustifiable stand. In other words, when rational points are put forward, as we are putting them forward, they should be dealt with by the Minister. The Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) has shown his cowardice by leaving the chamber and allowing Senator Tate to take this matter over for him. That is not to the Minister's credit. However, we will attempt not to embarrass Senator Tate in this Committee stage. In any case, I prefer his sitting there to his predecessor.

I believe that Senator Collard is gravely at fault. He is not looking at some small matter, at something which has not had a respectable status in the past, but is looking at an amendment which originated in his own area and with which presumably he agreed when it came to caucus, if he were present, as a good thing. I do not know, and I shall not ask him, whether he spoke up in caucus and said: `I, Senator Collard, say that this amendment is not to go through. I disapprove of it'. I doubt that he would have said that because we all know that Senator Collard is a reasonable man. I would like to hear from him on that basis. I can sympathise with his wish not to comment on the amendments because he is in a hard place on this one particularly. But for his own self-respect and for the sake of the dignity of this place and its procedures, we would like to hear from Senator Collard on this one, if we could have that privilege.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Powell's amendment) be left out.