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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1454

Senator CHAMARETTE (10.05 a.m.) —I rise to indicate that the Greens support the motion to refer the Plant Breeder's Rights Bill 1994 to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Senator Coulter has very adequately presented the information to support his reference. The Greens support both the reference and the arguments presented by Senator Coulter.

  In Western Australia, there is a project involving the conservation and land management department regarding smokebush and its usefulness in relation to AIDS treatments. It has already progressed into marketing, and it has progressed too far without looking at the interaction with native title rights. Some may, and do, argue that this is not covered by the particular bill that is under consideration, but there are other people who are deeply concerned.

  I want to refer to Senator Brownhill's comments regarding the preliminary analysis put forward by the Attorney-General's Department, regarding the fact that the Attorney-General's Department does not believe that there is any conflict between the bill that is under consideration and the Native Title Act. The explanations that Senator Brownhill presented were very useful, but they illustrate that the rights referred to in the Native Title Act regarding land, waters and the usage of plants have not actually dealt with the question of extension to genetic material. In fact, while he says the advice is that it is doubtful that it would, I think that clearly indicates that it has not received consideration. The very fact—

Senator Brownhill —But everything is going to be subject to the native title legislation.

Senator CHAMARETTE —Exactly. Everything that has not been dealt with raises important questions.

Senator Brownhill —Are you going to close the place down?

Senator Coulter —It will certainly close down if it gets into the High Court.

Senator CHAMARETTE —That is a very good point put by Senator Coulter, which is that for 200 years we have not even recognised that this land undoubtedly belonged to the first people of Australia—Aboriginal people. It was the High Court decision that recognised their full possession and entitlements to Australia prior to invasion and settlement. So I think it is the case that it has been so recently recognised that terra nullius was a lie—a legal fiction—and that there was prior occupancy and potential full ownership—

Senator Brownhill —But that has nothing to do with genetic material.

Senator CHAMARETTE —It has to do with genetic material because it has to be argued that those people who have settled in Australia and removed some of the rights have actually been able to extend them to something like genetic material when they do not actually have the rights over usage, land or waters. I think there is an argument to answer. It may not be an argument that has been dealt with satisfactorily in previous debates in this place, and it may not have been satisfactorily dealt with even in the Native Title Act itself. That does not mean that serious questions do not exist. There is a very strong concern that we are actually ploughing ahead into legislation that may well be brought undone and cause greater damage because we have not given it scrutiny.

  Senator Brownhill was implying that the motion for reference of this bill is purely a delaying tactic, and that because the majority in the Senate have already indicated that they want to rush it through, the minority should not stand in its way. I want to raise the point that this chamber is not the House of Representatives. Once again we have the Labor-Liberal coalition as the majority, which is determined to pass this legislation and pass it as speedily as possible. But the bill is in the Senate now, and people in the Senate have the right to raise the problems that this legislation could well bring forward.

  It is part of our democratic process that minority views deserve expression and consideration. I do not believe that all the issues have been addressed by the rural and regional affairs committee. There are questions still remaining, and if the government and opposition press on with this, without referring it to the committee, it will highlight the fact that they have no commitment to resolving possible conflicts and to looking at all the implications of this legislation before it is passed.