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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5829

Senator HARRADINE (10:32 AM) —I rise to speak to the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002. This week is a momentous week for this chamber. The last time that I rose to my feet to speak to a bill relating to experiments on human embryos was 20 years ago. It was a bill that I introduced into the parliament to prevent destructive experiments on human embryos. My colleagues were saying at the time, `Destructive experiments on human embryos are out of the question.' But I knew what was being proposed by various science technologists at the time and that was why I introduced that legislation. Yesterday's prospects are today's reality. And what an ugly reality we have: the deliberate decision to destroy the tiniest members of our human family for commercial and other purposes.

This week will challenge our civilised society and the Senate. This Senate has a role as a house of review. We have the role to monitor executive government decisions. As long as I have been here—and of course for many years before then—we have had a particular responsibility to uphold the human rights of individuals. Human rights are based on the inherent dignity of individual humans. All human rights are based on that principle. We are here dealing with life and death issues; we are dealing with the tiniest member of the human family—a tiny human being. Clearly that has been established scientifically, and I quote from evidence provided to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee:

From the moment that the first cell is formed, a human embryo is an individual organism oriented to development to human adulthood, normally requiring only nutrition and a favourable environment for that development to occur, and whose inherited nature is formed by the human genome which carries the inherent radical capacity for rationality that is distinctive of human beings.

That evidence was provided to us by Dr Nick Tonti-Filippini on the basis of scientific advice that was provided to him. There is no respected scientific advice otherwise that will challenge that.

We have heard from Senator Stott Despoja, who herself rejected the idea of the 14 days. We have heard about the 14 days, which is clearly arbitrary, but let me make it very clear. From conception, our unique genetic endowment organises and guides the expression of our particular nature in its species and individual character. I was once a human embryo—so were you, Mr Acting Deputy President Hutchins—needing nothing more or less to survive than we need today—that is, shelter and nourishment. Will we, as the Senate, uphold the rights of that human individual? Will we live up to our role and uphold the dignity of the tiniest and most vulnerable members of the human family? I come from a trade union background and it was always my view that the most vulnerable need our protection. I am glad to see, Mr Acting Deputy President, that you have taken that view as well in your report.

We are dealing today with a bill which is to ban human cloning. This bill is entitled the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002. It has a very laudable objective, an objective which would be supported, we thought, by all members of society. The prohibition of human cloning is supported by all—or is it supported by all? Is it just a stopgap measure to wait for what some science technologists have really wanted, and that is cloning? Enormous pressures have been placed upon us and others, by science technologists and indeed by certain bureaucrats, to permit cloning. The pressures have been openly stated, I might say. First of all, I ask: what is cloning? It is the Dolly technique: somatic cell nuclear transfer. That, also, was reported at point 2.38 of the committee's report, which says:

This technique was used to create `Dolly' the sheep, and may be a technique used in developing stem cell therapies. It involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell, which contains almost all of the genetic material in the cell, and replacing it with another cell nucleus. This second nucleus may be taken from any somatic cell, such as a skin cell or liver cell. In the case of Dolly, the cell was taken from the sheep's mammary gland.

Some science technologists are saying, `We don't want to develop cloning so that the cloned human embryo is then transferred into a woman.' Most scientists are saying, `We don't want to do that. We want to just do therapeutic cloning.' Even the AHEC, the Australian Health Ethics Committee, of the National Health and Medical Research Council has virtually described the term `therapeutic' as deceitful.

Cloning is cloning. It is precisely the same method and precisely the same process. The Academy of Science agreed that it is the same process. Cloning and this so-called reproductive cloning are one and the same thing, except that one embryo is transferred, allegedly, to the body of a woman and the other is to be used to harvest stem cells. Really, what they should be called is `non-survival human cloning' and `survival human cloning'. Such human cloning requires the production of myriad eggs, really using women as egg farms. It is really an insult to women to even think about having any sort of cloning.

There are pressures. Dr Peter Mountford, an Australian scientist, is the Chief Executive of Stem Cell Sciences. On Monday, 1 April—a very interesting date—an article in the Australian said:

Dr Mountford has never produced a human embryo, but holds a patent on technology he believes will achieve this result by the end of 2002. He plans to commercialise the process within two years by supplying disease-carrying embryonic stem cells to pharmaceutical companies for drug screening.

That is where the money is going. I challenge those who would support the future bill to make sure that this does not occur, ever. In the evidence given to us, the Australian Academy of Science said that it supports human cloning—that is to say, so-called therapeutic cloning. Professor Jansen of sex selection fame, from Sydney IVF, supports so-called therapeutic cloning. Professor Trounson, in a fourth change of mind, supported this cloning but had another view later on. One of the reasons for that is that the minister for industry had told scientists on 20 August to keep their powder dry on this area and to wait until all this goes through. So there is pressure from the bureaucrats. I am sure that the minister did not mean that; some speech writer or other wrote it. Then there is Dr Barlow, within the bureaucracy. I will quote from page 197 of my supplementary statements to the report. Dr Thomas Barlow, Science Adviser to the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Brendan Nelson, in a column in the UK Financial Times on 1 September 2001 said that he considers human reproductive cloning to be no more serious an issue than having sex. He said:

Not to beat about the bush, is there any honest reason why we should treat it more seriously, say, than having sex?

That is from the adviser to the minister. He has not repudiated that. You would have thought that he would repudiate that, but he has not. It is a great concern that there are those sorts of bureaucrats. Also, shortly after this particular bill banning all types of human cloning was passed by the House of Representatives, our representatives in New York in the recent discussions on cloning failed to support the resolution of the United States and Spain to ban all forms of human cloning; instead, they supported the Franco-German proposal, which dealt with only so-called reproductive cloning. So that action by the bureaucrats was contrary to the parliament's view.

This bill to prohibit human cloning leaves the way open for cloning. Look at the review provisions of this legislation. This legislation was supposed to ban cloning, but it leaves the way open for the cloning to take place— because there is a review, and the review is to be done by the minister's nominees. It is to be a private review—keep everything hushed up. The review will report to COAG—keep it all under wraps; do not make it public. The review really is undemocratic, because the people who ought to be doing the review are the members of parliament who pass the legislation. We are the ones who ought to be doing the review, not some fix-up as is proposed by this particular legislation. The matters to be taken account of in the development are all technological, except for the last matter: community standards. What are they? That could be manipulated, and it will be manipulated—a public poll! It does not even suggest that certain other things be taken into account. It does not even specifically allow for the objects of the act to be taken into account.

There are ethical concerns about scientific developments in relation to human reproduction and the utilisation of human embryos by prohibiting certain circumstances. That is not specifically mentioned, let alone the important international principles that have been established for the protection of tiny human beings, such as principles for research on human subjects. The interests of the subject must always prevail over the interests of science in society. I will move amendments to this legislation so that this review will be conducted in the political area or at least will be conducted properly—that is, given proper terms of reference—rather than pandering clearly to the requirements of the vested interests of science technologists.