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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6138


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (8:35 PM) —by leave—The amendment put forward to the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 does not take account of the possible effects that such a reference may have on the Australian Law Reform Commission's and the Australian Health Ethics Committee's existing and future work programs and denies the consultation process that the government adopts in preparing references for work by the commission. The ALRC and AHEC are currently examining issues concerning the protection of human genetic information. This reference is scheduled to be completed in March 2003. The ALRC is also finalising a reference concerning civil and administrative penalties. The planning and development of terms of reference for any ALRC inquiry require consultation with the ALRC and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that the ALRC has adequate resources and facilities to undertake the inquiry and to ensure that terms of reference are appropriate and targeted to dealing with key legal issues within the ALRC's expertise. The consultative process also ensures that the ALRC has sufficient notice to make the appropriate arrangements to gain expertise on the topic and to plan appropriate public consultation.

Within the reference on the protection of human genetic information, the ALRC and AHEC are examining issues associated with the privacy of genetic samples, protection from inappropriate discrimination and other ethical considerations relevant to the use and collection of genetic samples. In the course of the inquiry, the interaction of the intellectual property issues and genetic information has been raised. The government is considering, in consultation with the ALRC and other relevant stakeholders, the desirability of a reference to the ALRC on this issue.

The proposal for a reference suggested by Senator Stott Despoja is a complex area of law and policy. The ALRC and AHEC would need to acquire expertise in intellectual property and related areas of law. Consideration about the appropriate form of public consultation would also be required. Senator Stott Despoja's approach to imposing such a reference would not take account of these issues. Requiring the ALRC and AHEC to undertake such an inquiry would affect the progress of their other and possible future inquiries. A far better approach to developing such a reference would be for the government to continue to consult with the ALRC and other relevant stakeholders on the desirability and implications of such a reference dealing with these issues. As I have outlined earlier, this is already well under way.