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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6179


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (10:03 AM) —I acknowledge that that will be the minister's final contribution on this matter. On behalf of the Democrats, I rise to say that we support the arguments that have been put forward by Senator Patterson. I think it is prudent. Through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, I will do Senator Abetz the courtesy of advising him of the Democrat position. Obviously, as you know, my personal—


Senator Harradine —No conscience vote in the Democrats?


Senator STOTT DESPOJA —There is absolutely a conscience vote.


Senator Harradine —There is no conscience vote in the Democrats—because you said on `behalf of the Democrats'.


Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Mr Temporary Chairman, I did not interrupt while Senator Harradine made his contributions. I make it very clear, given that he has made this interjection, through you, Mr Temporary Chairman to Senator Harradine: all votes in the Australian Democrats are a conscience vote. We discussed this issue in our party room this morning—as we do all issues— and my colleagues can vote as they please on this. However, on the issue of the strict liability provisions, which we have discussed as a group, you will find that the seven Democrat senators share this opinion—and this is the one that I offer on their behalf; it is not a personal opinion. As you would know from our legislative record in this chamber, the Democrats are often wary of strict liability in relation to legislation. In this place you have seen that record; you have seen us debate these issues.

We recognise the intent—bad pun!—of Senator Abetz's amendments. You would recognise that we share the abhorrence of the notion of human reproductive cloning, but we think that it quite a strong and perhaps inappropriate move to remove that terminology in the case of this legislation. We believe it has a legal impact; otherwise I do not think that Senator Abetz would put it forward. But it is a significant one that we are quite wary of. For the benefit of the chamber, I ask if Senator Abetz has perhaps a legal precedent to which he would like to refer—for example, there are laws where strict liability is in place—which might be of interest to other senators.

I make this contribution so that people know where we stand. It was not to provoke debate. I am sorry that Senator Harradine does not accept the fact that all the Democrats are entering into this debate in good faith. You will notice that my colleagues are going to join me in this chamber to hear the arguments, and people are free to vote as they choose. My work and my particular views on this issue are well documented and well known. I do not expect anyone to follow me blindly, in that sense. It may come as a surprise to some other individual members in this place that the Democrats actually debate the issues of biotechnology quite regularly in the party room, and we have done so for seven years. That is why you have seen amendments put forward not only in my name but in the names of Senators Ridgeway and Murray: look at the second reading amendment that was passed last night.

Let us not get distracted in this debate with personal or party political attacks, because this is one time when that kind of debate is needless. If people cannot rely on their own arguments, I feel sorry for them. In this case, however—as you know, Senator Abetz—last night I was quite happy to ask for time to contemplate your amendments. We did that. We discussed them as a group. We looked at other precedents, and, as I said, we have concluded that on this occasion we will not support the strict liability provisions that you have proposed. And, given Senator Evans's comments, that also relates to the possession amendment—obviously we want to be conscious of the amendments before us. I recognise what you are trying to achieve; and, if there is a case that we are aware of under this legislation where there are problems, then clearly this has to be part of the review. I look forward to seeing how this legislation operates with the current provisions in place. I am happy for you to add anything else that you think might sway us or anyone else in the chamber in relation to these amendments.