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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6194

Senator MURPHY (11:38 AM) —With regard to what Senator Boswell is saying in terms of the patenting of particular drugs, that is the case. It has happened in Australia—and I stand to be corrected, but I think it has happened. In many respects, it is because of patenting that we as a country and the government confront a serious problem with regard to the burgeoning cost of the PBS. Minister Vaile is attending the WTO, and I noted in today's Financial Review that one of the most important issues coming out of those discussions is about providing cheaper medicines to developing countries. By the end of the debate, if this legislation passes through—not particularly this part of the legislation but certainly the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002—we need to be in a position to ensure that we will not, in the longer term, see patenting of treatments or medicines that have been developed from research using embryonic stem cells.

We do not want to see these drugs and cures made very expensive by giving control of them to major drug companies around the world. I think Senator Patterson herself highlighted a very good example. We know that pharmaceutical companies do patent things to stop generic production, and sometimes they have good reason for that. But these are issues such that, because there is going to be a significant change in research for pharmaceutical solutions in respect of cures in the future, we have got to get this legislation right. With regard to the particular amendments that Senator Harradine is moving at this time, I do understand the difficulty in making it an offence, and I hope I am dealing with the right amendment here, in commercial trading in human eggs, human sperm and human embryos—

Senator MURPHY —My apologies; I am dealing with the wrong amendment. Is it Senator Harradine's amendment 22A `Offence—importing or exporting a human embryo'?

Senator Harradine —Yes.

Senator MURPHY —With the changes that are proposed, I can understand some of the arguments that have been put by the minister but, at the end of the day, as I have said earlier, anytime we can improve the legislation we should seek to do that. But I do reiterate, in respect of the cost—and I am interested in the minister's comment, given the arguments that I have heard from the minister before with regard to the PBS—that this is a very significant piece of legislation. If we do not get this right, we will rue the day from a financial and budgetary point of view. By allowing this legislation to pass through this parliament, in fact we will be funding research to enable the development of certain therapies and even medicines which will then place a burden upon the taxpayers of this country because those treatments will have been locked up by a number of large pharmaceutical companies from a global point of view. That is a very serious problem.