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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6195


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (11:43 AM) —I do not want to get too distracted by the issue of commercialisation and patents, at this stage. I seek clarification here from either the minister, the government, the advisers or Senator Boswell. From Senator Boswell's remarks relating to intellectual property and patents, he seemed to be suggesting that this is new ground, not in a biological or biotechnological sense but in terms of patents and pharmaceutical companies benefiting from their research and, to use the word he used, cures. I am sure that he and others of us realise that the patents law allows that, not only in this country but across the world. I am sure there are a number of people in the chamber who share the concerns to which he alluded. I did not agree with all his contributions, but I think we had better be very clear that it is not breaking new ground in enabling researchers, scientists and doctors to benefit in a commercial sense from the application of their research. I happen to have a very strong view that people should not, for example, be able to patent genes or gene sequences and that that should be outlawed, and I am glad to hear that we are having a debate about some of these issues.

Even with my strong views, I recognise that our consideration of this legislation is not the time and place to make those changes. It might be the time to have some of these debates; I do not resile from that. Without wishing to reflect on an amendment of the Senate, that is what led us to introduce the amendment that was moved and passed in my name, on behalf of the Democrats, during the second reading debate yesterday, which allowed for broader investigation of intellectual property issues in relation specifically to stem cells and stem cell products et cetera. I think it is high time we had these debates. Through you, Chair, to Senator Boswell, the idea of the stem cell bank—and Senator McLucas and I will be moving an amendment on the applicability of that issue shortly; something that we canvassed during the committee's consideration of the bill— may be another opportunity for us to explore some of these issues.

I know this does not relate exactly to the amendment but, because it has been brought up, I want to acknowledge the importance of some of those issues. If we feel so strongly, as a group or as individuals, then let us amend the patent laws in this country. Let us stop allowing governments, including our own, to extend patent laws. It has been a very difficult and lonely road for some senators who have tried to do so. The Democrats have tried amendments to the Patents Act on many occasions—1995, 1996—and, indeed, we have a private member's bill, as I said, in relation to this specific issue. Do not allow people to own the genes and gene sequences. By all means allow them to own the processes by which they derive information about those genes, or own the applications of that information and that technology, but not the genes themselves.

I am not moving amendments to that effect in this bill, for the many reasons that have been put forward, including by Senator Patterson and others. Through you, Chair, to Senator Boswell, we are cognisant of the issues. We are looking at inquiries that will canvass these issues, because they are important, but let us not pretend that this is new ground in a patents law sense, in the sense that medicos—or, specifically, researchers and research scientists—are benefiting in some way that they have not benefited in the past. Certainly, the technology is different and is advancing at a rate of knots but, by the same token, if anyone wants to have a debate about patents law, bring it on! The Democrats have been waiting for that for many years. In the interim, look at how we can amend this legislation in a way that enables us to have a comprehensive debate and discussion about those issues, which we cannot do in this committee stage.