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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6198


Senator McLUCAS (12:04 PM) —I move amendment (1) on sheet 2703 by the Democrats and the opposition:

(1) Clause 25, page 14 (after line 23), at the end of subclause 4, add:

(d) the applicability of establishing a National Stem Cell Bank.

I would like to speak briefly to the amendment, which is about the applicability of establishing a national stem cell bank and asking that the review which will occur after two years of operation of the act include that issue as one of its terms of reference. I referred to this issue in my speech in the second reading debate, so I will not speak at length. I note that the same amendment will be moved to the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 so that we have a level of consistency in the terms of reference that will be undertaken as one operation but are reflected in the two bills. Senator Stott Despoja and I move the amendment jointly. It is a recommendation of the report that we wrote in favour of the legislation following the committee inquiry. It follows from the small amount of evidence that was provided by only one witness who came to the hearings. We believed that the notion of the UK stem cell bank did have some merit and that is why that occurred.

This issue fits very well with the second reading amendment that Senator Stott Despoja moved which was carried by the Senate as an amendment to this bill. The issues of intellectual property and access to embryonic stem cell lines are very connected. The other part of that story is that we in Australia have not made significant decisions up to this point on what we think about intellectual property on embryonic stem cell lines and whether that will affect the access of researchers to those lines. The National Stem Cell Bank was established in the United Kingdom on 9 September 2002. We were advised by Mr Ilyine of Stem Cell Sciences at the inquiry that such an entity in Australia could in fact minimise the number of embryos that are required for use. I think all of us would agree that that is a desirable outcome. The second point he made was that a national stem cell bank, if introduced into Australia, could provide to qualified researchers free and unencumbered access to those embryonic stem cell lines. That goes to the issue of commercialisation that many people in this chamber have raised as a significant issue.

I recognise that various senators have said that the concept or the amendment as it stands does not go far enough and that the time frame is too long. I understand the desire of senators to limit the commercialisation opportunities, but I also understand the desire for and of researchers to access embryonic stem cell lines and at the same time maintain intellectual property over the work that they are doing. To those people who say that the time frame is too long, I put the following points. The UK model has been in operation for less than two months. I think it is too early at this point to carefully evaluate the effectiveness of its operation, even in the UK, and much less to say that we can transplant that model directly into Australia. The two countries have completely different IP laws and they also have different laws that manage the use of embryonic stem cells.

I believe that there might be applicability for a stem cell bank in Australia. That is why we have done this. But I think to say that we should just pick it up out of the UK and put it into Australia is a simplistic solution to what is a very complex issue. As I said before, we need to fully understand how intellectual property issues will be applied to the use of embryonic stem cell lines, because there is a relationship between that and the operation of a national stem cell bank. The bill has a mechanism for review built into it so that there will be a review of the operation of the legislation after two years. So I think it is useful to simply ask that review to extend its terms of reference to include an assessment of the applicability of the UK model in Australia.

Finally, I believe this amendment does not compromise the communique of COAG. It simply adds an extra term of reference to the review. I think it adds to rather than compromises it. I do not think COAG could be too upset with this amendment. It is a conservative measure, but I think it is a sensible solution. It starts a process of evaluation of the establishment of the UK model for a national stem cell bank in Australia. I believe it will lead us to a situation where we could have fewer embryos used, and access and IP holding by qualified researchers to embryonic stem cell lines.