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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6201

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (12:25 PM) —I want to take a brief moment to support the establishment of a stem cell bank. I would like to bring to the attention of the chamber some of the discussion that occurred at the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002. Hopefully I will track down the detail of this a bit further before we get into a more detailed discussion of this issue in the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, but we had evidence before the committee regarding the UK model. There was one component of that model that attracted me to going down this path. That was that the NHMRC guidelines from 1996 and the COAG communique both refer to the objective that we should limit the number of human embryos used in this endeavour. Whilst I oppose their use, obviously a sensible fall back position is that, if it is going to occur, we should limit it as much as possible.

The limitation objective is missing from the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002, and that is one amendment I will be proposing. The British, it seems, have implemented that objective through their view about establishing a stem cell bank. The view is that if you eliminate competition as one of the factors involved in the number of human embryos that are destroyed to extract stem cells, that is one way of limiting the overall numbers that will be utilised. A public stem cell bank that makes the stem cells and the results of the research on stem cells publicly available is obviously quite a sensible means of ensuring that you are not simply duplicating work because of scientific competition. I will support what hopefully will be the strongest possible proposal for the establishment of a stem cell bank.

I will support this amendment to this bill but indicate that my position on the next bill may well be inconsistent, which may create further problems when these bills go back to the House—perhaps it can be rectified in the House of Representatives. It is obviously desirable that both bills have consistent provisions in relation to a stem cell bank. My view will be that it is something that should be done sooner rather than later. I have some concerns that this current proposal allows the elapse of too much time. Whilst I accept the concern that we do not want to simply mirror the British model, I bring to the committee's attention that what we learnt about the British model was that it was not introduced when they first introduced their legislation; it was a second phase, so to speak. The British have the public policy experience of reflecting on their legislation and designing their own stem cell bank to suit their circumstances, so I think the period of somewhere between six to 12 months is sufficient for us to be able to learn from their public policy experience and adapt that to suit our particular circumstances.

In that light, I do not think there is any problem with us requiring that there should be a stem cell bank established and chartering the NHMRC, for instance, to undertake the task of learning from the public policy experience in the UK and looking at how best to implement such a system. There can obviously be appropriate reporting mechanisms to the parliament, to give them that flexibility, but I do believe that at this stage we should be making such a requirement. I do not believe it is necessary for us now, after there have been various international experiences, to say, `No, it has to be done at a second stage.' The risk, if we go down that path, is that the horse will bolt. If we simply say, `Yes, this is something we may do in the future or in the never-never'—or it may become the never-never—the horse will bolt now. Certainly the technology has developed adequately that the horse can bolt in a number of areas in relation to commercialisation, and we may regret it if we do not seek to harness the horse at this stage rather than just say that we will analyse the situation and find a way to deal with it somewhere in the future. I am attracted to the notion that, in the debate on the next bill, where I know the Greens have proposed a version of how to deal with this issue as well, perhaps we can spend a bit more time analysing the detail of those matters and find a flexible way to require that we establish a stem cell bank at this stage of the process rather than at stage 2. I think that is probably all I need to say at this stage.