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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6204

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (12:38 PM) —I thank honourable senators for their contributions. I actually referred to this matter in my seconding reading speech. The NHMRC has been given the responsibility of reporting back to COAG by April 2003 on supply of embryos, and one of the issues surrounding supply of embryos is the embryonic stem cell bank. That process will address this issue faster than this amendment will. We are aware that the UK has established a publicly funded stem cell bank to provide to researchers unencumbered access to cell lines. Access to such a stem cell bank reduces the need to extract additional stem cell lines from embryos. As I said, the analysis of the issues on the adequacy of supply, and availability for research, of excess ART embryos will be included in the NHMRC report to COAG, and that issue will also be examined. The appropriate mechanism and how it would be progressed would best be determined once that report goes to COAG. Whether and how it will be considered by governments—for example, through the Australian Health Ministers Conference or the Council of Australian Governments—has not been determined. But once the report goes to COAG, COAG will make a decision as to whether the Australian Health Ministers Conference or the Council of Australian Governments will consider it. So it is going ahead, despite or in spite of this amendment. I believe this amendment is superfluous, because the issue is being addressed.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Jacinta Collins)—Senator Harradine, just before you commence, can I indicate that we are about four minutes away from Matters of Public Interest and that it might further the debate if we were able to conclude this amendment by that stage.