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Friday, 15 November 2002
Page: 6544

Senator RIDGEWAY (3:24 PM) —I want to make a few comments particularly on Democrat amendment (3A). I understand that amendment (3) will be dealt with later at the request of Senator O'Brien. Comments have been made that this bill is not the appropriate place for the parliament to recognise and protect Indigenous intellectual property in relation to plant varieties. I want to talk to amendment (3A) in terms of the definition of traditional innovations and practices. Essentially, the amendment seeks to give some understanding and inform the bill in relation to Indigenous knowledge and the innovations and practices that can continue to be developed by Indigenous people in accordance with their customs and traditions. Essentially, it is recognising that there is that development and modification over time. Whilst the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the opposition have made it quite clear they do not believe that this is the place for that—and they have certainly mentioned the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—I think the issue here is one of recognising, even in the modification and patenting in the Plant Breeders Rights Scheme, that it does come down to an understanding of the need to establish some sort of starting line for what at the moment is presumably a scheme driven by an understanding of a doctrine of manifest destiny, if you like.

On the definition of traditional innovation and practices, I believe that it is the appropriate place, given that much of what occurs in the development in plant breeding in the industry has to somewhere have an original source. That original source must have some ownership, or at least some sort of intellectual propriety, in relation to other people who may claim to have an interest in it and how it might be recognised. In this case we are talking about Indigenous people. I understand the political reality that it is not going to be supported, but again I say I think it is the appropriate place. I note the earlier comments of the minister on the need to be cautious on this occasion, given the complexity of the issues that arise, and the reference to the international experiences as well as the national experience. But I certainly want to seek some indication from the minister, given what has been said, that there is a proposal to at least look more seriously at the issue of intellectual property in the sense of recognising that it is an important thing that does need to be looked at. Is the government prepared to support some sort of inquiry to further the issue to make sure, if this is not the appropriate place, that we establish where the appropriate place should be? It seems to me that everyone does regard it as being important. I do not believe that the EPBC Act provides all the necessary protection and recognition, and I certainly think there needs to be an undertaking from the government that at least this issue needs to be pursued if there is not a willingness on their part to support the definition of traditional innovation and practices, as they evolve in a contemporary sense, being recognised and accommodated in this amendment bill.