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Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6632

Senator CHERRY (5:57 PM) —The Democrats will support these amendments as a first meaningful step in ensuring that we do start the process of properly and fully recognising the intellectual property rights issues of Indigenous people in this very important area of law. It is important that Indigenous people are routinely involved in the administration of laws which relate to their intellectual property rights. This is why the Democrats have advocated that an Indigenous representative be added to the advisory committee and why we are supporting the Labor Party amendments in this regard. We do note, however, that the Labor Party's amendment does leave the matter of who is appointed and how they are appointed solely to the minister's discretion, which is somewhat different from our amendment.

However, we still commend to the chamber our amendments in relation to the addition of Indigenous and conservation representatives to the committee. We think it is important that anyone who is appointed to the committee has the support of the group or sector that they are there to represent. One way of ensuring that would be to require that a representative national body such as ATSIC or the Australian Conservation Foundation nominate potential candidates for membership. These nominations could then be considered by the minister who would appoint an Indigenous or a conservation representative. Anyone appointed to the committee to represent Indigenous or conservation interests would need the necessary skills and expertise to carry out the functions of the advisory committee, which are currently limited to highly technical functions. While this should be taken as a given, experience has shown us that all facets of ministerial responsibility need to be spelt out rather than be left to their discretion or interpretation or historical precedent. We recognise that the ALP's amendments at least achieve recognition of the role that Indigenous and conservation representatives should have in the administration of the Plant Breeders Rights Scheme. But we do question the wisdom of leaving the minister to decide who is appropriate to represent Indigenous and conservation interests and what level of skills, experience and expertise this person requires to fulfil their responsibilities as a member of the committee.

On behalf of Senator Ridgeway, who has been unable to join our debate today but has been following it very closely, I note in passing the preparedness of the Labor Party to consider further investigation of these issues—something which we welcome and which we are looking forward to playing a constructive role in. The Democrats want to take this opportunity to call on both the government and the opposition to give their in-principle support to an appropriate Senate inquiry to examine the issue of how our legal system can be amended to recognise and protect Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights in relation to plant material and biodiversity more generally.

It is clear that Australia has signed on to international treaties, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, that require us to recognise, protect and maintain Indigenous traditional knowledge, innovations and practices. It is high time that our government gave effect to these obligations in domestic laws. This is something that Terri Janke, Henrietta Fourmile-Marrie and Michael Davis have all stressed in their advice to the Democrats on this matter. It is important that a Senate inquiry should examine the recent developments at the international level, such as article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

Each of these instruments should be guiding the legal and policy measures developed by the Australian community to recognise, protect and maintain Indigenous intellectual property rights associated with traditional knowledge, innovation and practices, especially as they relate to plants and seeds. If this chamber believes that these types of amendments are not able to be incorporated in the bill, then an inquiry should be given the scope to examine and report on the feasibility of introducing sui generis laws to give effect to our international obligations to Indigenous Australians. After all, it is a key part of the vision of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation that we should be working towards, which states:

A united Australia which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all.