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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6813


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (12:48 PM) —I rise on behalf of all the Democrats to say that we will be opposing the amendment before us, which seeks to limit the use of excess ART embryos to deriving embryonic stem cells. For the information of the chamber—and because I suspect we are hoping to facilitate debate today, with so many amendments—out of courtesy I thought I would inform the chamber of what we are doing in most cases. I would similarly inform Senator Barnett, who has an amendment—I think it is amendment No. 5—which attempts something similar, that we will also be opposing that amendment.

Based on Senator Hogg's comments to the chamber, but also perhaps on broader debate on this issue, I suspect that this amendment is intended to reflect a claim that has been made in a number of submissions—and certainly in a number of submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into this legislation—that the legislation went further than the intention of COAG. One of the reasons that has been put forward to support this view is the belief that COAG was only dealing with regulating access to embryos for the derivation of embryonic stem cells—but, the argument goes, the legislation is much broader than that, because it allows training, quality assurance, testing of culture media and so forth. The legislation does say that it is illegal for anyone to use any excess ART embryos unless they have a licence or unless it is an exempt activity. The real strength of this approach is that it seeks to avoid any loopholes and it treats all possible uses in an even-handed manner. This is one of the strengths of the legislation and something that we have certainly recognised before. The strength of this legislation is that it treats the uses of excess ART embryos even-handedly.

In a supplementary report prepared by Senator Webber, Senator McLucas and me, we have outlined in some detail that we believe that the bill is quite consistent with COAG, because there is nothing in the COAG communique that says it is only about embryonic stem cells. Just on that point, I note that, in Senator Hogg's comments—and I am happy to be corrected—he talked about the idea that the COAG communique pretty much deals only with embryonic stem cells. If you refer to the communique—and certainly, in the committee report, we have done that—and particularly points 5 and 6, you will recognise that, indeed, it is broader than just dealing with the issue of embryos for the derivation of stem cells. That is covered in relation to point 8. The derivation of embryonic stem cells is clearly discussed as one element in a general approach.

The amendment before us would effectively ban all research other than for the derivation of stem cells, including research that is non-destructive. It would also have a particularly negative impact on the IVF practice, because it potentially bans legitimate and longstanding research, quality assurance and training that involves the use of excess ART embryos donated by couples. For these reasons, the amendment is not supported.