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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6815

Senator HOGG (12:55 PM) —I am not going to drag this out; I know where the numbers lie on the issue. I obviously believe the point that I have put is correct—that is, quite contrary to what Senator Stott Despoja said, I do not think this is seeking to limit the use of excess ART embryos to responsible research. To me, it seems quite reasonable that this be done on the basis of where the argument came from. The argument originally arose out of the issue of using adult stem cell research to help to cure people's diseases versus the issue of embryonic stem cells. If anyone is under any illusion, the debate certainly did not reach any great depths or go to any great heights on the issue of excess ART embryos for other purposes. If there was a debate on that at all, it was a very silent debate; a debate in which few, if any, took part. The focus of the debate in this nation since the debate emerged has clearly been on the issue of whether embryonic stem cell research is better than adult stem cell or other forms of what I would think are responsible research. Having gone down that path, the whole COAG process involved people standing up and singing the virtues of embryonic stem cell research versus the advantages of using adult stem cell and other kindred forms of research.

Whilst there have been undertakings stated by the minister in her response to me today—and I believe the minister is sincere in giving those undertakings—one must be a little sceptical about how this debate will evolve in years down the track. When people look back at this debate and say that it was a wide-ranging debate, that will seem to be true, but people will have lost sight of the original stimulus for this debate taking place in the first instance in this nation—that is, it was clearly a debate on embryonic stem cells versus adult stem cells, in particular.

Whilst I concede that the minister quite rightly said that I did read only two of the sections of paragraph 6 of the COAG communique, I did not mean to mislead. There is no doubt that the issue is raised there of research involving human embryos. It talks, as I said, of nationally consistent legislation being desired and that there should be an appropriate ethical oversight and that the standards should be clear. The communique also said:

6.3 these national standards should be applied consistently throughout Australia, recognising that jurisdictions may use different mechanisms to establish that proposals comply with the national standards;

6.4 the system should provide for public reporting of research involving embryos so as to improve transparency and accountability to the public; and

6.5 the system should enable appropriate monitoring of compliance with national standards and provide legislated penalties for non-compliance.

I understand that we are going to do the bulk of that in the rest of this legislation, but it seems to me that, if we do not have the focus of the legislation correct in the first instance, certainly the purpose of the legislation will become broader and broader as time goes on. People often talk of the slippery slope, and it is my view that on this particular piece of legislation we are there already. As I said, the evidence contained in Senator Harradine's additional comments to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee's report clearly outlines a vast range of uses, as seen by Dr Morris of the NHMRC, that one would not have ever even speculated on out there in the public when this broader debate took place. Chair, without using up more time in this valuable debate, I commend the amendment to the Senate. Whilst I do not think the numbers are there, I believe this is a just and proper amendment that should be moved at this time.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Cherry)—The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 2720 moved by Senator Hogg be agreed to.

Question negatived.