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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6882


Senator CHRIS EVANS (7:36 PM) —I indicate on behalf of the Labor Party that we will be opposing Senator Harradine's amendment. I think this debate has got a bit off track. I think there is an agreement around the chamber that we ought to protect any scientist, health worker or anyone else involved in the field who might have a conscientious view about the work or research they are involved in. That has been long recognised in the NHMRC guidelines. They have a National statement on ethical conduct in research involving humans, which I think originated in 1999, which requires that staff who conscientiously object to research projects or therapeutic programs should not be obliged to participate in those projects or programs to which they object and that they should not be disadvantaged because of their objections.

Science has been dealing with these issues for many years. The fact that this parliament has got around to doing something about research involving embryos et cetera, many years after that research has been conducted, does not mean that we have to reinvent the wheel or the whole vehicle. There is a range of issues that science and research have been dealing with for many years. This is one example where that research raises ethical and moral questions. Quite rightly Senator Harradine pointed to those areas, but there are other areas of research and scientific activity which raise those same issues.

Our view is that that range of issues has been adequately dealt with by the statement from the NHMRC on ethical conduct in research involving humans, and the guidelines issued with it. We argue that those address the concerns raised. I am not convinced of the need for us to include in this bill a specific provision that deals with those concerns. I accept the logic of the position taken but believe that the guidelines provide that protection to those people who are knowingly involved in this scientific research and to those employed by organisations involved in that research. Their ability to have a conscientious objection is protected. I think everyone around the chamber has respected that.

The question is whether you want to go the next step and enshrine in this legislation an amendment such as that proposed by Senator Harradine. Our advice is that there is a range of questions arising from that—even if we thought it appropriate—about unintended consequences and the Commonwealth's constitutional power et cetera. I am sure Senator Boswell has much more faith in the government's IR legislation than I have, so I was surprised at his concern that workers rights were not being protected. I hope that means he will be a convert to a more progressive IR position than he has previously held. I guess it suits him on this occasion to worry about workers rights, but it has not suited him on any other occasion. I will try not to be too inflammatory, but it was a bit galling. I take it that Senator Harradine's amendment is moved in good faith. He put the argument for it. I am indicating on behalf of the Labor Party that our view is that the issue is sufficiently dealt with by the NHMRC's guidelines and we do not need at this stage to legislate those provisions in this bill.