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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6887

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (8:08 PM) —I have a great deal of sympathy for the views put forward by the minister in response to Senator Brown's comments about people getting angry. With all due respect, when there are certain allusions made to people's views based on their support or otherwise for an amendment, and especially in debates like this, it is quite understandable that people get quite angry. Through you, Chair, to Senator Harris: while I am not suggesting that you in any way were commenting on the minister's motivations or mine or anyone else's in the chamber who opposes the amendment before us, I do think that has been done. Having said that, I am quite happy to remain calm. I think it is quite obvious that people's motives for not supporting this amendment have been questioned. Our support for the principle of conscientious objection has been questioned in this place.

Senator Hogg —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order. If that is a reflection on a member of this chamber then that should be withdrawn. If it is a reflection on me, I will stand and defend myself because I have spoken but once in this debate—just then. If Senator Stott Despoja is going to make those claims, it is improper to reflect on other senators. If one wants to be robust in the debate then I can take and give as much as anyone else can. That is fair enough, but I do not think that those broad statements should be allowed to continue and reflect on senators in this chamber.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Brandis)—Senator Hogg, I did not understand Senator Stott Despoja's remark to be a reflection on you and I rule that there is no point of order.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I am happy to withdraw those comments because I think Senator Hogg quite rightly said that there should not be reflections on senators in the chamber. I accept that important and general principle. The arguments for and against this amendment have been put in detail. The general principle of conscientious objection has been supported in principle by a majority of senators in this chamber. The debate still remains, certainly in my mind, as to whether the conscientious objection principle is enshrined in legislation and whether it is made a criminal offence in relation to this particular bill. I thank Senator Harradine for providing precedence because that was my question earlier in the debate. I had broader questions in relation to the complexity of this issue: whether this amendment covered the complexity, including the definition of `victimisation', and whether senators—both the proponents and opponents of this amendment—had thought through the constitutional implications of regulating the behaviour of an individual. I have heard precedence in response to that.

By the same token, this amendment has become the `James Bond' amendment in terms of some of the lingo I have heard in the debate about the powers that have been made possible under this legislation. I wonder whether there are any examples from anyone in the chamber pointing out the current deficiencies—not in a theoretical sense but in a practical sense—in guidelines when it comes to scientists, students or anyone else for that matter in relation to scientific research and discovery. Obviously, preferred examples would relate to the issue of embryonic stem cell and adult stem cell research but what about other examples of research? I can get a lot more passionate at the moment about the issue of whether students, scientists or researchers, for example, are able to conscientiously object to research on animals. I wonder whether this amendment is the precursor to more amendments in relation to scientific research, animal welfare or other parts of legislation. I suspect it is not, for the very reason that we have guidelines and until those guidelines are deficient or our current industrial laws or any other legal avenues are proved to be deficient, I wonder whether this is the place to make these changes. Would anyone like to provide examples of scientists? I am not suggesting that there are not any; I am just not aware of examples where the NHMRC guidelines, for example, or any other guidelines, have fallen down.

I endorse the comments made by the minister in relation to the general and wide ranging support for the guidelines from groups such as the Academy of Science and, in particular, the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee. If those deficiencies are evident, please let us put them on the table now. If people decide that this is an amendment worth having but, like me, believe that this is not necessarily the time or the place because we do not have enough detail—we have not looked at the definition in relation to `victimisation'—then let us look at this either under the review that will come up or in a broader context where we look at other elements of science and research, whether it is to do with animal testing or anything else. I still have grave concerns about making this a new offence—a criminal offence. I have made two contributions in this debate; I agree with Senator Evans and Senator Patterson that we have had a long discussion, that the amendment at some point in the near future should be put and that these may be issues for the review that will naturally take place as a consequence of the package of this and the other legislation.