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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6890


Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services) (8:38 PM) —I move National Party amendment (1) on sheet 2702:

(1) Page 11 (after line 5), at the end of Division 2, add:

12A Offence—export of human embryos, human embryonic stem cells or any product derived from human embryos

A person commits an offence if the person intentionally or recklessly exports from Australia a human embryo, human embryonic stem cell, or any product derived from a human embryo except for the purpose of placement in the body of the woman for whom it was created.

Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

The effect of this amendment is to ban exports of human embryonic stem cells or any other derivative from human embryos. I move this amendment because, in effect, I want to bring the legislation on stem cells into line with what we are doing in Australia. In Australia it is illegal to clone and it is illegal to trade in human tissue. You cannot trade in stem cells and you cannot trade in human tissue but there is no provision in this bill that would prevent exports of human stem cells into countries that do not have our high ideals and, in some cases, do not have any laws whatsoever to protect the stem cells or the derivatives of embryos.

If we were to export guns, uranium or any other dangerous product we would have an end user certificate that says, `You can do this with this uranium but you cannot build an atom bomb; you can use these guns for defence but you cannot on-trade them.' We do not have any such thing in this legislation. Some companies that have associations with the National Stem Cell Centre have already set up a company in Singapore called ES Cell International. It is a company made up of Singaporean, Australian and Israeli money and it has some official tie-up with the stem cell centre.

I welcomed the minister's decision the other day to prevent embryos from being traded or exported overseas and, on some occasions, imported. It was a good step. I am not sure that people are aware of the fact that you can use stem cells to clone. You can use embryos to clone and you can use stem cells to clone. That is not widely known. I have evidence from a lot of scientists but let me just quote from the library—


Senator Knowles —You're not meant to quote the library in anything.


Senator BOSWELL —Let me just quote from some advice that I have from the library. The library defines the use of embryonic stem cells as therapeutic cloning. It states:

This technique involves cloning human embryos not for the purpose of allowing them to develop until birth, but to extract certain cells—so-called embryonic stem cells—from them, grow them into tissues for development of therapies ...

You can, in effect, clone from stem cells. You can clone from embryos and you can clone from stem cells. Surely the status of an embryo is that it cannot be exported or imported, and that status is acknowledged by the government, the Prime Minister and the minister. Stem cells, I believe, can be cloned and used for other things.

We are opening this up. We have put forward a cloning bill, which both houses of parliament voted against. We all congratulated ourselves on our high ethics and the fact that we would not allow cloning in Australia. Yet we are prepared to allow stem cells to go overseas to countries that have no standards and no legislation that would prevent them from doing things. In fact, anything can go when stem cells are exported.

I am suggesting that this amendment would only bring this bill into line with the legislation that was passed to prevent cloning and the use of human tissue in Australia and that it would set the same standards for anything that was exported to overseas countries. On numerous occasions I have asked the NHMRC whether anything in the legislation would prevent exports. I was told on a number of occasions that there was no measure in place to prevent the export of Australian embryo products, such as stem cells and other derivatives, to places where cloning is allowed. Embryo stem cell lines may be exported and then manipulated for various uses.

When we originally debated this, we were told about cures. Many people believed that the thought of cures was the motivation to vote for this legislation. But the general public were never told about trading in embryos, stem cells and embryo derivatives. I am sure that there would be no great enthusiasm in the general population for the commercialisation of stem cells. If people had been asked, `Would you vote for this for a cure?' they would have answered yes. But when it comes to commercialisation—trading in stem cells and human tissue—I think the general population would give it the thumbs down.

This has been a difficult debate and it has been very difficult to get information out there. But there is no doubt in my mind that people would not support the commercialisation of stem cells to be traded as human tissue, particularly when we do not allow that to occur in Australia. How can we not allow it to occur in Australia and then just wipe our hands of it and say, `When it goes outside the country you can do what you like.' I do not think that is acceptable to people and it should not be acceptable to parliament.

The same standards are required in Australia for our embryos, our derivatives from embryos and our stem cells. We want those same standards for those derivatives from embryos to apply in Australia and outside of Australia. We do not want a separate law for what happens in Australia and another law for what happens outside Australia. I ask people to support this amendment. I believe it is an amendment that would have the general support of the public. I ask that people do think about it very seriously when they vote on the issue.