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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6893

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (8:58 PM) —This amendment, which seeks to ban the export of human embryonic stem cells or stem cell products, is not supported by the Democrats. We know that trade in prohibited embryos is already banned under the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002, which we dealt with previously. A similar amendment was defeated in the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill, which is where such offences properly belong, in my opinion—not under this bill.

In the debate on the cloning bill, the Minister for Health and Ageing indicated that the government would subsequently amend the Customs regulations to implement a ban on the import of viable materials derived from human embryo clones. That was a comprehensive debate where we saw views change on the floor of the chamber, and the minister and the government—to give them all due credit—went away and negotiated a change which I believe was seen as satisfactory by all here.

This amendment explicitly goes beyond COAG, which did not ban the export of stem cell lines. I believe that is a perfectly legitimate activity for scientists. I have no problem with the export of stem cell products. I thank the minister for raising her query in relation to Senator Boswell's contribution. I was similarly curious to hear his comments in relation to cloning from stem cells. I also have to thank Senator Harradine because I think he clarified the matter for the benefit of the chamber. This is obviously going to be an ongoing area of debate, but I believe my understanding and that of the minister are the same.

I do not think we have explicit evidence that demonstrates that cloning from stem cells can be or has been done. I think the only evidence that has been provided to us in the committee stage of the bill concerned an example—I am not sure how many years ago; the advisers of the minister may be able to assist—in relation to stem cells bedded on top of a bed of embryos, resulting in the production of an embryo. But I am not quite sure whether scientists know whether that was produced as a consequence of the stem cells or whether it was a consequence of the embryo. I look forward to the continuation of the debate about whether stem cells are totipotent as opposed to pluripotent—but perhaps not tonight.

I thank Senator Harradine for his contribution. If Senator Boswell did have anything further on that issue, I am sure we would all be keen to hear it, but I think we have resolved that we are not dealing with the issue of cloning embryos from stem cell lines. Having said that, I indicate again that the Democrats will not be supporting this amendment. We believe that the trade on prohibited embryos has been satisfactorily dealt with under the previous legislation that we have debated. Secondly, the indication from the government that the Customs regulations will be amended is satisfactory to us.