Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6904


Senator HARRADINE (10:17 PM) —by leave—I move amendments (1), (2) and (3) on sheet 2696:

(1) Clause 13, page 12 (lines 18 to 20), omit subclause (4).

(2) Clause 16, page 14 (after line 4), after subclause (5), insert:

(5A) The Minister must not appoint as a member a person who has a continuing personal, professional or pecuniary conflict of interest with the functions of the NHMRC Licensing Committee.

(3) Page 14 (after line 8), after clause 16, insert:

16A Disclosure of interests

(1) A member who has a conflict of interest in relation to a matter being considered or about to be considered by the NHMRC Licensing Committee must disclose the matters giving rise to that conflict to the NHMRC Licensing Committee as soon as possible after becoming aware of the conflict.

(2) The member must not take part in the deliberation or the making of a decision by the NHMRC Licensing Committee in relation to the matter.

(3) For the purposes of this section, a member has a conflict of interest in relation to a matter being considered or about to be considered by the NHMRC Committee if the member has any interest, personal, pecuniary, professional or otherwise, that could conflict with the proper performance of the member's functions in relation to that matter.

(4) A member who contravenes subsection (2) ceases to hold office as a member at the time of the contravention and is ineligible for reappointment.

(5) A conflict of interest, disclosure of interest or contravention of subsection (2) is a detail relating to the operations of the NHMRC Licensing Committee which must be reported in accordance with subsection 18(1).

In the interests of time I would like to briefly explain these amendments. The minister may be able to indicate to the chamber what is proposed or what is the situation now in respect of each of those matters, and maybe under those circumstances I need not press the amendments. These are amendments to clause 13 and clause 16 of the legislation.

Before I deal with the amendment to clause 14, I point out that it was submitted to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee that it was entirely inappropriate for the NHMRC, who is a player in the research area, to be an umpire for the game. I think there is some validity in that. The NHMRC must take a very good look at itself and have a look at what it has been doing to see whether or not it has ensured that weight is given to the ethical questions that are involved in a number of research proposals which are funded by the NHMRC. This is certainly not to question the intentions of the NHMRC but members of parliament have received a certain missive from the University of Tasmania about the treatment that Tasmanians have been getting from the NHMRC because of the round robin effect of a number of these grants. The same people are getting the same grants and are being assessed by people in similar institutions and so on. The question really does need to be looked at.

Let us go to the amendments. I raised with the minister amendment (1), which says:

Clause 13, page 12 ... omit subclause (4).

This amendment deletes a section of the bill which in part states:

The regulations may make provision for and in relation to the disclosure of members' interests ...

Amendment (3) sets out the requirements for disclosure of interest in legislation rather than leaving this very important issue to regulations. On the conflict of interest clause, amendment (2) on sheet 2696 seeks to add after subclause (4) the words:

The Minister must not appoint as a member a person who has a continuing personal, professional or pecuniary conflict of interest with the functions of the NHMRC Licensing Committee.

The amendment that I am moving has the effect that a person may not be appointed to the NHMRC Licensing Committee if there is a continuing personal, professional or pecuniary conflict. There are many examples of similar protective provisions in Commonwealth legislation. I mention just four of them: the National Environment Protection Measures (Implementation) Act 1998, the Trade Practices Act 1974, the Australian Tourist Commission Act 1987 and the Australian Film Commission Act 1975.

The third amendment on sheet 2696 is the addition of clause 16A. The background of this proposal is that, if a conflict of interest arises for a member of the NHMRC Licensing Committee, it must be disclosed and the member cannot take part in deliberations in relation to that particular matter. There are numerous examples in Commonwealth laws of disclosure of interests that are required. Again, the proposed amendments are consistent with precedent—for example, the International Air Services Commission Act 1992 requires that a member must disclose any interest, whether monetary or otherwise, that would conflict with proper performance of functions and must not further take part in proceedings except with the consent of other members and parties, if any.

The Australian Film Commission Act provides that a person is not eligible for appointment if there is a conflict of interest, which is in similar language to the proposed amendment and is also referred to above. As I said, it is a very important area. I am sure that the minister appreciates, as I do, that COAG did make a point of agreeing to the need for strict regulatory provisions. Of course, this whole question of conflict of interest is one which I am sure those honourable senators in the chamber and those senators who are not here, who are involved in transparency and accountability for the actions of parliament, would agree. I put that forward in the hope that the minister might be able to enlighten me as to what the current situation is. It may well be that the current situation covers it and, if it covers it better than these amendments, please tell me.