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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6914

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (11:15 PM) — The amendment moved by Senator Brown in the name of Senator Nettle is proposing a new clause, 19A. It states:

The NHMRC Licensing Committee must not issue a licence in accordance with this Division until the National Public Human Stem Cell Bank has been established and is operational.

I have to express my concern that such an amendment is being proposed in the absence of first considering the merits and feasibility of establishing a national stem cell bank in Australia. The establishment of a stem cell bank is likely to raise a number of difficult and complex issues which will take some time to resolve. The process should not be hurried. While I will support an amendment to this bill requiring that the review of legislation include a consideration of the feasibility of establishing a national stem cell bank, I do not support delaying the implementation of legislation until such a bank is established, if indeed it is determined to be necessary to establish one at all. One of the effects of this amendment of which Senator Nettle may not be aware is that, if the licensing committee cannot issue any licences before the establishment of a national stem cell bank, this will effectively ban all ART related research, including non-destructive research. None of the ART training and quality assurance activities that rely on the use of excess ART embryos have anything to do with the derivation of stem cells or associated issues of access and intellectual property. Yet all would be prohibited until the establishment of the national stem cell bank. This would effectively bring ART clinical practice to a standstill.

I wanted to indicate that Professor Pettigrew indicated to me that there are international discussions on stem cell banks. This is being organised by the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom, with an invitation being extended to the CEO of the NHMRC to participate. Other countries which have been invited include the USA, Canada, Israel and some European countries. Obviously this is an issue which has brought international concern and involvement. I think that the establishment of a human stem cell bank in Australia ought to be considered in the light of the international discussions as well. I thought honourable senators in the chamber would be interested to know that there is international discussion about stem cell banks. I will not be supporting the amendment.