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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7028

Senator BROWN (5:16 PM) —I endorse what Senator Nettle has just had to say. It comes down to two matters. First of all, there is the desirability of having a national authority in place before the licensing system gets under way, and that is what the current amendment is about. The next amendment on this matter from Senator Nettle would establish an inquiry process, to be determined by July next year, as to how a national stem cell bank would be established—and it can draw on the British experience—and would report back to parliament. It would then be up to us, because licences would be awaiting, to get on with the job of bringing that bank into being. But even for those who do not want to have the licences held up, the idea of the bank should be canvassed. It has inherent and enormous merit when we are looking over a landscape with so many imponderables, unanswered questions, pitfalls and unknowables. It needs a structure like this to bring some order into that landscape.

I admire greatly both Senator Stott Despoja and Senator McLucas, but the option is not a good one, because what they are saying is, `Let's not have an inquiry of that sort at all, except that the people who are appointed by the National Health and Medical Research Council will have to consult the Commonwealth and the states and a broad range of other persons.' That is far short of the inquiry that Senator Nettle is recommending. But if we take Senator Stott Despoja's and Senator McLucas's option, it really comes to this:

... as soon as possible after the second anniversary of the day on which this Act received the Royal Assent—

so that is more than two years down the line—

(4) The persons—

appointed by the National Health and Medical Research Council—

undertaking the review must consider and report on the scope and operation of this Act taking into account the following:

(a) developments in technology in relation to assisted reproductive technology;

(b) developments in medical research and scientific research and the potential therapeutic applications of such research;

(c) community standards—

and then the new proposal—

(d) the applicability of establishing a National Stem Cell Bank.

It is not even the establishment of a national stem cell bank; it is the applicability of it. So 2½ years from now, four people that we do not know and do not appoint are going to look at the applicability of whether establishing a stem cell bank should be a matter for the review. It has no foundation of strength and direction.

Senator Hogg —No teeth!

Senator BROWN —Yes, it just does not make it. It is not going to lead to the creation of a stem cell research bank and it is certainly not going to do what the British have already established. I do not know whether that bank is functioning, by the way, but it has been established. I will reiterate what we are after. I will quote from an announcement by the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom on Monday, 9 September. They stated:

The Medical Research Council ... today ... announced that the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control ... has been appointed to set up the UK Stem Cell Bank ...

Yes, it did cost £2.6 million. That is a very small amount when you consider the massive ramifications we are looking at and the sort of money that private enterprise is pouring into this particular area. That press release says that the establishment of the UK Stem Cell Bank at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control:

... will ensure that there is a single national independent institute responsible for managing and supplying ethically approved, quality controlled stem cell `lines' for research. The cell lines are derived from stem cells which continue to multiply and reproduce themselves and can survive indefinitely. The bank will hold existing and new adult, fetal and embryonic stem cell lines.

Yes, adult stem cells are there, but that is very much within the bailiwick of the inquiry that Senator Nettle is proposing. The press release goes on to say:

A new high level Steering Committee will be put in place to oversee the activities of the bank.

That is standard stuff; it is not difficult. It is certainly no more difficult than asking the National Health and Medical Research Council appointed people to investigate the same matter two years down the line but with their investigation only looking at applicability. I think these are very important amendments from Senator Nettle, and I ask senators to think very carefully about the safeguards that we need to be giving to the community over the matter of stem cell research. I will be supporting this amendment and I will certainly be speaking again to seek the support of senators for Senator Nettle's substantive amendment, which will come right at the end of this discussion, to have that review, on the establishment of such a bank in Australia, report back to the Senate by 1 July next year. I think it is a very important idea to assuage the concerns that so many people, not just in this Senate but in the Australian populace, have about this new science.