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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7029

Senator HARRADINE (5:22 PM) —I thought that the minister might have responded to—

Senator Patterson —I gave a long speech last night on it, Senator Harradine.

Senator HARRADINE —I am well aware of what you did last night, Minister, but I thought that you might have responded to what has been said today. There are a number of things that have been said in this committee, and I was looking forward to a response from you about this proposed amendment.

Firstly, I oppose the legislation. However, I will support whatever is necessary to ameliorate this situation. For example, there should be something which establishes that embryonic stem cells will not be sold commercially to the highest bidder. That possibility is promoted in this proposed legislation. However, it is contrary to the intentions expressed in the COAG agreement and by COAG itself. Is the Minister or the NHMRC saying that the state premiers and others will support human embryonic stem cells being sold to the highest bidder? Clearly, the committee inquiry found that there had been no cures or treatments discovered by the use of embryonic stem cells but, if there had been, those cures or treatments would be reserved only for those who could pay the huge amounts of money involved. This is what Senator Nettle's amendments attempt to address. The concept of a bank is a matter of concern but, if that bank had some control over the uses of stem cells and some consideration of the ethical questions regarding those uses—we are talking mainly about human embryonic stem cells here—then it may be the way to go.

I was going to ask about adult stem cells. I support the use of adult stem cells and I am a great supporter of stem cell therapy, provided that you get the stem cells from an ethical source. There are plenty of ethical sources and useful sources as well. However, embryonic stem cells from excess ART embryos will be absolutely no use at all for therapy. No use at all, and do you know why? One of the reasons is that they are histo-incompatible. Absolutely! So, they are not going to be of any use at all. There are no examples of the usefulness of such stem cells. On the other hand, stem cells derived from ethical sources, such as from the patient, are in fact being utilised for a number of therapies which have proven to be successful. That was the advice given to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee. Normally speaking, stem cells from the patient would not be subject to commercialisation other than through the reasonable expertise and expenses that are involved in obtaining the stem cells from the patient.

Under these circumstances, I agree with Senator Collins that it is necessary to do something about this matter. However, I do not agree with Senator Stott Despoja that we should leave it until the hand-picked review in three years time. As Senator Collins said, the horse will have bolted by then. Senator Collins mentioned patents as well. Senator Nettle's amendment does put a brake on that and, in doing that, it deserves favourable consideration.

I know we cannot debate it now, but I cannot help discussing this matter without referring to a forthcoming amendment by Senator Nettle which provides for the AHEC, the Australian Health Ethics Committee, to commence the investigation, to do the consultation and to provide a report to parliament on 1 July 2003 in respect of this matter. I do not know whether that can stand alone. The mover may be able to tell me whether that amendment could stand alone if there were a provision which required that no licences be granted for the use of human embryos from whom the stem cells will be extracted. That is the sort of thing I would be hoping and looking for. There have been suggestions in this debate, including by Senator Collins, that there should be a report and that, until that report is made, there should be a provision requiring that there is no licensing until that has occurred and parliament has dealt with it. I do not know whether that is possible. If proposed new clause 19A is defeated, is it possible for proposed new clause 47A to be amended so as to essentially require that no applications receive a licence until that time?