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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7035

Senator CHRIS EVANS (5:57 PM) —I indicate on behalf of the Labor opposition that we oppose Senator Nettle's amendment. As I said previously, Labor senators have a conscience vote on this issue, but I think it is important, as Senator Stott Despoja just tried to do, to bring us back to the debate. I think it has been a fairly wide-ranging debate.

The amendment moved by Senator Nettle effectively seeks to ensure that no licences will be issued until a stem cell bank is established. This amendment will effectively delay this legislation at least a year—I think more likely two or three. That is the impact of her amendment, if carried. So senators, when voting on this amendment, have to be very clear about that. This amendment, if carried, will effectively scuttle this legislation and the implementation of this legislation, because no licences will be issued until the stem cell bank has been established.

The stem cell bank is an idea that was floated in the committee report by a couple of the participating senators and it has received some widespread interest in the Senate. There is support for investigating the possible operation of a stem cell bank. But there are a range of outstanding issues that we have not dealt with that are not widely understood among senators that would impact on whether or not at the end of the day we supported that proposition.

The Greens, quite rightly, have tried to push that suggestion further. Fine, that is their decision. But senators should not be in any doubt about this amendment: if carried, it will effectively scuttle the legislation and scuttle the COAG process. It says that there will be no licences issued until a stem cell bank is established. This germ of an idea will have to be investigated, reported upon, established and brought into force before any licence is issued. If we pass this bill with this amendment, then all research will end after six months in the absence of a licence. Because of the provisions for offences under this bill, people conducting research six months after assent will have to have a licence or what they do will be illegal. We will have an amendment carried that effectively says that no licences will be granted for a minimum of 12 months—under the later amendment—or realistically for two to three years, and we will have a situation where any activity in relation to research will be illegal after six months.

Effectively, you will end research in this country arising from this bill. All ART related research will be effectively ended and none of those activities that are currently allowed and envisaged under this bill will be able to continue. That is the effect of the amendment. The idea of investigating the stem cell bank is interesting and it is one that I am attracted to. I am one of those 60-odd that Senator Collins spoke of who voted for investigating the idea in the previous debate. The effect of the Green amendment is to scuttle the bill and rule out any research. It effectively means that implementation of the bill and the COAG agreement is totally undermined. That is the real impact. I am not sure whether that was the intention but that is the impact. That is why I will be voting against it. That is why the official Labor view is to vote against it. I would urge senators to vote against it because, without putting too fine a point on it, some of the support for this amendment comes from an understanding of the impact of the amendment on the bill.