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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7036

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (6:01 PM) —Some of Senator Evans's comments need some response. The aspersion that this has been put forward by the Greens to scuttle the bill is—

Senator Chris Evans —I did not say that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —That is the effect of it, and some of the support might be related to that. I do not believe it is a reasonable characterisation of the situation. The argument that has been put forward is that this was something that was just flagged in the report by some participating senators. I would like to take the Senate back to what actually occurred. Stem Cell Sciences' submission to the Senate inquiry and then the appearance by Mr Ilyine were used by the committee—and principally by myself, I should say, Senator Evans—to flesh out this issue of the role of a stem cell bank. It was following through the theme that I had explored in other areas about how, if it is the intention of COAG that we restrict the number of embryos that might be available for these purposes, that could be achieved.

One area where that has been discussed in this debate is the suggestion that we should reinsert into clause 21 the words used by COAG and the words used in the current guidelines that have been in place since 1996. I think that some fruitful discussions have occurred and we may well be able to resolve that aspect. But the other element of how we achieve the intention of COAG, which was that we have a strict regulatory regime that will restrict the number of embryos that are utilised in this endeavour, was, in the discussion with Mr Ilyine, related to using a stem cell bank or restrictions on intellectual property to remove the commercial interests as a means of using more embryos than might be required for the humanitarian interests that many parties have canvassed in this area.

I am sorry, Senator Evans, I do not mean to imply that I took this as a personal insult, but I think that it is important that I use this opportunity to clarify very clearly what my intentions are with this amendment, given that that broad characterisation was made. My intention here is to implement the objective of the COAG agreement, which is that we have a strict regulatory regime. The point of that is that in Europe, where it happens, they have restrictions on patents. In the UK, where it happens, they have a stem cell bank. In Australia, what are we going to say—that we will think about it? That is not a strict regulatory regime. It is nowhere near a strict regulatory regime. I do not agree that it can take two to three years to establish an appropriate means of regulating the commercial interests involved in this endeavour. Anyone who argues that it could take two or three years—

Senator Chris Evans —They do not report back until July next year and we do not sit until August. When is it all going to happen?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Senator Evans, it is within our scope to deal with those issues. If we believe that the review time frame is inappropriate in relation to establishing a strict regulatory regime, and starting a system as a strict regulatory regime, that is within our hands. COAG did not specify the full detail of exactly what time frame should be utilised to establish this. These are all things within our scope. I know that the NHMRC has a particular perspective here but it is not the only relevant perspective. With respect, as we have already dealt with in relation to the advice that we have received on other issues from the Australian Health Ethics Committee, the relevant ethics committee does at times have views contrary to those of the NHMRC. If the advice that has been given is that to establish an appropriate way of regulating commercial interests could take two to three years, I have very strong concerns with the quality of that advice.

Question negatived.