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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7049

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (8:23 PM) —Very quickly and very generally, no-one—certainly not to my face—has promised me that there will be miracles. No-one has promised me that there will be cures. I certainly do not know of any premiers who are silly enough to have absolutely misplaced, ridiculous faith in science to the degree that they would promise anything—certainly not to the degree of people walking after being in a wheelchair. However, I do have hope in science and I am inspired by the vision that some of the scientists have provided us with. I am often scared by some of the images and ideas that scientists and researchers have. Obviously, that is why we discuss regulatory frameworks for scientific research and discovery. Personally, I oppose the idea of embryos being used for testing cosmetics. I am not aware of any proposals to do that. I am not aware of any Australian scientists who have said that that is their intention. I am sure that if there are any examples, they will be provided to the chamber. I would like to think that the licensing committee, in its even-handed or case-by-case approach to licensing, would not allow such frivolous and unethical research.

I am not willing to rule out the issue of pharmaceutical testing—not for frivolous reasons. Perhaps Senator Boswell, or other senators such as Senator Barnett and Senator Harradine who have identical amendments, may be able to provide some responses to my queries and explain to the chamber and give us examples of areas that may be quarantined. What is the impact of writing pharmaceutical testing into this legislation? What are the implications for IVF? Are there any? Is that something that the minister or her advisers are aware of? It may have implications, particularly in relation to people applying for a licence to test a culture medium. Is that a pharmaceutical? Perhaps one of the senators behind the amendment could provide that information.

Not everyone has agreed on the idea of a strong regulatory framework. Obviously, we cannot all agree on exactly how that is framed or constituted. I guess that the key issue is that it boils down to whether we believe that the licensing committee, obviously in conjunction with the guidelines, will include the requirement of the likelihood of a significant advance in knowledge. And, of course, there is the filtering mechanism of the Human Research Ethics Committee. I guess it comes down to whether we believe that that combination is—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Order, Senator Harradine!

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I am too tired to even respond to interjections at the moment.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Nor should you.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I would like to say that it is intellectual tiredness, but it is angst. Obviously, we have to decide whether we leave the combination of those sufficiently robust as to ensure that the kind of frivolous, trivial and unethical research practices and procedures to which some have referred are not allowed. People may dispute some of those ethics committees, and that is reasonable. People are entitled to their opinion, and I think there are amendments that we will deal with later, as well as the one before us, that go to the issue of whether the combination of those groups are sufficiently strong. The amendments throw up a number of questions in relation to the banning of the use of embryos and embryonic stem cell lines and their products in the testing or manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The implications or questions surrounding these include: should there be different requirements for embryos and embryonic stem cells or their products? Should there be a difference between pharmaceutical and cosmetic testing? Should either embryos or ES cells and their derivatives be used for testing with either pharmaceuticals or cosmetics? I believe that the key feature of the licensing system is that it treats all possible uses of embryos even-handedly and allows the committee to determine if a particular case is reasonable and legitimate.

If there is an argument emanating from anyone in the chamber, including one or all of the three senators behind the amendment, that suggests that the factors in place are not strong enough to rule out that kind of vexatious or inappropriate research, I am happy to hear it. But I am also happy to hear how they define pharmaceutical and what implications there are in relation to IVF and the issue of a culture medium, to which I referred—for example, whether that would be a pharmaceutical.

There are a few broad-ranging implications in these amendments that have not been worked out. I do not want for a minute for it to be interpreted that there are senators in this place who necessarily support cosmetic testing, because I do not get the impression that there are. I did not hear much evidence in the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee of examples of where that is taking place or, indeed, where there was an intention. I am not saying that there are not some scientists who might have completely inappropriate and wacky ideas—and Antinori springs to mind as one example of a scientist to whom the world looks with grave concern, for understandable reasons—but I am certainly not willing to ban pharmaceutical testing until I hear stronger evidence from those senators who are behind the amendment before us.