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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7050

Senator BARNETT (8:30 PM) —I support Senator Harradine's amendment and, indeed, the other amendments standing in my name. I have three in fact relating to drug testing. They have different levels of significance and impact, and I would just like to draw the Senate's attention to those. The first amendment specifically says:

The NHMRC Licensing Committee must not issue the licence if the use of human embryos, human embryonic stem cells or any product derived from human embryos or human embryonic stem cells, proposed in the application involves:

(a) the testing, creation or manufacture of any pharmaceutical or cosmetic product; or

(b) the manufacture of any pharmaceutical or cosmetic product.

The second amendment is worded quite differently. It says:

The NHMRC Licensing Committee may only issue the licence to authorise the extraction from human embryos of human embryonic stem cells and for no other purpose.

The third amendment is a worse case scenario, which I would hope would have the support of absolutely all members of the Senate in the sense that it is a less strict amendment. That amendment on sheet 2757 revised says:

The NHMRC Licensing Committee must not issue the licence if the use of an excess ART embryo proposed in the application involves the testing, creation or manufacture of any pharmaceutical or cosmetic product.

So there are three different levels and, for the sake of brevity, I just wanted to speak to all of them rather than standing up to speak on each one.

I do support Senator Harradine's amendment. We want to uphold the spirit and the wording of the COAG agreement. That agreement makes it quite clear that we should be implementing a strict regulatory regime. I have been through a good number of the speeches in the House of Representatives and in the Senate in support of the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, and I cannot find any that actually support drug testing on human embryos or human embryonic stem cells. I was a member of the Senate committee, along with other senators, and we have presented a report. During the hearings many witnesses made submissions and, indeed, of all the submissions, none were actually calling for drug testing to be used on human embryos. I think we need to take note of that. This evidence has been put forward to our committee.

The whole purpose of this legislation is based on the ethical foundation that this parliament should cautiously proceed with the deliberate destruction of the so-called excess IVF embryos for the extraction of stem cells from embryos that would have otherwise succumbed. No-one is speaking passionately for the testing or the manufacture of embryos for pharmaceuticals or cosmetics. The promise of embryonic stem cells to effectively treat debilitating diseases and injuries has been the whole impetus of this debate. That has been the purpose according to the proponents of the bill and, indeed, others. So why would we not want to support a prohibition on the testing of drugs? Surely, we would.

We need to take account of the fact that in three years time this bill will be reviewed under the current legislation. If the parliament believes that the deliberate destruction of embryos should be employed for pharmaceutical testing or for any other purpose, then this should be considered during the review process. There is an opportunity for a review and that is the time when such a new and tragic form of procedure could be considered. So I am just putting the message out that we are trying to create a strict regulatory regime. We are trying to proceed cautiously in a very controversial area. There is nobody in this parliament actually out there supporting drug testing on human embryos, as far as I can tell. The COAG sentiment is for a strict regulatory regime. So the Senate committee report has all that evidence and all the submissions before it.

Let us just look at some of the arguments against the amendments that have been put by Senator Harradine and me. One argument is that the licensing committee can deal with it and that it can be set out in the licensing conditions that it is simply not an appropriate procedure to allow drug testing. I accept that. For goodness sake, you would hope that the licensing committee would take such a position. But I say you are leaving the door open for that committee if they believe there is a significant advance in knowledge by using human embryos or human embryonic stem cells for drug testing. Is that what we want? Do we want the door left open to drug testing? It is for this parliament to create the strict regulatory regime as requested by COAG. It is for this parliament to create the rules under which this controversial research would then be undertaken. As I said, nobody is out there actually supporting drug testing that I know of.

Senator Boswell —Trounson is!

Senator BARNETT —There may be one or two who are in a very controversial area, indeed, if they do. Why wouldn't we want to close this loophole? Why wouldn't we tie it down and make that happen and cover off this possibility? Then, if you want to, look at it over that three-year period and when the whole regime will be reviewed at the end of that period. I think they are very powerful arguments.

Senator Stott Despoja has asked about the implications for IVF. I cannot see implications for IVF programs, but I stand to be corrected and I seek advice from the minister or anybody else on that. For goodness sake, again, would they want to test drugs on a human embryo in an IVF clinic? Is that appropriate for an IVF clinic? I do not think so. We need to carefully review our thoughts on this. I acknowledge, although I do not accept it, that some people see a difference between testing drugs on human embryonic stem cells and testing drugs on human embryos. I do not support either, but I know that there are senators in this place who have a different opinion from mine on that. You have a number of amendments before you and I draw your attention to them. There are the Harradine amendments, which are tight and strong and which rule out such testing altogether; my three amendments; and the version on sheet 2757, which is the lesser one. I prefer the Harradine amendments. I bring the amendments to your attention so that we can debate them and, hopefully, hear advice from the minister as to her position on them.

To sum up, we are trying to create a strict regulatory regime. We need to proceed cautiously. There is an opportunity for a review. Nobody—certainly nobody in this parliament—wants to test drugs on a human embryo. Certainly there are those who want to test drugs on human embryonic stem cells or on stem cell lines—indeed there are some financial benefits for that—but I do not know of anybody in this place who supports it. So why not close off this loophole in the bill and remove it altogether? Those are powerful arguments and I hope that senators listening elsewhere can consider them. We might have another opportunity to speak on these matters once the minister has responded and once Senator Harradine has had the opportunity to put his view forward again.