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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7056

Senator HARRADINE (9:01 PM) —I want to reply and will now deal with the issues that were stated by the minister. Firstly, the example that was given was an exempt use. Secondly, the minister says, `We'll leave it to the system.' There is no real accountability; we are just told, `Leave it to the system; they're an expert panel.' We have also heard, `The matter has gone through a human research ethics committee.' Again, let me remind the Senate that a human research ethics committee is appointed by the institution that is making that application.

I ask the chamber and the minister to please have regard to what is being said. Much weight has been put on the application being evaluated and approved by a human research ethics committee, as though that were the end of the story and we do not need to open our mouths. But in this particular case it is the drug company that will be appointing the human research ethics committee, which was once called the institutional ethics committee. I have the provisions here as to who will be appointed. Obviously, the applicants for the licence are not going to appoint a human research ethics committee that is going to cause them trouble.

To cap it all off, the minister says that the decisions and the evaluation of that committee are not going to be made public. There is no transparency in that at all. This was in the statement by the minister that this is all subject to public scrutiny; it is not. I am preparing an amendment, which I hope will be supported, along the lines that at least the decisions of the human research ethics committee should be made public.

The minister talks about the role of donors. I ask the minister: is it not a fact that donors will not be able to know where their human embryonic stem cells will end up? Once the embryonic stem cells are extracted, is it not a fact that the donors will no longer have any control over the use of those embryonic stem cells? Is that a fact or not? Or is it a fact that, because of the structure that has been placed in this legislation, the donors will not know about their embryonic stem cells because the cells are no longer identified with the donors. Is that a fact or not?

I am making something of this because much has been made of it by the minister, on advice. The advisers know what I am talking about. I do hope the minister will see the importance of my forthcoming amendment and will seek some advice from those from whom she receives advice—and I do not mean her advisers in the chamber; I mean elsewhere. I am asking the minister: what are the stringent requirements in respect of this whole question of the testing of pharmaceutical products? The minister appears to be opposed to the testing of pharmaceutical products. If that is the case, how can we best cater for that view?

Senator Stott Despoja said, `Give us some examples of what is meant.' Is Senator Stott Despoja in favour of the testing of drugs and toxicology testing by using human embryos or human embryonic stem cells? I gave certain examples of what is being proposed, and I quoted the chief executive of Stem Cell Sciences, Dr Peter Mountford. Senator Stott Despoja may not have been here when I was making my introductory comments, so I will repeat that the report in the Australian says:

Dr Mountford has never produced a human embryo, but holds a patent on technology he believes will achieve this result by the end of 2002. He plans to commercialise the process within two years by supplying disease-carrying embryonic stem cells to pharmaceutical companies for drug screening.

Dr Peter Mountford is the chief executive of Stem Cell Sciences and an Australian. The Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair, the Trounson outfit, in its application for the money that it received, stated:

A number of companies throughout the world have identified that ES cells in their differentiated or undifferentiated state can be used to develop screening assays to identify new chemical agents for their therapeutic capability or to screen new or existing agents for toxicity in their profile.

Those are two examples, and there are a number of others. I referred to the letter that I received from the industry minister about these matters. I have given those examples, and I certainly trust that they will be taken on board. I simply put it to the committee that this measure deserves full support, and I request the minister to respond to the questions that I have raised with her.