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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7105


Senator BROWN (10:27 AM) —The Greens totally oppose the guillotine being applied to a great debate in this place on a matter of conscience. The debate on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 is extraordinarily important not just to the wider Australian community but to the consciences of all members who have been involved, particularly those who have sat here hour through hour determining, listening to, arguing and settling the extraordinarily complex issues that are involved. This bill entails a great matter of conscience. It is about testing of embryonic stem cells. It is about the commercial impulse that is behind the experimentation that takes place there. It is about our regard for life on earth, in the end. It is about human and scientific manipulation of the natural fabric of life on this earth, not least human life. As such, it measures up with the debates on the death penalty, on abortion, on gay law reform, on the Family Court, on euthanasia—enormously important matters which have been conscience matters and open to all members to debate and ultimately decide as best they could on their conscience and on the debate available. I do not know if ever before such a bill has been subject to the guillotine in this place. I do not know that that has ever happened. I find it extraordinary that the government and the Democrats voted en bloc to put this rolling guillotine or gag—the government puts the nice term of `time management' on it— onto a matter as important as this.

That this extraordinarily important piece of legislation is being debated in the second last week of sitting for the Senate is not in the hands of senators here, except those opposite—the government itself and the Prime Minister himself. But to apply implicitly, if not explicitly, a gag on this and to have that threatening the debate is quite outrageous. That the Democrats have supported the government in potentially gagging a vote on a matter as important to the conscience as this is must in itself be quite unprecedented for the Democrats, who have always determined—I think, quite wonderfully—that there should be open and free debate in this place on the most difficult of matters to do with the shaping of our society and its future.

I would have thought that, in the course of events—and the debate quickened last night—this matter would have been dealt with by today or tomorrow anyway. I think that will still be the case. But now we have a guillotine hanging over our heads. It is a very bad move by the government. Members have not been wasting time in here, I can tell you that. I think that everybody who sat in here would agree. It has been a heartfelt, informative and important debate. To trivialise it by saying that it can be cut off at the whim of the majority—maybe the uninterested majority, at that—and to prevent those who find this matter extraordinarily and hugely important and deserving of the greatest consideration is very bad parliamentary process. I think it is unconscionable: the unconscionable is occurring to what we proclaim as the conscionable. It is bad parliamentary process and a total abrogation of the whole idea that, when we get to complex and important ethical mileposts like this in the progress of our society, the matter should be given greater importance and should not be cut down by a guillotine—one which, on this occasion, is imposed by the government and the Democrats.