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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7113


Senator BARNETT (11:20 AM) —I have been listening carefully to the arguments put by Senator Harradine and Senator Boswell and the response from the Minister for Minister for Health and Ageing and, quite honestly, I am none the wiser as to the arguments why we cannot support Senator Harradine's amendment. I have listened to the minister's comments, particularly the thrust of the argument—that it is outside the scope of the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. This is new ground. We are developing and preparing a legislative and regulatory regime for human embryo stem cell research and the testing of drugs on human embryos, and the debate this morning has confirmed for me 100 per cent that the door is wide open to drug testing on human embryos. That saddens my heart, as I think it will the hearts of many Australians.

It concerns me that we have had some discussion about an acceptance that we have labelling laws in this country. Of course we do. We have labelling laws for food, for drugs and for other products. Here we are establishing a regime for the testing of drugs on human embryos or human embryo stem cells, and we want to put labels on those drugs that might benefit from such testing. There has been the example of smoking and cigarettes. We all know there are labels on cigarette packets in this country. Whether it is as part of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act or whether it is via an amendment to the Trade Practices Act, the fact is that there is a label. There is a warning. It is there—it happens. So the argument in opposition to Senator Harradine's amendment is simply not convincing.

The minister's argument that it is impossible to go back and it is all going to be too cumbersome for the drug companies and whoever is in diametrical opposition to the arguments put yesterday that we have a very rigorous reporting regime under clause 29 of the bill, which says there has to be a database made available for the public that sets out the type of research that is undertaken under the operation of the act. Let us look at clause 29, which says:

(1) The NHMRC Licensing Committee must maintain a database containing the following information in relation to each licence (including a licence as varied):

(a) the name of the person to whom the licence was issued;

(b) a short statement about the nature of the uses of excess ART embryos that are authorised by the licence;

(c) any conditions to which the licence is subject;

(d) the number of excess ART embryos in respect of which use is authorised by the licence;

(e) the date on which the licence was issued;

(f) the period throughout which the licence is to remain in force.

(2) The database is to be made publicly available.

We wanted to improve and expand on that. That is the effort I made with my amendment yesterday: to expand on that database and the reporting process. But the minister is saying, `It is too hard to go back and find out about exactly the types of procedures that were undertaken or the drug testing that was done on the human embryo or human embryo stem cell.' If the reporting procedures are adequate and rigorous, as put forward by the minister and those who are the proponents of this bill, surely the information would be available. Surely it is not that difficult to do.

In this country we have labelling for food, for drugs and for cigarettes. Why can't we have labelling for drugs which, in the process of the manufacture or testing of those drugs, use human embryos or human embryo stem cells? Why not? It is not that difficult to do. I simply do not accept the argument of it being onerous or a rigorous and difficult process. There is no merit in that argument.

Let us use a couple of examples. One that I am particularly interested in is the Red Bull soft drink. It has a label on it that says it is not suitable for children, pregnant women or for people with diabetes. It is in small print, and I have a concern about the fact that it is so small that people are not able to see it and about the fact that it is freely available to children, people with diabetes and pregnant women—it is very easy to obtain. Nevertheless, there is a label because of the guarana, the caffeine, in the drink. The same applies to the Viking chocolate bar. It does have an impact. It should not be freely available to children and people with diabetes, because it can have health effects on those people; nevertheless, even for those drink products, there are labels. And here we are talking about human embryos. As I have said many times, each one of us was once a human embryo. We are talking about testing on a human embryo or a human embryo stem cell.

Senator Harradine made the helpful contribution about the recent changes to the labelling laws in New Zealand with respect to tobacco products and MSG—that they must be clearly notified in the labelling. We have labelling laws in this country and my understanding, from memory, is that they are soon to be upgraded—in December this year, I think—in terms of the rigorous nature of that labelling regime. That is good; we need a rigorous labelling regime. The whole thrust of this is a full, open and transparent process in terms of the consumers' right to know. That has been discussed in this debate already. Why shouldn't consumers know that there has been testing of these drugs on a human embryo? Of course they should know that. As far as it being difficult information to obtain, I simply do not go along with that—it is not valid. There is no valid argument against the amendment. All the arguments are for it. I have heard the minister's points and I do not accept them. I urge senators to think through this particular amendment very carefully and to support it.