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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7119

Senator BROWN (11:50 AM) —I very strongly support this amendment. The issue of labelling is extraordinarily important. I mentioned it last night and I will say it again: we are having a conscience vote. I think we, whatever our conscience is here, have the freedom to exercise that vote, which is a difficult one, but we must extend the same privilege to all Australians. That means that people who have objections to the use of embryonic stem cells for the development of pharmaceuticals or indeed cosmetics have a right to know when they go to their chemist or other shop to get those goods that they are free from testing on embryonic stem cells. That is what this amendment does.

Senator Stott Despoja has said that it does not cross the t's and dot the i's. We have a responsibility to see that it does if there is some shortcoming and not simply to say, `It's inadequate; therefore, we don't have any such regime.' I think this is a very crucial amendment. It is about consumers' right to know. It is a very deep ethical matter that consumers should be informed about. There has been a debate in the last week about consumers' right to not be told they are getting low fat foods if in fact there is more than three per cent fat in what it is that they are buying, and we are regulating to ensure that is the case. People have a right to know the level of fat content that is in the food they eat, but who could say that they do not also have a right to know if there has been testing on embryonic stem cells in the development of the pharmaceuticals or the cosmetics they are about to buy? I remind members that last night this chamber voted against a move to prohibit testing not just on pharmaceuticals but also on cosmetics as far as embryonic stem cells are concerned.

Whatever we might think on this divide about the ethical nature of using stem cells for experimentation, I see a strong argument here that everybody in the Australian community also has their right to conscience. This amendment is about the right of everybody to conscience. I appeal to people who are strongly in favour of this legislation and who have few qualms, or perhaps no qualms, about testing on embryonic stem cells for pharmaceuticals to recognise that other people do have qualms and that it is their basic right to be informed. That is absolutely critical. There is some analogy with the famous French seer's observation: `I might totally disagree with you, but I will defend your right to your opinion to the death.' This is a very critical, deep-seated ethical matter, and we must not deny other Australians, as purchasers of products, their right to not be involved in the experimentation process on embryonic stem cells. They have a right to have those products labelled, and they have a right to be informed. The amendment of Senator Harradine's should be supported for that reason.