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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7127


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (12:43 PM) — The amendment proposed by Senator Harradine seeks to include a requirement in clause 24 of the legislation that the NHMRC Licensing Committee must publish every application on the Internet within one week of receipt, provide 10 working days for receipt of public submissions, consider all public submissions and report on its consideration and evaluation of those submissions in the publicly available database.

In the light of these proposed amendments, I think we need to go back over the history of the regulation of ART and research involving embryos in Australia and the scope and intent of the COAG decision as reflected in the legislation. Assisted reproductive technology has existed in Australia for approximately 30 years. Throughout that period, ART clinics have been using excess ART embryos that would otherwise have been destroyed for the purposes of training, quality assurance and research. In all states and territories, such activity since 1996 has been overseen by the human research ethics committees acting in accordance with NHMRC guidelines. In three jurisdictions, oversight has also been provided by regulatory bodies or committees where research that may destroy the embryo has been banned. In these three jurisdictions, applications for licences are considered by the relevant regulatory authority. There are no public consultation applications and only very limited public information is available. In all other jurisdictions, research, quality assurance and training, including uses of embryos which may damage or destroy the embryos, have been permitted, and currently there is no consolidated public information about the use of embryos that has been approved.

Progress reported.