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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7172

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (4:06 PM) —I have been handed the notes in relation to this, and apparently when we adjourned prior to question time today the minister was about halfway through reading that. From what I can understand of Senator Harradine's question and from what I have read of these notes, I think they will go some way to answering the question, so I will put them on the record. I apologise for reading the notes; I know that it is not particularly good Senate practice and that it is pretty boring but I will give it a go.

When COAG made their decision that an additional layer of oversight should be provided on a national level by the NHMRC Licensing Committee, they recognised the changing environment, including that brought on by the potential benefits, that may be gained through the derivation and use of stem cells. COAG did not say, `The existing system is fundamentally flawed,' or `Not only must HREC and the NHMRC Licensing Committee consider all applications, but so must all members of the public.' Nor did they say, `All applications and all assessments must be made publicly available.'

However, recognising both the desirability and importance of public accountability and the frustrations that many people have felt about the absence of information about approv-ed uses of embryos in Australia, the bill in-cludes a requirement for the establishment of a publicly available database of information about licences. The database will include the following information: firstly, the name of the person to whom the licence was issued; secondly, a short statement about the nature of the uses of excess ART embryos that are authorised by the licence; thirdly, any conditions to which the licence is subject; fourthly, the number of excess ART embryos in respect of which use is authorised by the licence; fifthly, the date on which the licence was issued; and, finally, the period throughout which the licence is to remain in force.

The extent of the information that will be provided is significant. Not only is it the first time that such information will be available in Australia—I might note, after approximately 30 years of ART clinical practice— but the level of information provided to the public is, to my knowledge, unparalleled anywhere in the world. For example, in the United Kingdom the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 does not require the release of any detailed information to the public, nor the maintenance of a publicly available database of the type that we are proposing. The only information that the HFEA—that is, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority—publish is in their annual report, which includes a one- to five-line summary of the types of research approved. It includes no detail of licence conditions or licence periods. The system proposed for Australia already provides significant disclosure and opportunity for public scrutiny. That is the reason why I will not be supporting Senator Harradine's amendment.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Sen-a-tor Knowles) —Before I call Senator Harradine, I advise honourable senators that we are just completing the amendment moved by Senator Harradine prior to matters of pub-lic interest at 12.45 p.m. today and then we will move back to page 5 to the group of amend-ments that are listed for debate after 4.00 p.m.

Senator Harradine —I am not too sure whether I understood that.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —As you know, Senator Harradine, we are dealing with the amendment that you moved prior to the lunchbreak, which has to be disposed of prior to moving to the group of amendments that are listed for discussion between 4.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. They will commence with Senator Barnett's amendments (R2) to clause 8 and (R3) to clause 11.