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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7183

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (5:14 PM) — Senator Harradine's amendment seeks to amend clause 26 to include an additional ground on which the NHMRC Licensing Committee may suspend or revoke a licence, and that is if the committee has evidence that there has been insignificant or no advances in knowledge or improvement in technologies for treatment. I will be opposing the amendment because I am of the opinion that the licensing committee should have the discretion to set conditions and make decisions on the basis of the merits of each case.

Firstly, it would be difficult to judge any project before it is completed with respect to whether or not it led to a significant advance in knowledge, and the NHMRC Licensing Committee would only cover the work involving the use of an embryo and not all other aspects of the research project. At the stage in a research project when the benchwork has been completed and the results written up and published—at which point it may be possible to judge the outcomes of the work—the licence will have already expired. Therefore the amendments suggested by Senator Harradine would at best lead to a judgment being made after the licence has expired; at worst it may lead to projects being judged and terminated prematurely.

To illustrate how this would operate in the context of the legislation, I will go through a hypothetical scenario. A person applies for a licence to use an ART embryo to undertake certain research and satisfies the NHMRC Licensing Committee that there is likely to be a significant advance in knowledge which could not reasonably be achieved by other means. Assuming that the licensing committee is satisfied that all the other requirements for the issuing of a licence have been met, the committee then issues a licence for the use of the embryo for the purpose detailed in the application. The licence holder subsequently uses the embryo and fulfils the reporting requirements in accordance with the conditions of licence. The NHMRC Licensing Committee then decides that the results of the research do not constitute a significant advance in knowledge. Given that the embryo has been used and the licence is no longer in operation, what then would be the point in suspending or revoking the licence, because the embryo would already have been used for the purpose described in the application and in accordance with the licence conditions? I believe that this is an important area in which the licensing committee should have discretion to make decisions on the basis of the information available to them, and for these reasons I will not be supporting the amendment.