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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7184


Senator BARNETT (5:20 PM) —I move amendment (1) on sheet 2759 revised:

(1) Clause 26, page 18 (after line 31), at the end of the clause, add:

(2) If a licence holder is convicted of an offence under this Act or the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002, the NHMRC Licensing Committee must, by notice in writing given to the licence holder, revoke each licence held by the licence holder.

I thank Senator Bishop for his comments and for the manner in which he made those comments. I think Senator Bishop's amendment is slightly more stringent, but this amendment is a good one and I would just like to make a few comments about it before allowing the minister and the Labor Party to respond.

This is about an automatic revocation of the licence by the licensing committee if a serious offence has been committed and a conviction has been incurred. It is an offence under not only the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 but also under the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002. The NHMRC Licensing Committee must by a notice in writing given to the licence holder revoke each licence held by the licence holder. That basically makes it an automatic revocation of that licence.

The penalty provisions in the bill are set out in clauses 10, 11 and 12 in division 2. They are for serious offences with penalties of up to five years imprisonment. We are not talking about being late with the reporting of an annual report or something like that; these are where there has been, in many of these cases, an intentional or reckless disregard for the licensing regime or the legislative or regulatory regime. So we are talking about serious offences. Indeed, it is only appropriate that there should be an automatic revocation of the licence. There will be an argument that the NHMRC, or the licensing committee at least, needs a level of discretion in terms of the suspension of a licence and the types of conditions and sanctions that may be imposed on the licence holder. But this is about penalties where convictions have taken place. We are talking about serious offences.

I draw the chamber's attention to the report of the Community Affairs Committee, of which I was a member. I asked this question of the witnesses on many occasions and it seemed to me that, for serious offences, a number of them supported an automatic revocation of the licence. I make the point again that it is relevant not only to this bill but also to an offence or a conviction made under the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002.

I have had some discussions with the minister's office and I want to thank the minister for the good grace and the manner in which those discussions have taken place and for what I understand will be her response in not opposing the amendment. I look forward to that. The only question that I have is with regard to the time period. It is an automatic revocation and it must be by notice in writing. A response stating how quickly that is to happen might be helpful. Obviously, they will use their best endeavours, and you can only assume that that will happen after the conviction has been incurred.