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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7236


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:51 AM) — Amendment (8A) put forward by Senator Harradine requires reasons for decisions to issue a licence to be published on the public database. All applicants for licences will need to meet the criteria set out in clause 21 of the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002—that is, that protocols are in place to obtain proper consent and that there will be a significant advance in knowledge. Meeting the criteria will obviously make up a large part of the reasons for the decision. Public accountability is achieved through access to information on a database which I believe is certainly up around the best, if not the best, in the world.

Amendment (8B) requires the membership of the human research ethics committee which approved the activity to be published. Ultimately, as I have said on a number of occasions in this debate, the licensing decisions are made by the licensing committee and it is that committee which will be accountable to the public through the database, to the parliament through the reporting requirements of the licence holders and through the appeals process. The human research ethics committee's decision is not the final decision but just one of the matters considered by the licensing committee. Therefore, I do not believe it is relevant that the names of the members be published; they are not the decision makers. What is relevant is the membership of the licensing committee, and this will certainly be publicly available information.

Senator Harradine's amendment (8C) seeks to have information available on the Internet site within 30 days of the ethics committee's assessment. As I said earlier, I do not think it is necessary to specifically refer to the Internet since the database must be made publicly available and the obvious way to do this is via the Internet. Quite apart from this, Senator Harradine's amendment is unworkable because it requires information to be published within 30 days of the ethics committee's assessment. In many cases, within 30 days of the ethics committee's assessment the licensing committee will not have made its decision as to whether or not to grant a licence. Again, we need to remember that the human research ethics committee is not the decision maker. It provides its evaluations to the licensing committee and it is the licensing committee which is the decision maker. I will be opposing Senator Harradine's amendments.