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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7239


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (10:10 AM) — Clause 30 of the bill and relevant parts of clause 29 enable the licensing committee to protect legitimate confidential commercial information. Such provisions are a standard part of licensing schemes such as this and involve disclosure of certain information to the public. However, these clauses do not allow potential licence applicants to hide behind commercial-in-confidence provisions—that is, it would not be possible for an applicant to provide a simple explanation of their intended project and state that the detail is of commercial value and cannot be disclosed to the NHMRC Licensing Committee. Applicants must make all relevant information available to the licensing committee, including confidential commercial information.

Clauses 29 and 30 simply protect the limited class of legitimately confidential commercial information from being disclosed to third parties—to parties other than the licensing committee. This way there will be no disincentive for the applicant to provide more, rather than less, information to the licensing committee, because they will know that any legitimately confidential commercial information will be protected from public disclosure. The legislation requires that the public will have access to very detailed information about licences, including information that is unlikely to be able to be protected from disclosure on the grounds of commercial confidentiality—for example, the number of embryos proposed to be used, the duration of the licence, the description of the project, the conditions applied to the licence.

Like any legislation which provides provisions protecting confidential commercial information, the impact of these provisions and the extent to which they are relied upon cannot be known until the system has been in operation for a period of time. The review of this legislation, which is to be conducted within three years, will enable reconsideration of these issues should this be deemed necessary. For this reason, I will be opposing the amendment put forward by Senator Harradine.