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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7240


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (10:17 AM) —I object in some ways to the honourable senator's claim that I have just sat here mute. I believed I had answered the question. We sit here and pontificate about this being a house of review. I have actually indicated that we had five days of hearings on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 where there was the opportunity for detailed questions like this to be asked and to be put on notice. It is appropriate to have questions asked again here, but I believe that I have answered the question. Clause 29 indicates that the NHMRC Licensing Committee must put on the database the name of the person and a short statement about the nature of the uses of excess ART embryos that are authorised by the licence.

I would hope that the Licensing Committee gets as much information as possible. I believe that using the clause that Senator Harradine has put forward would make people reluctant and would encourage them to put in the application as little information as they possibly could to get the application through rather than give an open account of what they are undertaking to enable the Licensing Committee to make a very fair and reasonable choice about whether the licence should be issued or not. The problem is that, if you put all the information on the database, if you have to signal to the world the formula, for example, for a medium that you are using, who on earth will participate? I think it would mean that people would not participate in research when their intellectual property has to be exposed in absolute detail.

I would like to see the Licensing Committee have the opportunity to get as much detail as possible without there being any sort of hindrance on the applicant in terms of putting forward exactly what they are going to do. Some people would see a risk in that—that the information may leak and that they may have to expose that information to other people who may be involved in the research world—and there could still be reluctance. But at least the opportunity is there for them to indicate in absolute detail what they are doing, thus enabling the Licensing Committee to make a judgment on the basis of all information, rather than people trying to circumvent it so that their intellectual property is protected in some way by them not exposing it to the Licensing Committee. That is why I do not want to support Senator Harradine's amendment.

I find it really difficult. People come in here and, because they do not agree, they dump on me and my motives, which is what has just happened. I believe there is sufficient protection. Other people do not, but I have not bucketed other people because they have a different view. I find that approach offensive. I believe there is sufficient protection. I believe that in fact there is more protection by enabling the Licensing Committee to have as much information as possible rather than, as I said, having the applicant circumventing it and giving as little information as possible—just enough to get their licence without giving full details to the Licensing Committee.