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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7241

Senator BROWN (10:21 AM) —Firstly, let us go to criticism that `the Greens did not go to the committee', which the Democrats and the government want to use so freely. The committee hearings were held during the sitting days of the Senate. The minister clearly knows that Senator Nettle and I are here for the Greens. Is she saying that we should have left our obligation to be in the Senate to go to the committee? You cannot have it both ways.

Senator BROWN —Senator Stott Despoja has now entered the fray, because we are in a political debate rather than a substantial debate. It is interesting, isn't it? I can assure the minister, if it will help her, that the Greens senators are acquainted with the whole of the proceedings of that committee. Nevertheless, if the government—and the Democrats, for that matter—want to take on a debate as to the legitimacy of senators entering into debate in this chamber if they were not at committee hearings, I am quite happy to do it. You would close the Senate debate system down—that is what you would simply do. I suggest to senators that they think of some other way of promoting their political debate.

Let me get back to the substantive matter. The minister's job is to acquaint the committee with the information it seeks so that the best determination can be made. She has not yet given any example on commercial-in-confidence. She has used a reference to a medium being used, but that does not satisfy me. We are wanting to know about the actual experimentation with the embryonic material. I would like her to give an example that we can look at to see why commercial-in-confidence should be employed.

We have a philosophical difference here. Let me talk about that. The minister says that the commercial entity, if it gives this information, may have to share it with other experimenters. I thought that the impulse behind this legislation was to make available to the commons, to the people, as quickly as possible the advantages of genetic experimentation. The fastest and most efficient way to do that is to make the information coming out of that experimentation available to all experimenters so they can use that information for the common purpose. But here we have the minister arguing, `No, the commercial interest is pre-eminent here—you do not share your information.' The old days of science being in the interests of the public good are gone. It is now owned science, which has as its core impulse the commercial interest.

A lot of people might ask what Senator Harradine and I are doing in arguing the same point on so many of these issues. There is an ethicality behind this. I do not know if we share it, but I respect Senator Harradine's lifelong ethicality. He has talked about issues of ethics—and we have locked horns over them many times—and he has a clearly definable ethic, which is good to have in an age where the commercial impulse and materialism as core beliefs have taken over society and the way it runs. That is writ large here this morning. It is the materialist profit ethic which is cutting across the delivery of science that is for the common good. The exclusive owning of information to make money is behind this commercial-in-confidence clause.

This matter deserves to be debated, because it is an extremely important one. It is one of the big divides in the coming political debate of this century, I believe. Are we going to be run by the commercial impulse or are we going to have an ethic which says, `Humanity and the good of this planet in the long term come first and the commercial impulse must be subsidiary to them'? That is what we are debating here. It is a huge question. I am not going to expound it further, because there are other important matters to be dealt with here. But the minister's response to the legitimate questions that Senator Harradine and I have put is well short of the mark. It simply demonstrates our concern—or my concern; I will speak for myself—that the commercial interest is going to be pre-eminent in the outcome of the passage of this legislation. That worries me greatly.