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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7253

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (11:26 AM) —Some of the comments that you, Madam Temporary Chairman McLucas, and I have made in relation to this debate are contained in a supplementary report of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee. I will not go into the detail of those comments in relation to the states rights argument—I will be trying to steer clear of that as such; suffice to say that we are aware of this issue. Not only were we alerted to it by questioning in the Senate committee process but submissions to the Senate inquiry drew attention to the notion that allowing the Commonwealth to override state law was purportedly inconsistent with COAG or potentially undemocratic. The Western Australian division of the National Civic Council and the Festival of Light submissions were very strong in that regard. I have looked into this issue, and I do not support that assertion. Apart from anything else, I think it does not recognise the fact that the states and territories are parties to the COAG agreement.

Senator Barnett —The premiers are.

Senator Minchin —The premiers are.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I will not be supporting Senator Barnett's amendment. I think there are good reasons for the legislation allowing for the Commonwealth, to the extent of its constitutional powers, to override existing legislation in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. On that note, Senator Barnett, you commented on the strict regulatory regime. That is perhaps a debate for another time, but I think you and others may recognise that there are issues in relation to whether or not some of those pieces of legislation are perhaps outdated. I am not suggesting that they could not be updated, but the fact that only three states have a regulatory regime speaks volumes; hence, my strong support for a nationally consistent framework. Clearly, that is the intent of this legislation: to come up with a nationally consistent piece of legislation. I strongly support that objective—so do my colleagues. Obviously, this amendment would threaten that objective. The COAG communique is quite explicit in stating:

Research involving human embryos should be regulated through nationally consistent legislation.

The three states that have already got legislation in place—Victoria, South Australia and WA—did agree. I will accept those previous interjections—they keep saying, `the premiers'—before anybody makes them again: at last count, I thought the premiers were representing the states, and that is the view that some people hold. If we are going to start heading down that path of distinction it will open up a whole can of worms in relation to debates as to what is negotiated at COAG. Regardless of that, three states—or their representatives, the premiers—agreed at COAG to amend their legislation to complement the Commonwealth's legislation. I do note the Attorney-General's advice of 24 September in the other place that these states have in fact commenced doing that. That was certainly an area of questioning for some of us on the committee as well.

I believe one of the real strengths of the COAG communique is that it unequivocally intends a nationally consistent legislative and regulatory regime. Any allowance for significant differences among jurisdictions, which will happen if this amendment is successful, is unacceptable to me and the Democrats. Given time constraints I will not go further, but all these debates have been emotional and controversial and I recognise that this one is too. Most of us in the last hour or so have been able to be heard without interjection. I am happy to make sure I stick to that rule myself—in the next hour and a quarter, anyway—and I ask other colleagues to do the same. We may have different debates, views, legal interpretations and what have you on this matter, but this should be a debate that occurs without interjections. It is a particularly interesting debate and I am sure there will be an interesting outcome. While I respect Senator Barnett's strong views on this, neither I nor my colleagues will be supporting his amendment.