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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7266


Senator BARNETT (12:23 PM) —I stand to make a few comments in this third reading debate on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, firstly to say that this is a watershed event, in my view. It is a conscience vote and I have expressed my thanks to the Prime Minister and others for that opportunity. I respect the views of other senators in this chamber and in this parliament to have their own point of view. It is a deeply personal position and in many cases we have had to dig deep to consider our own views, so I respect the right of senators to express their views accordingly.

I want to highlight a few big picture points and then itemise some of the key amendments, in my view, that have been passed. Firstly, I predict and foreshadow that there will be a High Court challenge to the legislation. It is extensive but it is not comprehensive. The legislation relies on the Corporations Law, the trades and commerce power and, to some extent, the external affairs power—but there is no specific treaty that it relies upon—and it will require state and territory legislation to make it watertight, and any time before that it is subject to challenge. I make that point and put it on the record to make it quite clear, because that is one of the reasons I was very disappointed we could not get up the amendment to clause 42 in terms of overriding state laws. That is one of the sad outcomes of the debate.

I say `big picture', again—that one's size, one's functionality as a person should not determine the level of respect, honour and dignity bestowed on that person. Each one of us in this chamber was once a human embryo, and that is why I cannot support this legislation; the ends do not justify the means. I have indicated my own personal position: my father had motor neurone disease and I have type 1 diabetes, so I had to think about these issues very hard. Nevertheless, the ends do not justify the means and I cannot support the legislation.

Going to the amendments, my understanding, based on research, is that we have had two successful amendments to the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 and some 14 successful amendments to the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. I want to highlight some of the important amendments that have gone through to tighten the bill and some of those that should have gone through but have not. Firstly, diagnostic testing: there was a loophole which was highlighted on day one when this legislation was introduced and made available. Jacinta Collins was responsible for this amendment, and I made it clear on day one that there was a huge loophole. Why does it take so many months for it to be fixed?

The reporting arrangements have been tightened up. The automatic revocation of licences was an important amendment. I think the disallowable instrument issue has been fixed. It improves the bill markedly, making sure that the guidelines which impose five-year penalties have been fixed. I am thankful for that amendment to clauses 8, 11 and 21. The financial conflict of interest on the NHMRC Licensing Committee has been fixed, and there has been an improvement in terms of restricting the number of licences. Then we move on to investigating the stem cell bank. One great sadness, as Senator Brown indicated earlier, is the drug testing on human embryos. As I said, we were all human embryos once and to not rule that out in this legislation is a great disappointment. It is a tragic outcome for the Australian people. I will not be supporting the legislation.