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Liberal Members are annoyed at mpconsulting report on stem cell research that challenges Lockhart Committee findings; Minister discusses report commissioned by the Government.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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AM

 

Fri day 1 September 2006

Liberal Members are annoyed at mpconsulting report on stem cell research that challenges Lockhart Committee findings; Minister discusses report commissioned by the Government

 

TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister's decision to release a report that challenges the findings of the Government-commissioned Lockhart expert scientific review on stem cell research, has angered some of John Howard's own MPs.  

 

The private consulta
nt's report, commissioned by the Prime Minister's department, questions the need for any change to the current laws. 

 

MPs are likely to begin debate on a bill liberalising stem cell research in less than a fortnight. 

 

Those who support a change believe the tide is turning, despite the findings of the new report.  

 

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The pressure's been building for the Government to unveil the latest stem cell report.  

 

Faced with a number of Freedom of Information requests and a Senate vote on a motion demanding its release, the Prime Minister decided to make it public. 

 

Just six months after the Government-commissioned Lockhart review recommended relaxing the ban on therapeutic cloning, this second report ordered by the Prime Minister's department disputes the Lockhart findings. 

 

EXCERPT FROM REPORT: The report of the committee does not provide any information regarding scientific development since 2002 that would justify, in their own right, changes to the legislation. 

 

There has not been any significant change in the state of play since 2002.  

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: For therapeutic cloning opponent, Liberal Senator Guy Barnett, it's a welcome move. 

 

GUY BARNETT: Well, I think it's very helpful because it puts more information about cloning and stem cell research into the public arena. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think it will persuade more people to your way of thinking? 

 

GUY BARNETT: Yes, I think it has that potential.  

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: John Howard says it will help promote "open and transparent debate". 

 

But therapeutic cloning backer, Liberal backbencher Dr Mal Washer, says it "smacks of desperation". He argues, though, it's very helpful to his side. He says the Prime Minister's department tried to get too clever, in its bid to dismiss the views of some of the nation's best scientific minds. 

 

MAL WASHER: I'd hate to say it's cash for comments, but it sort of smacks a bit of that. I mean, if it goes against the world opinion, I mean there's a smack of desperation in the atmosphere when we've commissioned a very good review and have to have it overturned for whatever ideological reasons to get a second opinion so to speak.  

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Dr Peter Schofield, a neuroscientist member of the Lockhart committee, is also pleased the report's out. He doesn't think it will convince people to stymie research for potential treatments and cures.  

 

PETER SCHOFIELD: Part of the reason why the Lockhart committee made the recommendations it did, was that we sensed that there was a change in the broad view of the Australian community.  

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Democrats Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja has, for months, tried to get the Government to make the report public. Now it's out, she says its purview is very narrow. She's hoping to have her private member's bill expanding embryonic stem cell research ready the week after next. 

 

NATASHA STOTT-DESPOJA: I hope to table that bill in the Parliament when we return, hopefully in the September sittings and I'm very pleased that the Prime Minister has seen fit to grant a conscience vote.  

 

So yes, there is the likelihood that change will occur and that's very exciting.  

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: AM has been told the Science Minister's given Mal Washer the green light to invite Australia's Chief Scientist, Dr Jim Peacock, to address MPs.  

 

Dr Peacock backs somatic cell nuclear transfer.  

 

And Lockhart review lawyer and ethicist, Dr Loane Skene's written to Federal MPs offering to inform them on the latest scientific advances. 

 

LOANE SKENE: I think that there's been a lot of accusations and fears thrown up about reproductive cloning and human-animal hybrids and the response of the committee is that those things will not happen because we have a big, solid gate that prevents the slippery slope down to those sorts of developments.  

 

TONY EASTELY: Professor Loane Skene, a medical legal ethicist and Deputy Chair of the Lockhart Committee.  

 

That report from Alexandra Kirk. 

 

The Health Minister Tony Abbott says the Government did not commission the latest report just to buy an opinion which opposes therapeutic cloning. 

 

Mr Abbott told Channel Nine this morning the Government used the firm, MP Consulting to seek the latest advice on the issue. 

 

TONY ABBOTT: Well the report was released now because it had been sought, as I understand it, under Freedom of Information laws, so it was going to come out and the Government decided to pre-empt its release under FoI by putting it out yesterday.  

 

It was commissioned by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. My understanding is that PM and C, quite understandably after receiving the Lockhart report, wanted to know what objective factors the opinions in the report had been based on.  

 

And my understanding or my recall of the MP Consulting report is that it said that there had been very little change in the science since 2002.  

 

There's division on all sides over this issue. The Labor Party is no less split than the Liberal Party and the National Party on this issue, because it is very emotional. 

 

On the one hand, some people think that you should let nothing stand in the way of science seeking cures and other people think that the scientists should be subject to regulation just like everyone else is.  

 

TONY EASTLEY: The Health Minister Tony Abbott, speaking on Channel Nine this morning.