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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6200

Senator MARK BISHOP (12:18 PM) —The amendment moved by Senator McLucas and Senator Stott Despoja foreshadowed some comments I was going to make later on in the discussion on the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 and the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 in the context of seeking the deletion of this particular review provision and the insertion of a parliamentary review provision. I have listened to the discussion and read the notes that have been circulated and I am happy to indicate at the outset my support for this amendment, but I want to put a couple of points on the record.

My memory is that the minority report signed by Senator McLucas, Senator Webber and Senator Stott Despoja made some comments about the desirability—perhaps the absolute desirability—of minimising the number of embryos that might be accessed or used for whatever purpose. Senator McLucas used that point as a justification for this amendment. It will be interesting in due course, if this review is undertaken, to see the economic analysis of supply and demand for human embryos. My preliminary view is that, if you have a public agency tasked with the job of making embryos available to those researchers who are given authority to have access to them and if the price of the embryo—the commodity, if you like—does not reflect market signals, a simple supply and demand analysis would suggest that demand would be greater than would otherwise be the case. So, if you create a public agency to regulate the disposal of or access to human embryos for particular research purposes and if market signals are not involved in the pricing, you could get the perverse result of increasing the demand—and hence the need—for access to, and availability of, embryos. That would defeat the purpose, as I understand it, of both the mover and the seconder of this amendment. I draw that to their attention and put it on the record for consideration.

The other matter I wish to draw to the attention of both the mover and the seconder is clause 25 of the bill, `Review of operation of Act.' When one reads that clause, one sees that it is extraordinarily narrow. Clause 25(1) refers to `an independent review', and Senator Stott Despoja repeatedly referred to it as such. On preliminary examination, that is a fine thing. But when you look at 25(2) to 25(6), you will note that the `independent review' is a written report only to COAG, not to other bodies or other parties. It has regard to a limited number of matters, set out in 25(4), paragraphs (a), (b) and (c)—and perhaps (d), if this amendment is carried—so there is a limited range of possible amendments. When you look at subclauses (5) and (6), you will see that the requirement is to consult with a very limited number of persons—the Commonwealth and the states, obviously, and `a broad range of persons with expertise in or experience of relevant disciplines'. That is a limited set of afficionados and experts—those who have particular knowledge in this area.

Then when you look at the final part of 25(6), the obligation on the report writers is to set out the views of those consulted in the report `to the extent that it is reasonably practicable to do so'. So there is no obligation in this independent review to seek submissions, to analyse submissions or to ask for public comment on submissions. There is no obligation in the independent review to go to a range of church, community, welfare or ethical organisations, who might have a view, a different view, an opposing view or a combination of views. In my preliminary thoughts, clause 25 in this bill and clause 47 in the latter bill provide a Clayton's type of review. The experts are going to be involved and they are going to have regard to a limited number of people and a limited number of issues—and it can be done in secret; there is no requirement to publish the transcript or seek evidence—and the report is going to be one for the afficionados. It strikes me as going to the heart of some of the problems under discussion in this whole exercise that you do not have the ability in an internal, possibly closed, review—however well minded, well intentioned or independent—to test the arguments and the submissions, to engage in debate and to challenge those who have a particular point of view.

My thoughts are that, if you are going to have an independent review, it should be fully open, fully public and anyone who has an interest in it, whether it be the most humble person up to major corporations, should be required to put their submissions in public, give public evidence, justify their position and be open to challenge and testing by those who have an interest. I foreshadow those comments, which will come later on in the debate on both the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 and the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, and draw them to the attention of both Senator Stott Despoja and Senator McLucas in the context of their seeking to, (1) minimise access to the number of embryos and, (2) make the act and its eventual review process more effective.