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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6336

Senator HARRADINE (10:04 AM) —While there are discussions taking place between ministers, I remind honourable senators that the importance of the amendment is to prohibit the importation and exportation of products or components derived from a human embryo clone. We are talking about placing a ban on all forms of human cloning in Australia. On the one hand we are doing that but, unless my amendment is adopted, on the other hand we are leaving open the importation of stem cells from human embryo clones. This could be done from a number of places, including Singapore and at this time the UK. This would completely undermine the ban on cloning that is proposed in this legislation. We have to fix it up somehow or another.

I remind honourable senators and people listening that this is not a theoretical question at all. I quote from the Australian of 1 April a report about Dr Peter Mountford, Chief Executive of Stem Cell Sciences. He spoke out strongly in favour of so-called therapeutic cloning. The report says:

Dr Mountford has never produced a human embryo, but holds a patent on technology he believes will achieve this result by the end of 2002.

That result is the cloning of a human embryo. The report goes on:

He plans to commercialise the process within two years by supplying disease-carrying embryonic stem cells to pharmaceutical companies for drug screening.

Under this legislation, there would be nothing to stop the product derived therefrom being imported into Australia. There would be nothing to stop Dr Mountford—if what he says is achieved, if that is the word—from exporting the stem cells derived from those human embryo clones to Australia: from the UK, for example. There would be nothing to stop certain scientists that I know of, who have connections in Singapore, importing such human embryo clones—that is, of course, if they ever get away with it technically. It is a serious matter and it is a practical problem because what is the use of banning cloning in Australia when you leave the gate open to receive them from overseas? I know this is exercising the minds of honourable senators, but if we are all at one in attempting to impose this ban then we should do it. We just cannot do that and wash our hands of what happens with regard to imports from overseas. We have not washed our hands of that completely because—I remind the Senate—we do in this legislation ban the imports and exports of human embryo clones. So we do that much, but we will not go to the next obvious step to protect the system by banning the importation of stem cells derived from those clones.

I have just a couple of words more. I did get a bit concerned when I heard what the minister had said on `advice'. Now that I have read it in Hansard, I am even more concerned. The minister stated—and they were her words:

My advice is—

and presumably that was obtained from NHMRC, and this is worrying—

that COAG decided that the legislation does not extend to stem cells and that the regulation of imported and locally made stem cells should be regulated according to NHMRC guidelines.

Of course, the importation has got nothing to do with NHMRC guidelines, and they are inadequate anyhow. So that did concern me and it would be a rather brave Premier, I would have thought, particularly one who might be going for an election at the moment, who would say, `No, we don't mind the importation of stem cells derived from cloned embryos,' notwithstanding the fact that it undermines the whole purpose of this legislation. So, in short, we are faced with a real problem unless we do something, in some way, to fix this problem.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Brandis)—Is it the wish of the committee to return to the consideration of amendments (3) and (4) standing in the name of Senator Harradine and postponed on 12 November? I take it that it is. The question then is that the amendments be agreed to.

Senator Patterson —Is Senator Collins going to speak?