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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6359

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (12:22 PM) —Thank you, Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Evans. I endorse your reflections on an alternative way of dealing with this, and I am glad you have responded to my detailing of the situation in relation to the current guidelines, the COAG decision and this bill. Before Senator Bishop foreshadows his response to that, there is one issue, alluded to by Senator Evans, that I should comment on briefly which I think will assist further debate. If I understood Senator Evans correctly he indicated that, to his knowledge, COAG had informed the drafting of the objects provision of this bill. So far I have not seen an indication that that is the case. For instance, I am not aware that the communique details—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Okay. Perhaps that is a point it would be useful for senators to understand. Did the bill itself return to COAG and to what extent did they inform detailed decisions about areas where the bill strayed from the COAG communique? Certainly, the communique is pretty clear on their intent in quite a number of areas, but I am not aware that the precise detail that arose out of the consultation process was actually returned to COAG, or if indeed there was any detailed consideration of issues such as those we are addressing now concerning areas where things are expressed differently and how that might impact on a strict regulatory regime.

I am interested in an answer to that question beyond just, `Yes, it went back to them at some meeting and they said, “Yes, that's great,” and off it went'—that is, I am interested in the extent to which COAG may have been informed of the various bits of advice that the Senate has now received through its committee process, such as AHEC's views about whether this would in fact achieve a strict regulatory regime and their suggestions. I use as an example there—and I hope by now that Senator Patterson is aware of this example, which relates to my amendments (1) and (2)—the exemption in the bill for diagnostic testing. I am aware that in the debate in the House of Representatives the minister indicated that he was still not satisfied with how well that provision had been drafted. The committee then sought to explore that issue further. Through the committee's explorations we discovered, in a way we would not have been informed by the NHMRC, that AHEC had indeed not been satisfied with the drafting changes to the diagnostic exemption. We are now in the position of being able to reflect on AHEC's advice on how they think we can most appropriately close that loophole.

So on the one hand you can say, `Yes, mechanically it might have gone through a COAG process,' but if we do not know whether COAG was informed of some of these issues and in fact addressed them, it is very difficult to say that COAG had a role in the drafting of this particular object provision. I would encourage senators not to take a loose interpretation of those sorts of reflections. It is good for us to know if COAG had an active role in the way a particular provision in this bill is worded, but if that is not the case, I would encourage any of the advisers to the parliament in this process not to seek to portray that as being the case. Perhaps between now and when we come back to this debate we can get some clarity on many of the issues relating to how some of the drafting provisions have been established. I will go back to the two commas as an example. At no stage, even though I did raise this informally with the NHMRC, have I had any explanation for how or why, in the drafting process, that occurred. I can only reiterate Senator Evans's comments that what we will require in this debate is the intellectual case to justify these circumstances—and light references to `Oh yeah, but COAG ...' are not going to satisfy this committee.