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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2516

Senator COULTER (7.58 p.m.) —I want to make a couple of points. I come back to the definition of a plant. We should remember that the definition here includes fungi and algae, so the genetic manipulation may not involve the host being a plant. It might be an alga or a fungus. They are more likely to be the organisms used to include human genes. The amendment that I think Senator Harradine is looking for is simply to delete clause 6. That is a perfectly adequate amendment because it would mean that the legislation is kept strictly to plants, the sorts of things everybody in this Senate would regard as a plant—a thing with green leaves and a stem which grows like a plant, looks like a plant, smells like a plant and has fruit and flowers. The legislation is about plants.

  Taking up the other aspect of what Senator Harradine was saying, the problem with trying to define human genes is that there are large numbers of human genes that are absolutely identical with genes across a wide spectrum of other plants and animals. Genes which have served very basic biological functions over vast aeons of evolutionary time have retained their genetic structure. It would be possible to derive a gene which is absolutely identical with a human gene from, say, a pig or a monkey or even in some cases quite primitive organisms such as bacteria. So the problem is not really whether the thing is a human gene, the problem is this transgenic nature of the plant taking material which is non-plant material and putting it into a plant.

  I again stress that it seems to me absolutely clear when we read through this legislation from clause 1 to the end that this is about protecting plant breeders, those people who grow those green things with stems and leaves as I described them before, not about protecting those people who might take a fungus and put a human gene or a pig gene into it and use that for commercial purposes, but for quite different purposes from those for which we would grow a plant. It would be produced for the purposes of producing a particular enzyme, hormone or whatever which might be used for the treatment of humans or animals. It would be a totally different purpose. They would not be growing that organism for plant like purposes. I think that is where the objection lies. It is fundamentally broadening this legislation much more than the general run of the intention of the legislation indicates.

  I make those points to Senator Harradine. If he wants to try to restrict clause 6 simply to human genes the problem is that we cannot really define a human gene. We can say a gene derived from a human being. The gene might have come from a human cell, but what do we do if that same gene, identical in terms of its DNA sequence, comes from a different source and the purpose is still to deal with a human disease or whatever. Then we do run into the sorts of definitional difficulties that Senator Sherry was talking about. I urge Senator Harradine to support what I am saying and to support both amendments.