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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6283

Senator CHRIS EVANS (7:52 PM) —I indicate on behalf of the Australian Labor Party that we will also be opposing the amendment. As I have indicated previously, all ALP senators will have a conscience vote and so they will vote according to their own views, but the formal ALP position is to oppose the amendment. Basically, Senator Bishop has put forward an alternative review provision, which is one run by the parliament versus one that is independent of the parliament. It is a perfectly reasonable argument to put, but on balance we prefer the provisions in the bill because of the fact that it arises out of a COAG process. It is a bill that reflects a process arrived at between the Commonwealth and all the states. Part of that COAG agreement was to have a review that is broader than just the work of this parliament and which involves some contributions from the states in the composition of the committee and other matters affecting it. Because of that COAG approach, on balance we say that the review is better being done as envisaged under the provisions of the act.

The other point that I would stress is that it is of course competent for parliament at any time to review any of these issues. One thing that the Senate chamber could not be accused of is not taking its review process seriously by having numerous inquiries into issues that concern senators and the Senate. So it is competent for us to have a review of any of the provisions arising out of this bill or any activities that are conducted under this bill at any stage. On behalf of the Labor Party, I am indicating that we are open to any approaches on those issues as they arise. Because this has arisen out of a COAG process and because that is in fact its strength—it is broader than just the Commonwealth government and it brings uniformity to the laws across the states—we think this wider independent review involving the states is an appropriate response and therefore preferred to the alternative regime that has been argued.

I also mention that I think Senator Boswell got a little confused. I think Senator Bishop advised him correctly, but I think Senator Boswell misheard and then argued the case, which he wants to mount against the embryo bill, in the context of this bill. I think for those listening that, in fact, the NHMRC is not forming or overseeing the review arising out of this bill but out of the latter bill. Senator Boswell might like to repeat his arguments when we get to that bill, but it does not apply here. Speaking on behalf of the opposition, it is preferable in our view to have the independent review because of the nature of the COAG agreement and the need to involve the states. We accept that the alternative is perfectly reasonable to put, but in this circumstance we prefer the independent review. We also make the point quite strongly that it is competent for this parliament at any stage to review any of the issues that arise out of this bill or out of the operation of the act—if it is passed. I indicate that we have an open mind to those issues if they are brought before the parliament for debate.