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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6910

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (10:53 PM) —It has been proposed that the legislation be amended to require the NHMRC Licensing Committee to report to parliament every six months, and at any other time required by either house of parliament. The NHMRC Act currently provides that the NHMRC must make an annual report to parliament and this bill provides in clause 18 that, as part of that general NHMRC report, information must be included about the operations of the NHMRC Licensing Committee. Clause 19 of the bill also provides an opportunity for the NHMRC Licensing Committee to table reports relating to the committee's functions in either house of parliament and to give a copy of such reports to the minister and to each state and territory.

This provision is broadly framed to enable the NHMRC Licensing Committee to report to parliament at any time on any matter relating to its activities. Any such report would be in addition to the committee's reporting requirements via the NHMRC. In addition, clause 29 of the bill requires the NHMRC Licensing Committee to maintain a publicly available database, which will include all relevant details of each licence issued, which will be updated whenever any licence is issued or varied. The requirement will make the reporting under this bill amongst the strongest and most transparent in the world.

I believe these mechanisms are adequate to ensure regular and ongoing scrutiny of the NHMRC Licensing Committee activities by the parliament and any member of the public. But I have been listening to the concerns raised by some of the senators in this chamber and, while I believe that such an amendment is unnecessary and may inappropriately tie up the resource of the NHMRC Licensing Committee, I am prepared to support the amendment moved by Senator Bishop. My understanding is that this amendment will require the NHMRC Licensing Committee to report every six months. In addition, if a resolution is passed by either house of parliament, a report must be provided which provides information about the operation of the act and the licences issued under the act.