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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7026

Senator McLUCAS (5:04 PM) —I rise to speak briefly against the amendments moved by Senator Nettle. I wish to confine my remarks to the amendment that we are dealing with now, which is about delaying the licences, and also to a subsequent amendment on the running sheet that Senator Nettle will move later. I think it is true that almost all senators here think that there is a possibility that the establishment of a national stem cell bank may be a useful mechanism to do two things: to limit the number of embryos that are required for research purposes and to allow access to embryonic stem cell lines for all scientists who have the approvals to do so. The difference is only in how we achieve such a bank that could deliver those desirable outcomes.

I think it is important that we recognise the context in which we are having this discussion. There has been limited community discussion about the establishment of a national stem cell bank. In fact only one witness raised the issue during the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into these bills. That witness was Mr Ilyine and he raised the issue only briefly. It is very hard for us to make decisions about the form and style of a national stem cell bank, having received evidence from one witness at the inquiry and without broad community discussion about the appropriateness, applicability or suitableness of the UK model to Australia.

The other reality that we have to remember is that the UK bank has only been in operation since 9 September this year. It is too early for us to make an assessment of how it has worked in the UK. The UK bank operates in a completely different legislative regime in terms of the operation of their licensing requirements and in terms of their intellectual property environment.

I also note that the amendment from Senator Nettle suggests that the bank be a repository for human stem cells, which would include adult stem cells. The committee had no evidence—none at all—from adult stem cell researchers which suggested that that would be an appropriate mechanism, so I have no evidence to inform a decision about whether or not a bank would be a useful mechanism as a repository of adult stem cells. I suggest that a more prudent approach would be to allow for a period of time in which to see how the act is operating so that we can make a sensible assessment of the need for and the potential scope of a national stem cell bank. I think it would also be prudent for us to allow time so that we can learn from the UK experience—so that we can learn the lessons from its operation, so that we can find the pitfalls before we have to go through those events.

With respect, I suggest that it is not back to front; it is in fact the right way forward. Let us get it right. Let us make it work. It is not possible now to completely know what operations the bank would have or what guidelines we would have to put in place for it to operate. I commend to senators the way forward, recommended by Senator Stott Despoja, Senator Webber and me in our report following the inquiry and put into effect through our amendment, which we have already successfully moved to the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 and which we propose to move later in this committee stage. I suggest that it is a prudent, sensible and thoughtful approach that will deliver the best possible outcome—that is, to limit the number of embryos that will be required and to allow access to a broader range of scientists in a more equitable way. Our amendment is not a do-nothing option. The level of support which is evident in the Senate—and which will be in the community, I believe— will ensure that analysis is undertaken of the UK model's applicability. From that, we will have some valid information which will inform the development of an appropriate model, an Australian model, for an Australian national stem cell bank.