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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7266

Senator BROWN (12:18 PM) —I came into this debate in support of this legislation because I thought the amendments which would put commercial interests secondary to the wider humanitarian and public interest would prevail. However, that has not happened. At the outset it was a very difficult decision to make. Do we allow embryonic stem cells which are otherwise destined to be destroyed to be used for humanitarian experimentation? That in itself was a difficult enough question but, given that circumstance, I felt—as my colleague Senator Nettle did—that we could support it, provided that limitations were put on it. However, I had great qualms, because it is quite evident that adult stem cells are providing the lead in this research and have the potential to cover all the research that embryonic stem cells might provide.

In the process of the debate which has been allowed—and I object greatly to the gag being placed by the Democrats and the government on the proper and full debate of this matter of conscience—we have seen the overriding commercial interest. The public interest has been closed out. Public input and surveillance, even of whistleblowers, have been knocked out. The export of embryos and embryonic material overseas, where they cannot be controlled, has been allowed. A provision to ensure the labelling of products which are developed through embryonic testing—for example, pharmaceutical or cosmetic products—has been knocked out. How dare we as senators debating this as a matter of conscience not allow the public, in conscience, to know whether drugs, cosmetics or any other material that comes about from embryonic testing is in the product they are seeking to buy? And so it goes on. Secrecy and confidentiality—because a matter is commercial—prevail here. Even the genitors of the embryonic material, the woman and the man involved, will potentially be prevented from knowing what is happening with that material because the drug companies' interests prevail. It is still a very difficult decision to make.

Because of the voting which has taken away the public right and given pre-eminence to the corporate right, I will not be supporting this piece of legislation. I respect totally the point of view of those who will support it—and I believe they will be the majority—but, in the process, we have failed to put the amendments in place that would have made this legislation the sort of legislation that the public expects, with the public being taken into account and with the interests of those people who donate the embryonic material taken into account. All that has been subjugated to the commercial interest which, with potentially billions of dollars' profit driving it, is now going to be in this country the driving force overriding the ethicality of the embryonic stem cell industry, as it will become.