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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 131


Senator MASON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (6:00 PM) —I know that by picking up on Senator McLucas’s point I am traversing some of your other proposed amendments, but can I do that just briefly, because it is important to do this and to go through section 72B, which outlines the discretion. It is highly prescriptive. As I mentioned in the debate this morning, it is not unusual for regulatory bodies of this nature to have an emergency dealing provision. The difference in this particular bill is that it is far more prescriptive than usual. It is not a discretion that a minister can unilaterally take up. Moreover, it is not one of those discretions that are simply subject to consultation—and we have all seen them. This is far more prescriptive than that.

To make an emergency dealing determination the minister responsible must follow the processes set out in the bill and the minister must have received advice from the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Veterinary Officer, the Chief Plant Protection Officer or a person prescribed by regulations that there is an actual or imminent threat and that the proposed dealings of the GMO are likely to adequately address that threat. If the minister does not receive that advice from the CMO, the Chief Veterinary Officer or the Chief Plant Protection Officer then the minister cannot exercise that discretion for that emergency licence.

Secondly, the minister must also have received advice from the regulator that any risks posed by the proposed dealings are able to be managed safely. So again—and Senator McLucas touched on this—if there is a horrible oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef, the regulator would have to be satisfied that the risks posed by the proposed dealings of the GMO are able to be managed safely. Again, it is another safeguard. Again, it is not the exercise of unilateral discretion by a minister.

Thirdly, before issuing a determination the minister must be satisfied that there is an actual or imminent threat, that the proposed dealings would help to respond to the threat and that any risks can be managed safely. Finally—and it is the point that Senator McLucas made—in addition, the states and territories must have been consulted before the emergency dealing determinations are made in any case.

If you compare these provisions with other emergency provisions in similar regulatory bodies, these are far more prescriptive in outlining the consultation procedures. I just want to make the point that this is not a discretion that can be exercised by a minister unilaterally. It is highly prescribed and a minister must abide by that advice.