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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2758


Senator MACKLIN(11.28) —The Australian Democrats will be supporting the retention of these two clauses in the Health Legislation Amendment Bill. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories has been one of the success stories in Australia. It has fairly important tasks to fulfil and honourable senators who have had the opportunity of visiting and going over the laboratories and discussing with the staff their role will be impressed by the work they do. They will also be impressed by the importance of many of the jobs which obviously cannot be done by any other organisation. For example, they could not be done by a private company since they are inherently unprofitable, but they need to be done in the national interest. An example of that is the retention of plaque vaccine. That role is retained by the CSL and the vaccine has been made available to meet the outbreak of plaque in some parts of South East Asia. Australia, because of its position, has a minute susceptibility in that respect. It is fairly obvious that in the national interest we should have an organisation which is capable of having stocks of various types of substances that may be needed if there are outbreaks.

A number of those items and a number of the developments which have taken place in the laboratories are quite exciting. It seems to us to be acceptable, given the Government's concurrent acceptance of the items raised by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations in regard to a later clause in this Bill, that the way the Government has chosen to organise this means that Parliament will still be involved in the operation of these additional powers. It will still have the chance to overview and to discuss what is going on.

To create a more vigorous Commonwealth Serum Laboratories has to be an acceptable item in the growth of bio-technology in today's world. Australia has the possibility of making considerable gains in this area, and I feel that the Government's move in this area is well timed to place us in that developing trend. The CSL obviously is a major contributor to that. It has extensive research capacity. In the last few years it has had extensions made to its accommodation. It is now provided with some of the best laboratories for particular types of highly dangerous work anywhere in Australia. Of course this type of work has been done in specific places. We cannot have escaping from laboratories the many types of products that are worked on. In that regard it seems to us that there will be additional costs to be borne in the next few years by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. It therefore seems appropriate to give the Laboratories an opportunity to make additional profit to offset these types of costs.

I listened to the speeches of Senator Peter Baume and Senator Walters on this matter. We are not convinced of the problems that they perceive will arise. From my original look at this legislation I thought that it seemed very much like a privatisation move on the part of the Australian Labor Party, but I now understand that it is a socialist move on the part of the Labor Party. Obviously there are different ways of looking at that but I would have thought that to make the Laboratories increasingly competitive and especially to increase its profit to offset those obviously increasing costs in these areas so that it does not have to be a drain on the taxpayer are important points. The Laboratories ought to pay its way in an area in which it obviously can pay its way. I am quite happy to support these measures.

I must also put on record that having spent a day at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, at its invitation, I was pleasantly surprised at the very vigorous way that it is tackling its task. I was also somewhat overwhelmed by the massive amount of work that is done in this area in the national interest. I think it is in all our interests to support the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and to support attempts to make it an even more vigorous organisation than it is at present.