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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2174

Senator COLLINS —My question is directed to the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories and relates to the Antarctic.

Senator Panizza —Are you sending him down there next week?

Senator COLLINS —I have no difficulty in accepting the new found credentials of Opposition members in caring about conservation issues, having watched them recycle all their old rubbish yesterday.

Senator Alston —We will have to knock you into shape.

Senator COLLINS —On my worst day I am in better shape than Senator Alston. Does the Minister recall concerns expressed in the Senate and in the press in February last year regarding experiments on animals in the Antarctic using radioactive isotopes and anaesthesia? Can the Minister inform the Senate of the outcome of the inquiry that he initiated in response to these concerns? What action has been taken to ensure that experiments involving animals are justifiable and are carried out in a humane manner?

Senator RICHARDSON —I recall the publicity associated with the animal experiments in the Antarctic last year. They particularly concerned the use of radioactive isotopes and anaesthetic on penguins. As a result of the concern honourable senators may recall that I suspended those research programs and instituted an inquiry into the animal research program in the Antarctic with particular reference to animal welfare considerations. The report examined the use of radioactive substances in experiments with animals, the use of anaesthetics in surgical procedures on animals, and possible alternative techniques to achieve the same objectives. A specialist group from within the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee was set up to examine the matter. The Chairman was Professor Gilmour, the Professor of Environmental Studies at Macquarie University. In general, the group commented very favourably upon the research programs of our Antarctic research expeditions. It stated:

The techniques used in current Antarctic research projects involving live animals are justified on conservation grounds and these techniques are being administered humanely. Australian Antarctic scientists are amongst the leaders in the development of the use of humane methods for collecting scientific data on Antarctic animals as an alternative to killing the animals which has been, and still is, a common practice in the research programs of some other nations.

The working group pointed out, however, that there could be some improvements in the administrative procedures which were being used in that research program and in the handling of radioactive materials in particular. The report made a number of key recommendations. I accepted one of them, which was that the program which had been suspended should be resumed. I agreed with that. In addition, the working group recommended that there ought to be an animal care and ethics committee on a permanent basis and that a code of practice should be developed to cover our research involving Antarctic animals.

The full title of the committee which has now been set up is the Antarctic Animal Care and Ionising Radiation Usage Ethics Committee. The Committee will report to the Director of the Antarctic Division and will receive all the necessary support from that Division to carry out its activities. The Committee's approval will be required in the future for any research programs which are to be undertaken in the Antarctic. More importantly, it will also be responsible for making sure that those programs are monitored. The membership of the Committee and its terms of reference are based on National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines for animal ethics committees. That code of practice is currently being developed and I think it will be announced shortly. It will mean that our proposed experiments are properly examined and monitored and it should give some reassurance to those who have been concerned about whether our activities involving Antarctic animals have been humane.