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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4771

Senator PARER —On 17 October, Senator Harradine asked me three questions in regard to genetic manipulation in my capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Science and Technology. The Minister for Science and Technology has provided an answer to the honourable senator's question. I seek leave to incorporate the answer in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows

SENATOR HARRADINE asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and Technology, on 17 October 1995:

(1)   What restrictions are placed on genetic manipulation to avoid the dangers of the inadvertent creation of super resistant diseases?

(2)   What mandatory reporting requirements are there for GMAC, the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Council, to be advised of the risks?

(3)   What reporting procedures are there for the minister to be kept informed and advised of dangerous incidents or potentially dangerous incidents involving genetically engineered organisms?

SENATOR PARER —The Minister for Science and Technology has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1)   Any individual or organisation intending to carry out genetic manipulation work is required to observe the requirements of the guidelines issued by the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee (GMAC). These include submitting a proposal for the intended work for review by Institutional Biosafety Committees and by GMAC. GMAC assesses proposals for genetic manipulation work on a case-by case basis. It takes into consideration any potential risks that the work might pose to human health, as well as environmental risks. GMAC would advise that a proposal should not proceed if these risks were significant and could not be managed.

Since GMAC is a non-statutory body, its recommendations do not have the force of law.

There are legal controls on research into the deliberate creation and storage of quantities of disease organisms for the purposes of biological warfare, whether this be by genetic engineering or by other means.

Section 8.(1) of the Crimes (Biological Weapons) Act 1976 provides that:

"It is unlawful to develop, produce, stockpile or the wise acquire or retain:

   (a) microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;"

(2)   The risks associated with proposals for genetic manipulation work are assessed by GMAC on a case-by-case basis. GMAC's guidelines also require that institutions undertaking genetic manipulation work submit an annual report to GMAC of their activities, including a report on breaches of the guidelines or any significant accident or incident relating to health of workers which may reasonably be attributed directly to genetic manipulation work. Accidents or breaches must also be reported to the head of the institution and to GMAC as soon as the institution becomes aware of them. For proposals involving the planned release into the environment of genetically manipulated organisms, GMAC requires submission of a report on the planned release after its completion.

(3)   GMAC's terms of reference requires it to advise the minister about matters affecting the regulation of innovative genetic manipulation technology and to provide the minister annually a review of the risks associated with genetic manipulation technology; and a report on the activities of GMAC. To fulfil these requirements, GMAC produces an annual report for tabling in parliament. The annual report includes a report of any accidents or incidents (including breaches of GMAC's Guidelines) which directly compromised safety, where supervision of the work was unsatisfactory, or when an accident involving genetic manipulation occurred which might jeopardise the health of workers. As well, GMAC briefs the minister as soon as it becomes aware of any breaches of its guidelines or incidents that represent a significant risk to human or environmental safety.

The health portfolio also has related responsibilities. I understand that the honourable senator has written to the Minister for Health on gene technology issues.