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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
23/04/2007
Gene Technology Amendment Bill 2007

CHAIR —Welcome. As departmental officers or agency heads, you would understand that you are not being asked to give opinions on matters of policy. That does not preclude questions being asked for explanations of policy or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. I think you are all familiar with the rules of parliamentary privilege and protection of witnesses.

We have received short submissions from both the OGTR and the department. I want to thank you for coming a little bit earlier than was originally scheduled to be here today; that helps us to keep things moving along. We are grateful for that. Before we ask you questions about the various issues which have been raised in the hearings this afternoon, I would invite you to make, if you wish, an opening statement about the issues that the committee is examining at the moment.

Ms Murnane —Thank you. I do not think I will make an opening statement. I will just say the department is here with the Gene Technology Regulator, and that represents the distinction between the department’s role and the role of the Gene Technology Regulator and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. We are there to provide advice on policy, including the policy around regulation and the policy around legislative changes, and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has the onerous job of executing the legislative requirements. That is why you have both the department and the agency here.

CHAIR —Is there anything you wish to say at the opening, Dr Meek?

Dr Meek —I did not want to add anything to my submission, thank you.

CHAIR —We might deal with a number of issues thematically, so we might all of us come in as we see fit. Perhaps we might turn first of all to the question that has been raised by Greenpeace and Gene Ethics about emergency dealing determinations. There have been, as you would be aware, a number of criticisms of the wide ambit of the emergency dealing determinations provisions in part 5A of the bill. The question that has been raised is whether these powers are excessive, given their capacity to be misused—for example, to release untested or inadequately tested GMOs into the community in order to confront a so-called emergency. Could I ask you to outline to the committee, to the extent that it is possible, what kind of emergency we might be talking about that is envisaged by this legislation.

Ms Murnane —I will give you a precise one: we might have either a livestock disease in Australia or a human disease in Australia where the defence against that was a vaccine that included a genetically modified organism. To allow the rapid importation of that vaccine into Australia, there would need to be a pathway that was much faster than the pathway as laid down in the act for all normal circumstances. This would be regarded as a power that would only be exercised, as a clause that would only be exercised, where there was serious and imminent risk to Australia in the form of some sort of economic threat, say, to animals, or some form of human threat, say, in the nature of an epidemic—and we are not saying that this is going to happen imminently, but we need to be prepared should there be an influenza pandemic or another disease where we needed a rapid decision made to import a pharmaceutical, probably a vaccine, that contained a genetically modified organism.

CHAIR —Have there been any emergencies of that kind in Australia? Obviously, we might not necessarily have had a response that included some kind of GMO, but have there been any emergencies in the last decade or so where such a power might have been exercised had it been available?

Ms Murnane —To my knowledge, no, but I will ask Dr Meek to comment on that.

Dr Meek —I am certainly not aware of any either, but I am aware that the emergency provisions that have been suggested by the review panel and agreed by governments is not dissimilar to the ones that exist in other comparable agencies.

Ms Murnane —The Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Regulatory Authority.

CHAIR —So, as far as you are concerned, these powers reflect the structure and the intent of those sorts of emergency powers?

Ms Murnane —They are last-resort powers. They would be used sparingly and they might never be used at all, but, if they were needed, they would be there to be invoked. I would also say that there are, even with the use of these powers, very stringent safeguards around their use. For example, the Gene Technology Regulator cannot consider an emergency licence at all unless there is a recommendation from the Chief Veterinary Officer and the Chief Medical Officer.

CHAIR —A recommendation in favour of that licence?

Ms Murnane —Yes—or, I should say, because you would not expect to be importing both vaccines simultaneously, although you might.

Dr Meek —May I add that there is a second component to that. Not only must there be a recommendation from people who are well versed in determining whether or not there is an emergency situation, which is not for me to determine, but also I would have to consider whether or not I believed that the risks to people and the environment could be managed. As Ms Murnane has mentioned, it is a fairly stringent test that needs to be gone through.

CHAIR —You would accept that there is a high level of risk associated with releasing into the environment a GMO which has not yet passed all of the appropriate tests that your office would undertake, Dr Meek, wouldn’t you?

Dr Meek —I accept that there is potentially a hazard there which would have to be evaluated to determine whether there actually was risk. This is getting into the kind of detail of the process that we go through, but a hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm, while a risk is only when there is a determination that harm may eventuate. So, certainly, such a thing may be hazardous, but there needs to be consideration of whether it actually does pose a risk. Of course, the requirements of the act are that, if I make a determination that something may pose a risk to people or the environment, I then have to make a determination as to whether or not I believe those risks can be managed. So there are several stages to actually coming to a decision on whether or not to proceed.

CHAIR —Any questions about this particular power? Senator Moore?

Senator MOORE —Ms Murnane, the explanatory memorandum to this bill does point out the fact that it is similar to the other two pieces of legislation providing emergency powers. Are they so similar that they are almost the same? I did not go and check. Particularly under your area, having the TGA and gene technology together, would they be shadowing each other?

Ms Murnane —It is modelled on the Therapeutic Goods Act, yes.

Senator MOORE —They are both under your department, so they would be—

Ms Murnane —The Therapeutic Goods Act is, yes. The veterinary medicines legislation is not.

Senator MOORE —I did not check.

Ms Murnane —That is under DAFF, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Senator MOORE —The discussion we had earlier—I am sure your officers told you about it—was with people who felt that the degree of urgency around these emergency powers was not fully discussed in the consultations leading up to this particular process and that, whilst the explanatory memorandum talks about the degree of consultation on the changes in this bill, there was a view that the import and the impact of the emergency legislation was not fully understood or discussed when people agreed to it. I asked specifically if there had been extensive debate in the various elements of the consultation, and the witnesses said no. They then went on to say they did not think the lack of debate was because people understood the legislation. In your understanding, both yours as the regulator, Dr Meek, and yours as the department, Ms Murnane and Ms Addison, do you believe that the people who were involved were aware of the import of part 5?

Ms Murnane —There was extensive discussion on the emergency powers at a ministerial meeting of the advisory committee on gene technology in Adelaide in October last year. Some misgivings were raised by a small number of jurisdictions, but went down to one. But, as a result of that meeting, we talked about how these powers would be administered. We agreed on the safeguards of the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Veterinary Officer and agreed that there would be consultation to the degree that was possible, given the emergency, with all ministers.

Following that, in early December or late November last year, there was a meeting of the Gene Technology Ministerial Council. Issues on the emergency powers were also raised by one jurisdiction. The parliamentary secretary, Mr Pyne, who had responsibility at that stage, answered that and, when the meeting ended, there was agreement on all the clauses of the act. Following that, we continued to refine the detail around the administration, particularly of emergency powers. There were a number of other parts of the act that we were still talking about, and that was then agreed. We had a final teleconference with the jurisdictions about two months ago, and Dr Meek will talk about another meeting since. So there really has been a lot of discussion around this, and that is reasonable because it is an emergency power that gives a faster pathway without some of the same station stops as there are in the act generally. But we are dealing with an extraordinary situation here.

Dr Meek —As Ms Murnane has discussed, there have been a number of ongoing discussions. The states wanted to explore this very thoroughly and indeed have done so. One other thing that I think has given some greater structure to the discussion has been a decision to also develop a guideline. It is very difficult to plan for something when you do not know what it is. We have obviously been racking our brains as to what the emergency things might be and have been trying to work around that as an issue. That was why the idea of putting these guidelines together came up.

Ms Addison —To add to the conclusion, as Ms Murnane and Dr Meek have said, there have been a number of discussions at the ministerial council level, at the standing committee level and at a working group level. As part of those discussions, which commenced in Adelaide last year around these issues—or probably a bit before that—we have worked up some guidelines in consultation with the states and territories that go to ‘operationalising’, if you like, how things will be managed in the case of an emergency. Those guidelines were signed off at the last steering committee and will be considered by ministers on 4 May. I cannot release them for you today because they still need ministerial consultation, but after 4 May, if the ministers agree with them, we would be happy to share them. I should add that there has been extensive consultation with the states and territories, and I think it is fair to say that there has been no rollover in terms of the discussion. It has been very vigorous and very carefully worked through to come to a position where the states were comfortable. I should add that getting comfort on this issue was one of the things that were critical to the states and territories and to their ministers signing off on the legislation.

Senator MOORE —That is really comforting because, in terms of the evidence we had, there did not seem to be certainty that that had happened. When I checked the website, the final sentence of the joint communique of 27 October 2006, which I think would be the key meeting, was:

New arrangements for dealing with emergencies will also form part of the changes.

Obviously it has moved on since then, but in terms of the public stuff on the website that is the last bit. That is very positive.

Ms Murnane —That is a good suggestion and we would look at putting in more detail about the administrative procedures that will be underlaid by guidelines.

Senator MOORE —That would be useful.

Senator SIEWERT —The Gene Ethics submission expressed concern—you probably heard the evidence—that there was not enough definition around what constitutes a threat. How can the community be confident that the two examples you have just used, which were good examples, are the types of things that would be the subject of these emergency provisions?

Ms Murnane —I understand the Gene Ethics concern—and they used an example—was that these powers could be used to override the state moratoria. But that is not their purpose. This has to be an imminent and serious risk, so it cannot be something to leverage a preferred policy position on the part of anybody. That is simply not possible. We have to be facing something that is imminent and very serious and, what is more, there has to be a well-established view, supported by the Chief Veterinary Officer and/or the Chief Medical Officer, that what we are talking about importing is very likely to be a defence against this threat or that it is the best defence we are going to have and that if we do not use it there is going to be risk to either the population or to the economy. So it could only be used where there is a severe and imminent threat.

In terms of whether there could be such a threat that would be alleviated by allowing the importation of a food, I will ask Dr Meek to comment on that. But I would consider that it is so unlikely as to be virtually off the scale that the importation of a genetically modified organism to grow a food would be able to alleviate an immediate threat. For one thing, there is a passage of time there.

Dr Meek —I find it very hard to imagine how a plant of any variety could be classified in an emergency sense. And, as I said, there is the second element of the assessment: once there has been the assessment by the people who are experienced in determining whether there is a threat—which is not proposed to be the regulator; it is proposed to be people who do that as a matter of course in their current duties—the regulator then has to make a determination about whether or not there are risks posed to people or the environment. In all conscience, the regulator has to make a recommendation to the minister to say, ‘That is what we believe is the situation.’ In the context of things like plants, quite apart from the fact that I find it hard to imagine how there could be an emergency around a plant, there would need to be a situation where we had the data about what this would mean in the context of growing it in the Australian environment, and there is unlikely to be that data to be able to form an opinion.

Ms Murnane —The normal procedures under the act are cautious and thorough and they are also quite long. Ms Addison has just reminded me that there are 170 days for the regulator to consider an application in the normal course of events. Clearly, that is far, far away from an imminent and serious threat, which is what we are talking about now. Remember, this is in legislation. Although I know they have used a number of examples this is not something that is uncovered by law, and if anybody were to attempt to use or to invoke these powers for something that was later found by a court not to be a serious and imminent risk then there would be severe consequences. I do not think policy makers and decision makers would be taking this decision lightly at all. It certainly could not be used to get some sort of leverage over a policy position that was simply thought to be a desirable one. That does not come within the meaning of ‘imminent and serious’.

CHAIR —There being no other questions on this issue, can we move on to the question of controlled release of GMOs. A number of points were made about that. I want to turn first of all to what Greenpeace said about that. On page 2 of their submission they have said that, under the provisions of proposed section 50 and 50A, if the regulator is satisfied that the controls and limits of controlled release—field trials—are appropriate, the regulator need notseek advice from the states, the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee, Commonwealth authorities, environment ministers or local councils. Is that in fact the case?

Dr Meek —No.

CHAIR —It is not the case? In what circumstances is consultation with those bodies required before controlled release is approved?

Dr Meek —Perhaps I can quickly compare the two proposals, and I hope it will be a little clearer then. Obviously one can always wish to be clearer. At the present time, all applications for a release into the environment require two rounds of consultation. One is on the application, and the question that is asked is: are there issues that the people who are consulted, who are the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee, the environment minister, various other Australian government agencies and relevant local councils—have I missed anybody out?

Ms Murnane —No.

Dr Meek —Good. That grouping is consulted at that point in relation to the application, and then when a risk assessment and risk management plan is prepared by my office that same group of people is consulted, as is the public. There is an extra rider in there that the public would be consulted if there were a significant risk determination. I think there will be separate questions about that so we can leave that aside for the moment. The proposal in the context of the controlled release is that, rather than having two rounds of consultation—one on the application and one on the risk assessment and risk management plan—there will be one round of consultation when the risk assessment and risk management plan has been prepared.

The rationale for that is that looking at the application on its own, without an understanding of what assessment has been reached, is somewhat limiting. It is more helpful to actually go through the whole process of looking at what we believe the risks may be, determining whether or not there are any there, whether they need to be managed and what measures might be imposed through the licence conditions, then laying that out as part of the consultation process for this mixture of experts, agencies and authorities that we consult with as a matter of course, as well as for the public.

That is the differentiation. So it is not a matter of removing them from the consultation. They would still be consulted; it would be one round of consultation in a situation where there are significant measures that have been proposed by the applicant to limit the spread and persistence both of the GMO itself and of any introduced genes.

CHAIR —Thank you for clearing that up. It has also been argued by Monsanto and a number of other companies with a commercial interest that section 50(1), including the words that the controlled release can occur to conduct experiments, effectively winds back the present provisions of the legislation which allow controlled release in other circumstances, such as to test the compatibility of GMOs with certain soil types or whatever, and that this winding back means it will be harder to prepare for the release of GMOs in a commercially effective way, among other things. Do you accept that the provisions are indeed a winding back of the present arrangements?

Dr Meek —No, I do not, Senator. If we think about it as a situation where we have a process now which is not proposed to change—we have the two rounds of consultation. The other type of application that is being proposed is the controlled variety which must be for experimental purposes, which, if you like, is a reduced version of the consultative process that happens now because it has that one round of consultation removed. I do not understand this perception that suddenly some forms of experimental work are not going to be covered. I do not quite follow the logic of that understanding. At the moment, all intentional releases must go through this comprehensive process which essentially is proposed for things that are for commercial purposes, ultimately to commercial release; and for situations where it is mainly experimental and it is under limited and controlled conditions, there would be a one-round consultation process. If anything, there is an opportunity for enhanced research and development as a result of this process, provided that the applicant can indicate that there are measures proposed which will limit the spread and persistence of the GMO and its introduced material into the environment.

CHAIR —But even in the context of where you would have the shortened consultation process under 51A, is it appropriate to limit that only to circumstances where the applicant is to conduct experiments with the controlled release or should there be wider use in those circumstances such as to prepare for a commercial release down the line?

Dr Meek —If it were easy to make this division, probably there might have been a differentiation in the first round of the development of this legislation. To a degree, there is a matter of judgement involved here. Again, certainly it is our intention, if the amendments are approved, that some form of guidance would be issued to assist with this, but it will have to be pretty much in a case-by-case situation of making a judgement as to what is reasonable in this context. Obviously I have read the submissions that have come in. For example, the suggestion that the commercial seed increase for sending out seed to somewhere else in Australia where it is approved for commercial release is clearly a commercial dealing. It then becomes a matter of judgement in the context of what the act is intended to do. It is intended to oversight the use and development of genetically modified organisms, and there is a continuum on this basis.

There is an anticipation that it starts off usually in contained facilities, then glasshouse, then limited control trials of increasing scale towards commercialisation. There are multiple points along the way where data is being gathered for a range of purposes, one of which is to satisfy the regulator that conditions that have been imposed are suitable for containing that release to the size and duration that it was intended to be released for, but it is also anticipated that experimental data could be gathered to get information on the agronomic performance of a plant in the environment in order to enable the company to determine whether or not the GMOs it is trialling are actually going to become something that is going to perform as a commercial product.

There is a third type of data collection for which, if it becomes a commercial product, there may be other regulators that the applicant has to satisfy. For example, if it is in the realms of something that is herbicide tolerant, there will be information that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority require. All of those are experimental. Maybe there is a perception that experimental means only the information that the regulator needs for the performance of the GMO in the environment in relation to regulation, but I think it is accepted that there are a range of different types of research that could be conducted under these limited control conditions for which there would be no impediment in relation to the amendment bill.

CHAIR —Are there any questions about the controlled release issue?

Senator SIEWERT —I have a couple of things. One is the removal of section 49. If I understood correctly what you just said, you have taken away one of the rounds of consultation over dealings under that section of the act, but the things that are required to be done under section 49 are still required but under the one round of consultation rather than the two. Is that correct?

Dr Meek —It is a little more than that. There is not a removal of section 49.

Ms Addison —I could probably add to part of Dr Meek’s answer there. Senator, you will find that section 49 has been moved. If you go to page 24 of the bill, you will find that section 49 is now paragraph 52(2)(b) and paragraph 52(2)(d) of the new bill. So it has not been removed. It is still there; it has just been moved. I will hand back to Dr Meek now.

Dr Meek —Thank you. That was the point I was about to make. The consultation has not changed in the sense of the range of experts, agencies, authorities and the public. But, if I can revisit it again, in the current bill a decision under section 49 has to be made on essentially a preliminary determination of the application by the regulator. It is a very short period of time and it does not give my office the opportunity to have the sort of in-depth look that we would prefer to. It means that we may be raising a view that there may be a significant risk which, on further investigation, may not be the case. It also may be the obverse: that we become more convinced of it. But the idea of moving the requirement for section 49 up until the point when the risk assessment, risk management plan is being released is along the lines of what I said earlier. If people have the opportunity to see the development of the assessment, to have a view as to—in this case, if we are talking about something where a significant risk is determined—what the risk is and what measures might be proposed to manage it, that means that it is much clearer than having a situation in which people can only look at the application, which is a very technical document which is quite convoluted in its structure.

There is a very good argument, I think, that being able to see the risk assessment, risk management plan as well as the application, if people wanted to see it, at that point gives a much more informed situation. On top of that, if the regulator has determined that there is a significant risk then there is also be an extension required in the legislation of the minimum time period that I must allow for consultation. So it is trying to open up the situation rather than to remove it.

Senator SIEWERT —So people can still get the original application, get your assessment and, as you have just said, there will be an extension if it is required.

Dr Meek —Yes.

CHAIR —Turning to the question of the composition of the committee that is proposed under proposed section 108 of the bill, we understand that there are two committees which are being merged for that purpose—to make it a single consultative committee. It has been put to us that those two existing committees have different contexts or different terms of reference. One deals with ethics and the other has a different focus. Surely we would get better consultation with two filters or two processes than simply one. Why merge those two into one?

Ms Addison —I think that is something that directly came out of the review and the consultations undertaken as part of the review. I think there was a sense that the consultation committee and the ethics committee had a degree of overlap in terms of consideration of the issues. The review saw benefit in bringing the two committees together so that the consultation still occurred and, clearly, that the ethical considerations still occurred, but within a streamlined consultation process which would enhance the operation of the act and assist the regulator.

Dr Meek —As a matter of assurance, there has been no loss of function. The two functions of the committees have been brought together, so there is no reduction in the oversight in that sense.

Ms Murnane —And there are no changes to the eligibility for membership of the new committee.

Ms Addison —There are not proposed to be. I think some of the submissions might have suggested that, but it is not proposed as part of the regulatory changes.

CHAIR —How many members were on the two committees compared with how many will be on the single committee—that is, how many fewer people will be involved in the process of consultation?

Ms Addison —It was 12 on each. I think there are intended to be 12 on the new committee. So it is half.

CHAIR —So halving the number of people involved in the process is not a loss of feedback to the process, to the exercise?

Dr Meek —It comes down to the point that Ms Addison raised, which is that the committees were having difficulty in distinguishing their roles. It is a situation where trying to get the views in the same room at the same time might actually enhance the quality of the advice rather than trying to in some ways artificially separate these two things. It is very hard to draw the line between the concerns of the community and, if you like, the more formal ethical consideration. The review panel formed this view based on advice. At least the ethics committee put in a strong submission that they felt that their deliberations would be enhanced significantly if they could cover these two areas.

Senator SIEWERT —There are different types of expertise for community consultation and, to a certain extent, ethics. Concern has been expressed that you may lose some of that level of input by having one committee. Was thought given to expanding—I hate to say it—the size of the committee? I know it can start getting difficult.

Dr Meek —Just to make life even more difficult, all of the original expertise was wanted by the two committees, but there was also the addition of things to do with risk communication. I have a mental blank on one on the other hand them, but there were two additional things. It was a recognition that an additional level of expertise might be required in communication with people with solid expertise in that area. This may well provide an opportunity for a different mix in the membership.

We go through a very broad consultation process in trying to identify nominees for these committees. People do not come with just one skill. This is also true in the technical advisory committee. People may have a predominant area of expertise but they often know a lot about other areas too. So, to some extent, it depends on identifying really good candidates and getting a good mix. That obviously comes down to the appointment process, which the states and territories are consulted on at length, and we have a cooperative process for those appointments.

Ms Murnane —Senator, in answer to your question, if you look at the membership clauses in the bill, you will see that it states:

(4) The Minister must ensure that the Ethics and Community Committee includes the following members:

       (a) a person who is a member of the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee;

(b) a person who is a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee.

So that is getting expertise. The other criteria that the minister must have regard to are broad, but it means that you can have people who have an interest in this, who are experts in community consultation and who have an interest in issues relevant to local government and issues of concern to consumers, religious practices and human health represented in the committee along with some experts on the technical areas and on the ethics area. There is a new category added—that is, that the minister is able to appoint a person who is expert in risk communication.

So you have one committee where there is overlapping concerns. In principal committees that have a number of sub or advisory committees, it is common to see a lot of synergies between the committees and the need for those committees to communicate. In this instance an amalgamation was suggested. That was taken up by the review in its recommendations and they have been accepted by the government. I think there is streamlining rather than loss.

Senator MOORE —Where does the term ‘risk communication’ come from? Is that a new group? Is that something that we have experts in? I heard that earlier. I am wondering whether risk communication is now an industry that we recruit from.

Dr Meek —I suppose it is part of the jargon, in the sense that it is international best practice in looking at risk analysis as a field. There are three components: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. They are the three pillars or, if you like, concentric circles or whatever the diagram that you want to see. So we clearly have considerable expertise in both risk analysis and risk management in the context of the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee. So we saw the role of this third committee as one of providing advice in this other context.

Senator MOORE —So the skills that you have already identified in the technical committee can now be translated into the other new committee.

Dr Meek —It is more that there are these three elements; you need those three components to have a comprehensive risk analysis. As I said, it is the sort of internationally accepted terminology in this context.

Senator MOORE —I am sure it is, but I just have not seen it in all the other committees that we deal with.

Dr Meek —The risk analysis framework that we have actually lays that out, if you are interested at all.

Senator MOORE —Yes, I read that.

Dr Meek —There is a diagram in there that talks about—

Senator MOORE —Yes, the little circle in the middle there.

Dr Meek —Yes, there are lots of circles, unfortunately, in these diagram situations, but that is there too.

Senator MOORE —We had evidence—and I know you have seen it—from people about the importance of having on these committees people who are not public advocates of one side or another. Have you seen dysfunction operating that would lead to people having those serious concerns about the make-up of whatever the new committee is going to be? There is no objection to a new committee, and a smaller one—it always fascinates me when people support a smaller committee, probably in the hope that they will be selected and others will not. Has there been that degree of conflict in this area, where people who have very strong views one way or another—which seems to be the issue in many areas but no more so in yours than in others, I would imagine—a number of people experienced in the field, put forward in submissions that they think there should be a removal of advocacy from the committee?

Ms Murnane —This is something you strike with all committees where people are members because of  their individual expertise or because they are representing a particular segment or group. Some people are more inclined than others to see things through the prisms of their own beliefs. But in something like this, where there is a high level of community interest and community concern, for those polarised ends to be subject to some debate and challenge within the committee and for people who are experts in one or another of the disciplines underlying it to be able to put on the table knowledge—and we talked about risk communication; there is risk in everything—that might result in some sort of opposites coming together is, I think, a good thing. If you exclude people who had a belief one way or the other, it becomes very difficult. On the other hand, I think that it would be difficult with somebody who was an extreme advocate of either side and had shown no signs of being interested in debate. but there is a process here and it is not the Commonwealth minister alone who appoints people to this committee, and I think it most unlikely that ministers would agree to appoint somebody who was taking up a very zealous advocacy position.

Senator MOORE —Either way.

Ms Murnane —Yes. But if you said, ‘Look, anyone who has ever spoken on it cannot be a member of the committee,’ then the situation would be bogged down. The right of somebody to be on the committee that was agreed by all ministers could be challenged by saying ‘this person said something at some time’.

Senator MOORE —Is there a process for revoking membership?

Ms Addison —No, I do not think so.

Senator MOORE —I do not need to see it; I have not got that far on the web. But there is a process whereby you yourself could leave or you could be kicked off it if you did not perform or if there was concern about your performance?

Ms Murnane —I think we had better get a specific answer to that. It is framed around diligence and commitment. For example, somebody who did not attend meetings—

Senator MOORE —I wish more things were framed around diligence and commitment. And that is determined by the group?

Ms Murnane —Yes. The chair would say to the minister, ‘Look, there is no point in having person X on this committee; he or she never appears.’

CHAIR —Are there any other issues arising from the evidence that members wish to raise with the officers? No. Thank you very much for your appearance today. It has been very useful and it has helped us to form a view about the legislation. We are grateful for the submissions and for the live evidence today.

That concludes our hearing into the Gene Technology Amendment Bill. We are due to report on both the food bill and the gene bill by Tuesday of next week. I hope to have a draft of the two separate reports to members of the committee by the end of this week. If we need to, we could have a meeting on Tuesday of next week when we are again due to be in Canberra for a further hearing to consider that draft—if we cannot settle it over email. I thank the officers who have been involved today from the department. I thank the other witnesses who have taken part in today’s proceedings. I thank Hansard for their assistance and the committee secretariat for their continuing fine support to the committee. That concludes our proceedings.

Committee adjourned at 4.56 pm