Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the members of the Lockhart committee. We are all used to the rough and tumble of politics. We are used to people saying things about us that can sometimes cut us to the quick. We develop thick skins in this place—the longer you are here the thicker your skin. But people who are not used to it do not necessarily find it as easy to cope with. I also want to say how much I appreciate how colleagues—as far as they have been able to be—have been as reasonable as possible in this debate. But I do not think it is cricket to actually attack the messenger. Some of the comments that have been made about the Lockhart committee—not necessary by my colleagues but by people who have been supporting them—have been, I think, quite hurtful. For that, I apologise to the members of the Lockhart committee. I would hope that all of us would expect that they would be treated with due respect and dignity.
I pay tribute to the late John Lockhart. He was inappropriately referred to on a radio station in a way that was totally unacceptable. He was very ill when he did his final press and he tabled the report, and he was described in a way that I think was totally inappropriate. To Juliet Lockhart I say: I hope that the accolades that he was given throughout his life and his career and the contribution he made to directing a committee in a very difficult debate overcome the hurt that she felt at that comment. I have been told that John Lockhart chaired that committee with great dignity and great sensitivity. Juliet—who is, I think, trying to listen to this debate—we thank you for sharing with the Australian community your husband over that last six months of his life. He died only weeks after the report was tabled. For Juliet, it must be a very difficult time, especially when some of the criticisms were measured directly at him. But that is in the past, and I hope that it is a lesson that we can all learn from.
We owe the rest of the committee—which included Professor Loane Skene, Professor Peter Schofield, Associate Professor Ian Kerridge, Professor Barry Marshall and Associate Professor Pamela McCombe—our appreciation and thanks. In particular, we should thank Professor Skene and Professor Schofield. They made themselves available to people from all sides. They came here in their own time. I do not think that when they accepted the job they realised that the work would go on for more than a year—nearly a year and a half. I thank them.
I also want to extend my appreciation to Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Webber. Their exposure draft was very important in assisting the debate. Only Senator Stott Despoja and I know what is involved in producing a very detailed bill. Usually, private member’s bills are a couple of clauses. This was quite difficult and, as Senator Stott Despoja said, you could have done a number of things a number of ways. It was a challenge. I appreciate the knowledge that Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Webb brought to the committee hearings, but particularly what Senator Stott Despoja brought, because she was the leader of that twosome—group, partnership, whatever you would like to call it. I am not sure if you can use the first word like that anymore, but anyway. The knowledge they brought meant that the committee hearings were very well informed. I also want to acknowledge that this has been carried out at a very difficult time for Senator Natasha Stott Despoja personally. I appreciate the fact that she has made an enormous effort to be here this week.
I want to also thank all those people who made submissions to the Lockhart review and to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. Many of them did so passionately, on both sides. That is the way that a democracy works: people put their views and participate in the democratic process. I want to put on the record my appreciation of the minister’s help. When I asked for technical assistance from the minister, that technical assistance was forthcoming. My view was that it was a bill that carried huge penalties and to have a bill that was not technically correct would be inappropriate and not in the best interests of the Australian public.
I want to also put on the record my personal thanks to a friend, Dr Sally Cockburn, whom I have known since she was in second-year medicine. She takes a very deep interest in health policy and a number of times would have liked to have given me advice when I was Minister for Health and Ageing, but I was not prepared to take it as readily as she might have liked. She has been a very close personal friend. We have shared lots of ups and downs in our various professional lives, and I want to thank her for her unerring advice, frequently via emails very late at night. I appreciate her bringing her medical knowledge and skills to bear in assisting me in this.
I have to respond to something that Senator Humphries said. He asked, ‘What is so important about 14 days in terms of putting a stop on any development?’ It is the point at which you can physically identify a primitive streak in any embryo. It lets a researcher know when they have overstepped the mark. Anything else is less clear and less objective. That is why 14 days was chosen and that is why it will be very hard for anybody to argue for going beyond 14 days. That is why that was chosen. It was very clear in the submissions; it was very clear to most of us that that was why 14 days was chosen.
I want to again thank honourable senators for their contributions. It is not easy to have these conscience votes. For people who are voting against this bill, I have been on that side, for example, on the bill regarding euthanasia. It is not easy, but it is an important part of the democratic process. I commend the bill to the house.
That this bill be now read a third time.