Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006
I want to look at the effects of Senator Nettle’s amendment in the context of the current act. My understanding is that the current act says that:
In deciding whether to issue the licence, the NHMRC Licensing Committee must have regard to the following ...
So it is prescriptive in that sense. It makes it clear that it is ‘must’; it is not ‘may’. There is a list of matters in the act, most of which those of us who have spent some time involved in this debate would be quite familiar with, and 4(e) on that list says:
- such additional matters (if any) as are prescribed by the regulations.
So there is the potential for the NHMRC Licensing Committee to take into account other matters as prescribed. The amendment before us basically inserts another criterion:
- the capacity of any scientific advances to be delivered through the public health system and/or to reduce the global disease burden.
I think there are probably some very good arguments, certainly those that Senator Nettle has already articulated, for including some of these things when determining a licence.
I think the debate we are about to have here is whether this is the most appropriate place to put such a consideration, and obviously we are trying to determine the effect of such a consideration. I am inclined to believe Senator Nettle’s point. In fact, I think she is spot-on when she talks about the economic impact. That seemed to be something that people were concerned about on the one hand, but that is not really the intent of this amendment. I can attest that Senator Nettle has talked not only in this debate but also in previous times, including in the 2002 debate, about ensuring that the public health good concept is enshrined somewhere in the legislative framework.
Like Senator Webber, we see many positives for the inclusion of such an intent, or at least such a criterion, when assessing licensing conditions. Whether or not this will be too prescriptive, it might be something on which we do seek further information from the NHMRC. Again, it is obviously our role and our prerogative as legislators to determine what they should take into account. Personally, I do not have a problem with that. If there are arguments against it, I am happy to hear them. I suspect there is one argument that I could put forward, which is: where do you stop? This feels like groundhog day, doesn’t it, Jan? Senator McLucas and I were involved deeply in such matters four years ago. But indeed that is why (e) was seen as a positive inclusion at the time. Such additional matters, if any, are prescribed by the regulations.
So, Senator Nettle, there is an argument that there is already the capacity to do it. Having said that, if this is an additional criterion that senators think is worth while, I think there is an argument for the notion of public good, especially when you are taking into account, for example, the likelihood of significant advances in knowledge or improvements in technology et cetera. I think there are arguments for it. Again, I do not want to do anything that necessarily disrupts or detracts from the integrity of this legislation. I do not necessarily think that this amendment does that. Again, there is an argument for value-adding, if you like, but I am happy to be guided on this matter by others in the chamber and, indeed, by Senator Patterson as to what impact she thinks the amendment would have on the legislation before us.