Senate debates

Thursday, 10 February 2022


Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve’s Law) Bill 2021; In Committee

3:30 pm


CHAIR (): The committee is considering the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021 and the amendment on sheet 1540, moved by Senator Ciccone at the request of Senator O'Neill. The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

nator CANAVAN (—) (): I think it might just be worthwhile to repeat very briefly what is this amendment is about. This amendment would require a minimum of 20 participants to go through the trial phase before proceeding to the clinical stage of mitochondrial donation. I repeat that nothing in this amendment would delay or prevent Australian parents from accessing mitochondrial services. The bill, if amended, would still immediately allow the trial processes to occur, including the full suite of mitochondrial donation processes through to live birth, so parents can go through that process. The intention of this amendment is to ensure there is a sufficiently large amount of data such that we can have information about the risks of this revolutionary and novel technique before proceeding to provide it in a wider clinical fashion, where there will be much less oversight and involvement of researchers on a day-to-day basis as per the trial phase.

It's a simple amendment. It provides some protection for us as legislators in that there'll be sufficient information before the minister, who will make regulations to go to the clinical phase. As discussed last night, some senators here would have preferred if we had required legislation to come back to this place before we could proceed to the clinical phase, that we did not delegate that power to the minister, but those amendments have not been proceeded with. This is a sensible approach that would still allow the minister the delegated power to proceed to the clinical stage, but after 20 participants go through the trial.

The Chair:

The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 1540 be agreed to.

3:39 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendments that I and other colleagues have moved through the committee stage have pretty much solely been focused on trying to improve the accountability, monitoring and oversight of what are revolutionary and novel technologies. Many of the amendments have been aimed at providing more oversight from this place, in this institution. I'm obviously disappointed that we have chosen not to strengthen our arm in providing more oversight but instead leave it effectively to the scientific community to make these decisions.

I am intending here to move another set of amendments which, while would not really provide much oversight or monitoring, would at least provide to us some more information on what is occurring in these trials than what is currently prescribed in this bill. The bill, as amended in the House—and I do give credit again, as I did in the second reading speech, to Mr Kevin Andrews. He and others pushed for some more reporting, and I thank the government for agreeing to those amendments and providing some additional reporting than what was there originally. However, the reporting that is there now on a six monthly basis does not have to prescribe any particular information, so there are no guarantees that this will include details of how many trials have occurred, how many participants have gone through those trials, how many have been approved, whether or not there have been adverse events associated with the donation techniques or even what types of donation techniques have been used, and we'll come to those later in other amendments. I don't think it's appropriate that, for something as novel and revolutionary as this, it should ultimately be up to the people that are regulating this area what information they provide us—and I use that with a lower case 'r' as they're not a regulator exactly; they're overseeing this area.

The Chair:

Senator Canavan, it may assist the Senate if you move the amendments. I'm guessing it's the ones on sheet 1520.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to move those at the end of my contribution. I do intend to do that, but of course I would like to explain the reasons for them, and I'm sure we'll have a discussion.

We need to make sure here that the regulators do provide the information so we can assess what's going on. This is really important, because we've seen from the UK experience there hasn't been a lot of information provided about what's going on. In the UK, they legalised mitochondrial donation techniques in 2015. We have extremely limited information from the UK about the outcomes of the donations that have occurred to date or at least that people have been going through them. We don't even know if mitochondrial donation has occurred in any real sense. We know that I think 20—maybe 21—participants have been approved to proceed through the process and there have been eight, apparently, who have actually received some services. But, as I say, we're not sure of the content of those or what has occurred or the outcomes. To my mind, it is completely inadequate that after almost seven or eight years now we have not received information on the barest of details about what is occurring in the UK. It's an issue here for us. It was an issue in the Senate inquiry that I participated in that there wasn't a lot of detail about exactly how these revolutionary techniques have been used in the one jurisdiction in the world where they are legalised.

As I and some other colleagues thought through this, we thought that we should actually try to specify, as a parliament, at least some minimum information that should be in reports. We have decided annual reports are fine. As I mentioned, the government had decided on six monthly reports, but, given the slow pace of these technologies overseas, we didn't think six monthly reports were absolutely necessary. So an annual report would be fine, but we do think it should require some minimum information that can provide people with an oversight of what is occurring and how these are being developed.

By leave—I move:

(1) Schedule 1, item 17, page 34 (after line 11), at the end of Division 4A, add:

Subdivision G — Other requirements relating to mitochondria l donation licences

28Y Annual reports

(1) The NHMRC Licensing Committee must, within 1 month after the end of each reporting period, give the Minister a report in accordance with subsection (2).

(2) The report must include the following de-identified information in relation to the reporting period:

(a) the number of each kind of mitochondrial donation licence issued under section 28J; and

(b) the outcomes of the activities carried out under each licence issued under section 28J, including:

(i) the number of births of children as a result of pregnancies achieved using a mitochondrial donation technique under a clinical trial licence or a clinical practice licence; and

(ii) the number of adverse events notified to the NHMRC Licensing Committee under paragraph 28S(3)(a); and

(c) all clinical data obtained as a result of the activities carried out under each licence issued under section 28J, including:

(i) experimental data obtained from the use of the permitted technique specified in the licence; and

(ii) clinical data about each child born as a result of a pregnancy achieved using the permitted technique specified in the licence.

(3) The Minister must table a copy of the report in each House of the Parliament within 10 sitting days of that House after receiving the report.

(4) For the purposes of this section:

(a) each of the following periods is a reporting period:

(i) the period of 12 months beginning on the day this section commences; and

(ii) each subsequent period of 12 months; and

(b) information is de-identified if the information is no longer about an identifiable individual or an individual who is reasonably identifiable.

(2) Schedule 1, item 55A, page 47 (lines 10 to 22), to be opposed.

The details of this amendment are not restrictive—more information can be provided than what is outlined here. But, as I say, we are just seeking a bare minimum of information that should be provided. In that information, we would like to see the number and kinds of mitochondrial donation licences that have been issued under section 28 J of the act. We would like to see the reporting include the outcome of the activities of each licence issued under that same section, including in this information the number of births of children as a result of pregnancies achieved by mitochondrial donation techniques. Additionally we would like to see the number of any adverse events notified to the licensing committee under a specific paragraph in the bill.

I don't see these amendments as being at all controversial. They should not be controversial. It should be a basic requirement for the reports to include this kind of information. As I say, there seems to be a risk that we may not get this type of information given the experience of the United Kingdom over the past seven or eight years. I'm sure we will hear other speakers say, 'We don't need this because it will be provided anyway,' but I'm a little bit concerned that may not occur given what has happened in the UK.

I want to make a broader point here, too, that goes harking back to the arguments we have been making. We have effectively established a system, through rejecting other amendments, of self-regulation for gene therapy research here in Australia or at least a precedent of that, in this case, on the mitochondrial donation techniques. The only regulation oversight of the mitochondrial donation techniques will be done by the organisation that is commissioning and funding the research in this field. That is self-regulation. The people at the NHMRC are great people, intelligent people, but they are directly involved in the research itself and they are being asked under this bill to regulate themselves, to be the only people actually overseeing what is occurring.

I wanted to make the point sometime in the debate, because I've noticed that the debate in this place has evolved over the past day, that a number of speakers have seemingly suggested that scientists are somewhat of an infallible species among us, that we don't need to question or oversee the work of scientists because they are very intelligent, know what they are doing and can be trusted. Some of those things are true. No doubt scientists are extremely intelligent. No doubt the successes of science are things we can learn great lessons from. No doubt the successes of science are things we have all benefited from in some way. But to suggest there are no risks involved with scientific research blinds you to the history of scientific development among the world and, indeed, the history that we are living through today.

To date, we still don't exactly know where the coronavirus came from, but we are absolutely sure that the relationship standards and oversight of research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were definitely deficient. There were issues. Perhaps the coronavirus itself and this whole pandemic came from that lab and deficiencies associated with that the lab. We had a situation where we only learnt after the event that our own researchers at the CSIRO were cooperating with and training researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on coronaviruses in bats. They were doing that. It's all come out since. They were regulating themselves and deciding this themselves. There wasn't any oversight of this. It is a bit complex, of course, and we didn't know about it. Ministers I have spoken to didn't know about it. We know now, from evidence in this place and other work by journalists like Sharri Markson, that our own CSIRO, a great organisation, with really great people, trained Shi Zhengli, the so-called bat lady, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They collected samples of coronaviruses in bats here in Australia and helped Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists work out how to identify which coronaviruses would be more effective in infecting human cells. They provided human stem cells to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to do further work on coronaviruses in bats. That all happened here.

That's before you get to what happened over in the United States with their scientific organisations, which seemingly had an even stronger and closer relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, including funding people that did work there. We have all seen the potential cover-up that has occurred since. The complete lack of oversight over those processes may have caused the deaths of millions of people around the world and untold economic damage to almost every country.

We do need some oversight of what is occurring here. This is a bare minimum. It's just asking for some specific data. It is commonsense, and it will not in any way stop or prevent mitochondrial donation techniques occurring. I ask the Senate to approve this amendment.

3:49 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I discourage senators from supporting this amendment because the bill before us already provides some very clear reporting requirements; section 19 of the Research Involving Human Embryos Act requires the Embryo Research Licensing Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council to report to the parliament about the operation of the act and the operation of licences issued under it every six months and also when required by either house of parliament. So it's been very clearly established that there is to be frequency and even on-demand, where required, reporting arrangements put in place. Others have noted the role that the NHMRC has in relation to accountability to the parliament through estimates and other vehicles as well.

The second reason as to why I discourage support for this is that, as well as it potentially being duplicative and confusing, it runs the risk of undermining some of the privacy considerations that are clear. This amendment would remove the provisions that ensure that reports that are provided do not identify any person or are not capable reasonably of being used to identify any person. Clearly those privacy considerations are important, and so I would urge the Senate to support the existing quite comprehensive reporting arrangements.

3:51 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

For similar reasons to Senator Birmingham, I would also encourage senators to vote against this amendment. This amendment I accept on the surface seeks to increase transparency, but the risk is that it does the very opposite. Under Australia's Privacy Act any information provided about a cohort of less than 10 people, even if de-identified, does not achieve anonymity and therefore is not permitted. As a result, in the event that there are fewer than 10 live births in any given year, instead of receiving more information, as is suggested by the amendment, no report would be able to be tabled at all. So, again, I encourage senators to vote against this amendment.

The Chair:

The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 1520 be agreed to.

4:00 pm

The Chair:

The question is that item 55A of schedule 1 stand as printed.

4:03 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to move on to a slightly different topic in this bill. As I've mentioned earlier—

The Chair:

I beg your pardon. Senator Steele-John.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I just draw you attention to Senator Rennick who is not wearing a mask, in line with the requirements of the chamber.

The Chair:

I advise all senators to please wear a mask if you intend to participate in the chamber. Senator Canavan, please continue.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, I want to move to a slightly different topic. The previous amendments were focused on topics around monitoring and reporting, oversight—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Thorpe, on a point of order.

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Rennick is not wearing a mask. We have people with health issues in this place. You ask everybody to respect the rules, including me. Why does a middle-aged whitefella have to get away with it?

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I understand that there's been no motion in the Senate in relation to masks, although there has been a direction from the Presiding Officers. So all I can do is respectfully ask Senator Rennick to place a mask on. That's the extent of the authority that I have. Senator McKim?

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I did clarify that with the Clerk, Senator McKim.

I understand that you've clarified that with the clerks, but you have just informed the committee that there is a direction from the Presiding Officer, the President of the Senate. I just would like to place firmly on the record that this is a workplace and that people are entitled to a safe workplace here, and part of a safe workplace is, for people who may have health issues which would lead to extremely serious consequences for them if they were to contract coronavirus—I think that it should be enforced that senators in this place, unless they are on their feet speaking, should wear a mask. It's just common courtesy, apart from anything else, but it is also essential to provide a safe workplace for other senators.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I've just consulted with the Clerk. Again, I don't have authority to issue a direction from the chair to Senator Rennick. It's a matter for him, but I encourage senators to raise it with the President. I will take on board your matters of concern and raise them directly with the President at the first available opportunity.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, I wanted to move the discussion on to a slightly different topic. The other amendments we have moved to this date relate to oversight, monitoring et cetera.

H onourable senators interjecting

I might just pause.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Keneally?

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just seek your guidance as to some of the audible conversation in the chamber. It's very difficult to hear Senator Canavan.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: On the point of order, Senator Roberts?

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I support Senator Keneally, because people are being rude to Senator Rennick. There is no evidence for these things, and I'm only doing it as a courtesy to—

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I ask honourable senators to understand that this is not a debate. We're debating a particular bill. I appreciate various views. There are no standing orders that are available, and I will refer it to the President. Senator Keneally?

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I was not concerned about the rudeness of otherwise of the conversation—just the volume level.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Yes, I appreciate that, but we moved on from the volume.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will try again. The amendments previously moved related to regulation, oversight and accountability. I wanted to move the discussion on to a different part of the bill: the techniques of mitochondrial donation that are permitted by this bill. I need to set up a little bit, for my arguments, a brief explanation of those techniques. There are five that are outlined in this bill. Broadly speaking, as is clear in the explanatory memorandum, those five techniques can be divided into two different types. One type, including the pronuclear transfer method and the second polar body transfer method, relates to making the mitochondrial donation after the fertilisation of two different eggs. In that situation, two eggs are provided: one from the expectant mother and one from the donor mother. Sperm, of course, are provided from the father, and those two eggs are fertilised. Once that fertilisation occurs, a zygote—personally, I would refer to it as an embryo, but the bill refers to it as a zygote—is formed and mitochondria are transferred between the two fertilised eggs at that stage. Following that process, one of those zygotes, or embryos, is discarded before the other embryo is implanted through normal IVF techniques, hopefully for a live birth. That's one type of those techniques—the second polar body transfer and the pronuclear transfer.

The other set of techniques—most commonly, the maternal spindle transfer method—makes the mitochondrial donation before the fertilisation of the eggs. So two eggs, in the same way, are harvested from the expectant mother and the donor mother. The mitochondrial transfer occurs at that stage. One of those eggs is then discarded, and the other egg proceeds to be fertilised, there's the creation of the zygote, there's implantation through IVF and a live birth, hopefully, ensues.

As was outlined in the second reading speech, some view these two different types of techniques as having quite different ethical implications. In the former techniques—most commonly, the pronuclear transfer technique—there is the creation of an embryo, or a zygote, for the sole purpose of being used as an instrument to help another life, another embryo, and it is then destroyed. That particular life, as I would call it—but if others want to call it a zygote, then that particular zygote—has no potential, no plan and no possibility of becoming a life in and of itself. It is created only for the purposes of trying to improve, in this case, the life of another.

Some of us have ethical issues with the potential of using one life as an instrument or tool to help save other lives. Of course, this occurs at a very early stage of life, but, as was outlined in the second reading speech, there's no scientific distinction between the conception or creation of a zygote and other stages of life. No discontinuity has been identified by science such that at that point, this is something and, at the other point, this is something else. All the chromosomes and all the potential for life are there at conception; once conception occurs, it is, potentially, a viable life under the appropriate nurture and conditions.

Some of my colleagues, in discussing these issues, think it would be better at the trial stage to start with the techniques that have fewer ethical implications and fewer concerns for many Australians. So, in a second, I will move amendments on sheet 1518 which seek to simply remove those two techniques—the pronuclear transfer technique and the second polar body transfer technique—that would of necessity involve the destruction, in my view, of a life. I know, from discussions I've had with others around these issues, that there is a view that removing those types would limit, and possibly obstruct, the development of mitochondrial donation techniques; however, I do not think that accords with the evidence. Some have even put that it's the pronuclear transfer and the embryonic transfer of mitochondria that have shown more success and that, therefore, we must keep them in the bill, because there are only limited possibilities of the egg transfer method—the maternal spindle transfer method—being successful. I don't think that accords with the evidence at all.

Unfortunately, in this debate, when the government and others put forward their support of this bill, a lot of the time it's been very much through an assertion of certain facts, like the one I just provided: that maternal spindle transfer is somehow a failed technique or uncertain and may not work. In fact, a report released very recently in a medical journal called Annual Reviews, titled 'The regulation of mitochondrial replacement techniques around the world', looked at all the different techniques around the world, including pronuclear transfer and maternal spindle transfer, and the regulations of the environment around the world. As has been discussed, only the UK has specifically legalised mitochondrial donation techniques. But the report identified that, around the world, there had actually been three births from using the techniques outlined in this bill, although not always for mitochondrial donation. There have apparently been live births, according to these scientists, in Mexico, in Greece and in Ukraine, in the past four or five years. Two of those three live births involved the use of maternal spindle transfer techniques—the technique involving the transfer of genetic material at the egg stage. Only one of the three used the pronuclear transfer technique. The government and proponents of this bill are saying this pronuclear transfer technique must be included because it's the only way we can do it, or the most prospective way we can do it. Well, that's not the evidence around the world.

I should say for full information that, of those three live births, only one was from mitochondrial donation. That was the birth in Mexico. In the case in Greece, which was done with Spanish scientists, and in the case in Ukraine, the genetic transfer techniques were actually to overcome infertility issues in the mother, but the same techniques were used to transfer genetic material to correct for infertility defects. Others have referred to this in the debate: the only live birth that actually occurred to overcome mitochondrial disease occurred in Mexico, and that was using a technique that involved the transfer of material between eggs, not embryos. That one, according to this article, was a maternal spindle transfer. It was the technique that the amendments I'll move would leave in this bill, leaving it possible to start research and trials with it.

It seems to me that, given the revolutionary and novel techniques we are legalising here, we should start with those techniques that have been the most prospective and raise the fewest ethical issues and we should see how that goes first. The government or others could always come back and seek to legalise the other techniques if maternal spindle transfer—the egg transfer technique—does not prove viable. Again, while these amendments go a little bit further than what many other senators have proposed previously, they do not in any way stop the progression of the development of mitochondrial techniques. They just seek to prioritise the development of those techniques that have been proven so far to be the most successful—or, at least, the ones that have been most used—and that clearly have fewer ethical issues. Wherever you fall on this balance, there are fewer ethical questions with the transfer of mitochondria at the egg stage compared to the embryonic stage.

4:17 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of Senator Canavan's amendment. I will not repeat the arguments he has put about the differences between pronuclear transfer and second polar body transfer. I will simply make the observation that one process, pronuclear transfer, involves the creation of two distinct human embryos, one of which will be destroyed, and the other process, second polar body transfer, does not. It does not require the creation of two distinct human embryos, one of which will be destroyed. What I would like to do with this contribution here is to address this very moral and ethical—and scientific—question about what value we should attach to a human embryo.

In saying this, I reflect that the human embryo has moved out of the womb and into the petri dish. This is not something I am opposed to—techniques like IVF have assisted families to have children—but it has raised some significant moral, scientific and legal questions. Thirty years ago, when an embryo could only reside in a uterus, stockpiling them in laboratories was inconceivable. Harvesting bits and pieces from them was unbelievable. Buying and selling them was unimaginable.

Where we are today is truly a brave new world, and it does require us, and has required us, as parliamentarians to think carefully about these things. This parliament—in 2002 and again in 2006—and state parliaments have considered these issues, and they continue to do so. I do want to address this issue of why I think it matters that a human embryo does deserve our consideration and our legal protection. In doing so, I recognise I'm going to get into some slightly vexed ethical and moral issues, so please bear with me, but I think it's important that we tease these out.

I think it is important that we understand that every single human embryo has a new genetic code. It is a code that has never been seen before and will never be seen again. It is a distinct human being. I don't think a human embryo is a human person that attracts all the legal rights of personhood, but nor do I think it is just a collection of cells like those cell we might find in our skin or our hair. It is something different, and I do think it deserves respect. I do think it deserves some legal protection. I certainly do think we should think very carefully about normalising a situation where human life can be viewed as if through a utilitarian lens—that is, that we can create a distinctly new human life for the purpose of harvesting parts from it and destroying it. We need to think about this carefully.

I'm not being partisan, but I'm simply drawing on a quote from Prime Minister John Howard when, in a previous debate, he said, 'I have been personally unable to find a huge moral distinction between allowing the human embryo to succumb as a result of exposure to room temperature'—as sometimes happens in IVF—'or ending it through research.' I've heard other people make that point, and I think it's a legitimate point to make. Here's why I think there is a difference.

The intention of creating the embryo does matter. When you create embryos in IVF, you create them for the purpose of trying to bring a new life into existence. Just as, when you conceive naturally, not all of those embryos survive to birth, and it is the case that creating embryos for the purpose of IVF is to bring a new life into existence, and, yes, some of them may well not survive.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Or not ever get used.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

They may never get used; that is true, Senator Pratt. But that doesn't make it right to use those embryos that are surplus, or create new embryos simply to harvest something from them and destroy them. It is a utilitarian view of human life. I say to the chamber: imagine if we applied that approach in other circumstances. What if we were able to cure Parkinson's disease by harvesting brain cells from comatose people or severely disabled people, whose lives we might say aren't viable or productive? We would react in horror to that. I would hope we would. So we don't do that. For many Australians—and I am one of them—the idea of creating a new human embryo simply to harvest something from it and then destroy it is a step down a slippery slope that I don't want to take. There are many Australians who share that point of view. That's why we have conscience votes like we are having now.

I have made this speech, or versions of it, in previous parliaments when similar bills have been debated that go to the use of human embryos. What I often find is afterwards I get accused of being anti abortion. So I'm going to take a moment or two and speak to this. Let me be clear: human life is not simple or straightforward. As I said earlier, I don't think a human embryo at its embryonic stage is a full human person deserving of all the legal rights that a person has, but nor do I think it is nothing. I can't align myself 100 per cent with the pro-choice movement, with those people who think there is no consideration we should give. And I can't align myself 100 per cent with the pro-life movement either, with those who think that we cannot ever allow an abortion to happen. I take the approach that former US President Bill Clinton took: abortion should be safe, legal and rare. I take the view that, in an ideal world, contraception would be more readily available through the Medicare system to young women and young men and the use of abortion in terms of contraception would be reduced. That is my personal view, and it's what I would support in a policy sense. I want to put that on the record lest some people seek to take my remarks here tonight about human embryos, twist them and use them in another context.

This is a deeply important issue we are considering here. I am actually hopeful. I'm encouraged by the number of senators who have expressed concerns about this bill, because I think we are rushing into a brave new world here. Not only are we asking this parliament to legalise a technique that alters the make-up of human beings at its most significant level—its DNA level; we are also, unless we support these amendments, legalising and giving a tick to the creation of a new, distinct human life, which has never been seen before and will never be seen again, solely for the purpose of harvesting something from it and destroying it. I ask those people who say it is just a bunch of cells to reflect on that very fact. We are introducing a utilitarian approach to human life. We are saying that unless a life is viable it is not one that deserves our respect and support. I don't make those comments lightly. This is a deeply held conviction that I bring to this debate, and I ask people to consider it.

Senator Canavan has observed that these amendments do not stop the progress for those people who want to see mitochondrial donation progress; they merely remove an ethically and morally problematic process from the legislation. In that sense, I think they improve the legislation. In that sense, I think the parliament would be wise, given the novel and, indeed, revolutionary process that we are being asked to legalise, to take a conservative approach—not the Left-Right kind of conservative but, rather, the most risk averse approach. I will be supporting Senator Canavan's amendments.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Canavan, the clerks at the table would like to know whether you've moved these amendments.

4:27 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I believe I did, but if I have not—

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Perhaps you could move them again.

by leave—I move amendments (1) to (7) on sheet 1518:

(1) Schedule 1, item 19, page 36 (line 4), omit the definition of pronuclear transfer in section 5.

(2) Schedule 1, item 19, page 36 (line 5), omit the definition of second polar body transfer in section 5.

(3) Schedule 1, item 20, page 36 (line 15), omit paragraph 7A(b).

(4) Schedule 1, item 20, page 36 (line 18), omit paragraph 7A(e).

(5) Schedule 1, item 20, page 37 (cell at table item 1, column headed "the permitted techniques are …", paragraph (b)), omit the paragraph.

(6) Schedule 1, item 20, page 37 (cell at table item 1, column headed "the permitted techniques are …", paragraph (e)), omit the paragraph.

(7) Schedule 1, item 20, page 37 (cell at table item 2, column headed "the permitted techniques are …"), omit the cell, substitute:

We also oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:

(8) Schedule 1, item 20, page 37 (line 14) to page 38 (line 4), section 7D to be opposed.

(9) Schedule 1, item 20, page 38 (line 29) to page 39 (line 8), section 7G to be opposed.

4:28 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

In the two minutes I have, there are a couple of points I'd like to make. One is that as this debate started I had the opportunity to engage with the Mito Foundation and a number of other experts to try to understand this legislation. I absolutely understand the intent behind it and I support the intent behind it, which is to alleviate suffering and to use research to alleviate suffering. I think we should look for all reasonable and ethical measures that we possibly can to that end, so I commend those great scientists who engage in that type of work.

But I do want to associate myself with some of the comments we've heard from Senator Keneally and Senator Canavan in support of these particular amendments. I think that these amendments would alleviate one of the worst and most morally problematic parts of this bill—that is, that the bill allows the creation of a human life for the purposes of using it for research which inherently means its destruction. That is a massive ethical line that we are on the verge of crossing in this country through this legislation, where for the first time we will be allowing the creation of a human life specifically for the purpose of destroying it in research. We haven't done that in the past. We didn't do that, in fact, even when it came to stem cell research, and we had a lengthy debate in relation to that. We were told that embryonic stem cells had the most potential; it turned out actually adult stem cells delivered great potential and great scientific advances without those ethical concerns. So, I support this. I think we are crossing a really serious line, and it's not one I support, but I support these amendments.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 4:30 the time for debate has expired.

Progress reported.