Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 8 Hansard (4 August) . . Page.. 3398..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
dangers of genetic discrimination. The impact on insurance of genetic information is substantial and must be controlled. Insurance providers in Australia have taken steps towards addressing the use of genetic information and these steps are to be commended. However, this bill will provide clear guidance that insurance providers cannot discriminate against a person or their family based on genetic information where that person or family member is presently healthy, or on the basis of a request for or receipt of a genetic service.
Although there are no reported cases of genetic discrimination in Australia-and worldwide data is limited-such discrimination probably does occur. A survey of 322 people with genetic disorders in 44 states of the United States found 22 per cent were refused health insurance and 13 per cent were denied or dismissed from a job on the basis of their genetic code. These findings show genetic discrimination is an issue that needs to be addressed and is impacting on real people.
The ACT Discrimination Act 1991 already lists sex, race and impairment among the characteristics protected under the act, all of which may have genetic elements of those characteristics already protected. The definition of impairment was specifically included in the act by the Discrimination Amendment Bill 2003 to include potential future impairment, which would cover the results of genetic testing indicating susceptibility to future diseases. However, I believe that it is possible there may be gaps in coverage of the act and this bill ensures that discrimination on the basis of genetic characteristics is clearly articulated as being against the law. However, there are concerns about the detail of what Mrs Cross is trying to do today, so I would support an adjournment at the in principle stage so that we can take a bit more time to try to make sure that the bill achieves what we hope it will.
MR STEFANIAK (11.24): What Mrs Cross is attempting to do with her bill is to rein in some of the dangerous potential of DNA testing and prevent large-scale discrimination against people who have a predisposition to certain diseases or illnesses. As she quite rightly says, just because they have a predisposition does not necessarily mean that it is going to affect them in their job or they are going to get a disease. I suppose most of us have a predisposition towards something in our make up. Some of us have high blood pressure. We could drop dead tomorrow. Those things happen. But it does not mean that that person is not going to be an excellent employee for any firm, body, or organisation. So I think the reason behind what Mrs Cross is doing is most admirable indeed.
Genetic testing is a two-edged sword but it is a very important tool. When I first read this legislation, I hoped this would not do anything that would affect the ability of the police and law enforcement authorities to do DNA testing and, if need be, to force DNA testing on people to ensure that crimes can be solved. DNA testing can be used not only to solve crimes but also, on the odd chance, to show that someone who might have been convicted is innocent. Those things have occurred. So I think it is terribly important in the criminal law to ensure that occurs and Mrs Cross seems to have covered that in her legislation.
The Attorney has now raised a number of other issues that I had not heard of till today, but they are substantial issues. They relate to a couple of the clauses being inconsistent with Commonwealth legislation. Obviously those things need to be checked. He also raised some other issues in relation to laboratory workers. However, they are things we