Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 14 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 4390..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
account the interests of the ACT by regulating matters within our jurisdiction, and also by our membership of the gene technology ministerial council.
The committee has recommended that the ACT assert its right under clause 21 (1) (b) of the bill to declare the territory a GE-free zone, excluding research, for a period of five years. The moratorium includes dealings with transgenic organisms, that is, all new commercial environmental releases of transgenic crops, environmental releases of transgenic animals and transgenic animal feed, trials in the open environment of transgenic food crops, and trials in the open environment of transgenic non-food crops where no test is available to detect the presence of transgenic material.
The committee has concerns about gene flow from GE products, particularly those in field trials. This concern is really for researchers, as well as for some members of the community. The committee supports properly regulated research in confined environments. The ACT could promote itself as a centre of research in biotechnology while also protecting the environment and non-GE producers from the contamination of their produce by GE products.
A major problem within the current regulatory framework is that the gene technology regulator does not have to take into account the social and economic impacts of gene technology before granting licences. The committee has recommended that the government make this point through the ministerial council.
Another important recommendation regards risk assessment. The committee believes that all risk assessments and management plans for environmental release of GMOs should be based on data obtained in Australian conditions. The OGTR frequently bases risk assessments and management plans on experimental data and opinion prepared years ago for approval in overseas jurisdictions.
Connected to this issue is the application of the precautionary principle. The committee has recommended that the precautionary principle as described in the Environment Protection Act 1997, section 3, replaces the current clause 4 (a) in the bill. The current clause states that the regulatory framework provides:
where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, a lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
The concern here is that neither the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 nor the ACT Environment Protection Act 1997 include "cost effective"in their definition of the precautionary principle.
There has been legal concern raised as to the effectiveness of the OGTR in relation to possible grounds of appeal because the definition of the precautionary principle, as it applies to the object of the act, does not include reference to human health and safety, and it includes the constriction of cost effectiveness in relation to prevention measures. The committee feels the current definition is problematic, leaving too much room for interpretation.