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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 04 Hansard (Tuesday, 8 April 2008) . . Page.. 1148 ..


and the balance between the means and the outcomes. In considering the issues proposed in this amendment bill today, I have to consider the regulatory processes which the safety of the community relies on. Although many parts of this bill are very sensible, mostly relating to the requirements and offences relating to GMO licences, the Greens are in particular opposed to the sections introducing emergency dealing determinations.

The current Gene Technology Act has a number of precautionary and preventative mechanisms for good reason, which this bill before us today seeks to override. One of the main functions of the Gene Technology Regulator is to assess the risks posed to the health and safety of people and the environment. One of the major differences between this bill and the embryo research bill is that this bill proposes a rushed approvals process to enable a genetically modified organism, henceforth GMO, to be released, potentially as vaccines for a large proportion of the population. Given that the only reason the process would be rushed would be to bring in a GMO-based solution that quite likely had not been rigorously tested to an emergency, this could have the effect of using the populace at large as the base for a large-scale experiment.

This afternoon, Mrs Burke gave us a general picture of some of the advantages and disadvantages of genetic engineering. But there are, of course, myriad such examples. I just want to quote from Jeffrey Smith’s book, Genetic Roulette, which I know every member has:

The discovery in the mid-1970s that scientists could transfer genes from the DNA of one species to another was heralded as a major scientific breakthrough.

And, as so often happens with these scientific breakthroughs, it was seen as a potential saviour of mankind. It continues:

Plants, animals and other organisms could now become equipped with genes that they could never acquire naturally and exhibit traits not previously found in their species or even their kingdom.

Scientists have since worked on some interesting combinations. Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bullet-proof vests. Cow genes turned pig skin into cowhides. Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark. Arctic fish genes—

Mrs Dunne referred to this this morning—

gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost. Potatoes glowed in the dark when thirsty. Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.

And so on. So genetic modification has a chequered history and, therefore, I think that we need to be very circumspect whenever we speed up any process around it.

Under this bill, a GMO specified in an emergency dealing is not treated the same as a GMO covered by a licence. Certainly Greenpeace, in its verbal submission to the Senate committee considering these issues, were also concerned about it. Their representative, Louise Sales, argued about the commonwealth bill:


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