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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (10 April) . . Page.. 928 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

Herein lies the problem. The COAG decision is one brokered between church and state leaders. Church leaders were urging a total ban on embryonic stem cell experiments, but the premiers and chief ministers want a more liberal regime to encourage investment in research and advances in medical science.

I am not alone in believing that some conservative church leaders wield too much power in scientific and medical policy debates. Let us not kid ourselves that there is a separation between church and state. There never has been, in Australia. The church influences many scientific, medical and industrial relations policies. This is just the latest example. Mrs Cross mentioned in her speech that IVF has become commonplace in Australia. One of the leading debates on which the church has taken a strong stand is that IVF is not commonplace for single mothers or lesbians.

What will be next for stem cell research and public policy debate? The next three years will be critical. Further debate on therapeutic cloning is needed. The obvious question raised about the COAG agreement is: what happens after the three-year prohibition on new embryos? The community debate that we must have has to include questions such as: should embryos be created or destroyed for the express purpose of the production of medical therapies? Who holds the rights to the information in human embryonic stem cell lines, or the proceeds of any technologies that may arise from the lines? Should pharmaceutical companies profit from products of human embryos?

I support Australian genetic research, and believe there is a lot to be gained from looking at human bodies at the cellular level. However, human bodies exist in a social, cultural and public context, and it is in these contexts that we must debate the issue of cloning. Specialist scientific and ethical knowledge should be discussed in the same public debate-not separately.

The existing and future application of genetics requires a legislative framework that protects people and their rights. Without this certainty, I believe our communities will continue to be reluctant to adopt the great potential that genetic technology offers. Only that way will the community have knowledge about, and confidence in, the potential for stem cell research to benefit society.

MS GALLAGHER (3.59): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this very important subject. I, too, thank Mrs Cross for bringing this to the Assembly as a matter of public importance.

The starting point must be to highlight the benefits this research could provide to humanity. We must recognise the potential benefits and support the principle in the matter, as the federal-state agreement at COAG has done.

Degenerative diseases affect people across classes and global divides. The potential for stem cell research to affect the wellbeing and standard of living of millions of people who suffer from incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes, is publicly documented. The effects on people with spinal cord injuries, heart defects and other illnesses are potentially fantastic.

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