Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 14 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 4392 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
This is really, in my view, a report that takes into account business and the community, as well as the economy. I think it is a very well-rounded report and I commend it to the Assembly.
MS MacDONALD (12.08): I rise to give qualified support to this report. The Gene Technology Bill 2002 was introduced to the Assembly on 21 February this year. The Assembly referred the bill to the Standing Committee on Health on 7 March and then advertisements were placed in the Canberra Times and the Chronicle in May of this year. The committee secretary also asked a number of organisations to advise the inquiry. Unfortunately, many organisations were unwilling to appear because of the work done at the federal level on this issue.
The committee made its first visit in relation to this inquiry on 8 October after the referral of 7 March. We held just two hearings, one on 7 November and the second on 28 November. I have given this time line because I am concerned that there has been a rush to get this report through by the end of the year, after very little activity on this inquiry for several months. While I know that there are many good reasons for that-not the least of which being that the committee has been focusing on the inquiry into the health of school-aged children, which is a very big and important inquiry-I am concerned about having had only the two hearings on the matter.
In spite of the reasons for the delay, I feel that the committee should have had more time to go through the evidence and also to encourage more people to appear. I have said that it is unfortunate that we did not have more people appearing before the committee. It would seem that part of the reason is the extensive federal inquiry. However, we may have been able to get more people to appear and give more diverse evidence than we received if we had given a bit more time for hearings and also persisted with seeking more evidence. I agree that we have drawn on the work which has been done previously at a federal level, as well as international evidence, but I do believe that the committee's deliberations would have been better informed with more witnesses.
My second point is the nature of the report. While I agree that the report was not to be a scientific white paper, and it does look at a number of other issues, including the issues of insurance and other commercial matters, it does also look into a lot of scientific matters. I am concerned about that because I am not a scientist-none of us on the committee and the support staff are scientists. I believe that, in accordance with standing order 238, the report would have benefited from the perusal of a scientist who could indicate any glaring errors. Of course, 238 says:
The Speaker may appoint persons with specialist knowledge (either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's inquiry) upon such terms and conditions as the Speaker may determine.
I do believe that the committee would have benefited from that expertise. I am quite sure that Lesley Wheeler, the research person, could have used the assistance with checking the report for errors. I have been trying to get my head around the whole notion of gene technology and I think I have fairly much failed in that regard, because I am not scientifically minded. I do not think I will ever be scientifically minded, even after years