Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2934 ..
MRS CROSS (continuing):
As an aside, members may remember the Australia Card. This card created a great deal of interest last century-a long time ago. It prompted concerns in people, as it was to hold their name, address and date of birth. It was to be held centrally and could have been used for easy identification. In its day, it was the Big Brother. We did not get the Australia Card at the time but, as we know, that information is now held in different ways, through licences and tax file numbers.
We have moved from the thought of others holding our birthdates, names and addresses to the very real situation of others being able to access our own personal blueprints. This is much more like Big Brother and far more daunting for the human race. I can give you a few examples of genetic discrimination.
There is the loss of a job or failure at interview because a business has genetic information saying that the person may be predisposed to depression. Then there is discrimination by insurance companies who may not insure a person if they find that the person has genes that may predispose them to particular diseases or conditions. There is also discrimination by governments or parts of governments with respect to licences, visa and pension payments, et cetera.
The goal of averting genetic discrimination is to allow people to get tested without worrying about having the information misused. It is private and very personal. I have recently issued drafting instructions for a bill to protect individuals in the current situation of a lack of safeguards in regard to genetic discrimination and the collection and use of genetic information in the ACT.
The possibility of identifying susceptibility, reducing risk and preventing disease is a wonderful new fruit of genetic knowledge. That will all be stopped in its tracks if we do not provide this kind of protection. It is wonderful to welcome new developments in the scientific and medical worlds. We have so many benefits; we just have to make sure that we are protected from any possible misuse. I commend this MPI to the Assembly.
MS DUNDAS (3.29): Mr Speaker, with the recent sequencing of the human genome, great advances in science and health are just around the corner and, with the next generation of genetic research, an end to endemic diseases, crippling defects and cancers is not unforeseeable. However, there is a real risk of the information gathered from the human genome project and other research being misused. There are cases where it already has been.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne have found at least six cases where individuals were refused jobs, bank loans or health insurance because of known or suspected genetic traits. The Democrats have long been aware of the potential dangers of genetic discrimination. It was my Senate colleague Natasha Stott Despoja who introduced a private members bill five years ago to stamp out genetic discrimination in insurance and employment.
However, the federal government has not acted, and Australia is sadly behind other parts of the world in regard to protection from genetic discrimination. As it is obvious that we cannot rely on the federal government to act quickly on this, it is imperative that legislation be brought to the Assembly. I welcome Mrs Cross' comments today