Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (26 August) . . Page.. 3211 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
However, the technology is new and its effects on human health and the environment are not entirely understood. One particular fear held is that genetically modified organisms may escape into the environment, forever altering the natural ecology. Theoretically, we have been told that eating genetically modified foods should pose no threat to human health, but large numbers of people in our community do not wish to purchase these products-and quite rightly so as we are still waiting for further testing and further information-and prefer to stick to the more naturally grown products.
The stability of genetically modified organisms is another area that requires greater study. The process of genetic engineering often involves using transfer vectors such as viruses or plasmids to insert genetic material from one organism into another. The process may also insert additional antibiotic resistance genes into organisms, even if this was not the purpose of the gene transfer, as antibiotic resistance genes are used as genetic markers for scientists to certify gene transfer. To facilitate DNA insertion, cells often undergo electric shocks to increase membrane permeability or are bombarded with electromagnetic radiation. The process of genetic engineering is still a very imprecise science and it is unknown what additional genetic operations a GMO may be susceptible to over its lifespan.
It is important that this industry is tightly regulated to ensure that the benefits of gene technology may be realised while potentially damaging consequences are avoided. I believe that this bill is one step in that direction. It is essential that genetic technologies are consistently regulated across Australia so that a lax approach in one jurisdiction will not allow the reckless spread of the technology into other states and territories. The Australian community deserves an easily identifiable and accountable Commonwealth regulatory body that oversees a coordinated approach to gene technology work, not one that just adds another layer of paperwork on top of the disparate bodies and schemes that are already overseeing gene technology.
The ACT Assembly's Health Committee report on this bill was extremely useful, I believe, in allowing us to understand the impacts and the science associated with this bill. The report brought to light a number of concerns about the system that is being implemented and made a number of useful recommendations to the government. It is unfortunate that the government has not felt able to take up many of these recommendations. I was disappointed to see that outcome, but I hope that further debate will result in further awareness of those recommendations and the possibility of their being taken up in the future. I do thank the committee for the amount of work that it put into the examination of this piece of legislation.
The government's response to the committee's report highlighted the fact that the agreement among federal, state and territory governments left little scope for parliaments to improve the legislation where they felt it was lacking. The clause included in the Commonwealth legislation that gives the federal minister the right to designate whether a state or territory law is a corresponding law means that we, as members of this Assembly, have little capacity to alter the legislation to meet the specific needs of our community or to strengthen it where we believe that it is lacking.
The arrangement whereby government ministers can make decisions on behalf of this Assembly at a national level and leave us few means of recourse needs to be looked at