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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (26 November) . . Page.. 4631 ..

Wednesday, 26 November 2003

The Assembly met at 10.30 am.

(Quorum formed.)

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

GMO (Environment Protection) Bill 2003

Ms Tucker, pursuant to notice, presented the bill.

Title read by clerk.

MS TUCKER (10.32): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

I have introduced this bill because it is not possible to amend the ACT Gene Technology Bill to accommodate our concerns regarding its failure to properly take into account potential liability, economic and social costs, and the primacy of environmental protection and still be able to have the act, as passed, recognised as corresponding state law. Under the principles of the Commonwealth-state legislation it is, however, possible to designate areas of the territory as non-GM areas for the purposes of marketing.

This bill would impose a blanket ban on the environmental release of GM organisms, as that is the only way at this stage that we can ensure any of the territory could remain GM free and slow down the process of GM crop development until we know a little more about the environmental impact. This debate, in essence, is about the application of the precautionary principle to the development, commercial exploitation and environmental release of genetically modified organisms.

I trust that no-one here would dispute that we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the planet and the health and biodiversity of life upon it. It is from this awareness that the precautionary principle has emerged. But the precautionary principle and how it is being applied is not simply the one thing in law round the world. This complexity was recognised last week at a conference on the precautionary principle in Australian law at the Australian Centre for Environmental Law in Canberra. The following is an extract from the conference brochure:

In 1993, Justice Stein's seminal Leatch decision began the process of recognition and acceptance of the principle in Australian law. Subsequently, the principle has been specifically incorporated, both directly and indirectly, into a number of Australian environmental statutes.

While it must be recognised that there is considerable divergence of opinion about the precautionary principle, it continues to have the potential to become a central feature of Australian environmental law and policy.

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