Page 931 - Week 03 - Thursday, 3 April 2008

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I mention this incident to highlight the fact that the desire to push forward this technology has led us to see some research findings exaggerated and even made up.

There is also a reasonable body of expert medical opinion that believes that embryonic stem cells are no longer required for medical research. This has emerged particularly in the last year. Even if we accept the potential for valuable uses from embryonic stem cells from a medical perspective, this field has now been somewhat overtaken by more recent moves to introduce pluripotent stem cells derived from human skin rather than from human embryos.

Several eminent researchers formerly in the field of therapeutic cloning have now moved to this new field, which holds out far greater possibilities than have been achieved with human embryonic stem cell research. One of these researchers—I think Mrs Burke cited the same example—is Professor Ian Wilmut, who famously cloned Dolly the sheep. Another is Professor James Thomson, the discoverer of embryonic stem cells. Another is Professor Martin Pera, the former director of embryonic stem cell research at the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

Indeed, many commentators are now declaring that therapeutic cloning is dead. In an article in the Australian on 17 January this year, Emeritus Professor of Medicine Jack Martin noted that reports from four leading international laboratories working with embryonic stem cells have shown that pluripotent cells can be induced from adult human cells rather than from human embryos. These cells have all of the properties previously attributed to embryonic cells. In light of these discoveries, the bill before us is years behind the current science.

I found the explanatory statement for this bill to be interesting reading, because it shows the kinds of little tricks that governments use to try and make legislation sound a lot less controversial than it really is and to make it sound as though Assembly members are somehow obliged to vote in favour of the bill.

According to the explanatory statement, the object of the bill is to give effect in this territory to a nationally consistent scheme for the regulation of activities involved in the use of various embryos. It is truly amazing how selectively the government use this national consistency and uniformity argument. They are constantly grandstanding about how the ACT should break the legislative mould and introduce all manner of wild and wonderful legislation that could happen only in the ACT. Even this morning I got all these letters from people, and every one of them talks about social engineering and asks why we are so preoccupied with it in this Assembly. As soon as the government find something they can cling on to in another jurisdiction, suddenly national consistency and uniformity become the mantra of the day.

Let us call a spade a spade. The object of this bill is to allow human embryos to be created for experimentation in the ACT. National consistency is not the object; it is at most an ancillary matter.

The explanatory statement also lets us know that the amending legislation is “required” by an intergovernmental agreement which “committed jurisdictions to introducing nationally consistent legislation”. Assembly members have no commitment to introduce any legislation or vote for any legislation that they do not

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