Page 1891 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 6 June 2017

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improve productivity and sustainability. The ACT is home to an array of gene technology research and development activities in our national institutions and universities. For example, since 2012, the CSIRO has been conducting a number of trials to modify wheat and barley lines.

One such trial has been examining agronomic performance, particularly the way altered genes can improve how the plants use nutrients, resist diseases and tolerate stress. In another trial the CSIRO has made breakthroughs in growing wheat with the same cholesterol-lowering characteristics that we find in oats. Outcomes such as this could have significant public health benefits. As our capabilities in respect of gene manipulation mature, we will see these industries undergo extraordinary change, and the potential is quite staggering.

In regulating gene technology it is crucial that we strike the right balance between encouraging research and development and ensuring that public and environmental safety are protected. The ACT is a signatory to the gene technology agreement between the federal, state and territory governments of Australia. Under this agreement we have committed to a nationally consistent regulatory scheme for gene technology. All parties to the agreement must adopt a regulatory scheme which is characterised by transparency, safety, responsiveness and effectiveness. The agreement also establishes independent oversight and review mechanisms.

The benefits of this approach are clear: harmonised national laws supported by oversight from a national regulator provide consistency and certainty to enable cross-jurisdictional work and collaboration. This approach also ensures risk assessments and safety measures are consistent, responsive and effective. The effectiveness of the existing framework was confirmed in a 2011 independent review, which found that the existing regulatory framework was operating in a rigorous and highly transparent manner. That same review did, however, make recommendations to improve the clarity and functioning of some aspects of the gene technology legislation. The federal Gene Technology Act was amended in 2015 to adopt those recommendations.

The amendments in the bill before the Assembly seek to implement the same recommendations in the ACT. The amendments do not change the overall policy objectives of the legislation but will enhance the efficiency of the ACT regulatory scheme and improve the clarity of our legislation. The amendments will update reporting requirements, clarify procedures for disposing of genetically modified organisms in some circumstances and update advertising requirements for public consultations. Greater flexibility will also be given to licence holders, and public and environmental health and safety considerations have been broadened in some circumstances. Finally, the amendments clarify ambiguous wording. The operation of our Gene Technology Act will be improved, in line with best practice, and we will be playing our part in enabling a nationally consistent regime.

Gene technology has the potential to change the face of health care and agriculture. Research and development in gene technology is crucial if Australia is to remain relevant in this field and should be encouraged by a regulatory framework that is clear,

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