This week in the Senate – cloning, environment, copyright law

The Senate is the only House of Parliament sitting this week and the sole piece of legislation on the agenda is the Cloning/Stem Cell Bill. I gave my speech on the 2nd Reading stage of the Bill today, and will vote in favour of sending the Bill on for consideration in detail by the Senate. I have yet to decide how I will vote on the final vote on the legislation which should occur in the next couple of days. The areas I am concerned about relate mostly to some of the principles being used to justify the use of embryos created through cloning solely for the purposes of scientific/medical research. I am told that the final vote may be quite close, although I have no way of being sure if that’s true or not. (UPDATE: The Second Reading vote passed by 34 votes to 31. This obviously means that if only 2 people change their position at the final vote (Third Reading vote), based on amendments that are or aren’t made, the legislation will be defeated. I guess it also means I have some more thinking to do)

Whilst the Cloning/Stem Cell Bill is the only piece of legislation being discussed in the chamber, some Senate Committees have also been holding hearings while the Senate has been sitting to consider other pieces of legislation.

One of those hearings involved major changes to the main federal environment law – the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act (usually called the EPBC Act). I was heavily involved in enabling major amendments being made when the EPBC Act was first passed back in 1999. Some environment groups and the Greens savagely attacked the legislation (and those who supported it), but it has clearly been shown to be a major improvement on the laws that existed previously.

Having copped a pasting for supporting the government in passing the (heavily amended) legislation, it is more irritating than usual (although still not particularly surprising) for the government to dump a 400 page amendment Bill on us which in some areas significantly weaken the EPBC Act, and then give the Senate and the community just a few weeks to consider it. The government’s intent is to push the Bill through the Parliament by the first week of December, although I have yet to see any reason given as to why such major changes are so urgent that we should forgo time for proper consideration.

There is also a hearing today into a Copyright Amendment Bill. I wrote a piece a week ago about what is not in the Bill – namely the removal of the cap on the fee that commercial radio has to pay to artists for using their recordings, despite a government promise earlier this year to make that change. However there is a large amount of important and complex things that are in it, and once again the Senate Committee (and the community and those affected) is being forced to consider in the space of a few weeks, with the intent of forcing the legislation through the Parliament within a month.

The reason being used for the rush on the Copyright law changes is that it contains changes relating to the USA-Australia Free Trade Agreement which have to be in place by 1st January, 2001. However, only 2 of the 12 Schedules in the legislation related directly to the FTA.

The legislation has presented me with a bit of a dilemma. It is very complex and many groups have an interest in various parts of it. I have a responsibility to try to get across the legislation and the concerns expressed about it, but I also know the chances of my views having an impact on getting changes made to the legislaiton are fairly minimal. Given I have the major environment law changes on my plate, not to mention trying to ensure I reach as informed a decision as possible on the embryo legislation, as well as plenty of other debates running such as climate change and the water crisis, it does raise the issue of whether the balancing of my priorities would include basically letting the Copyright Bill go through to the keeper. Perhaps I should, but I find copyright issues personally fascinating, so I am keen to grab the opportunity to get a better understanding of it, even if I am unlikely to be able to get changes made at this stage.

(for views of the Copyright Bill on other sites, try Weatherall’s Law, a comprehensive copyright law blog by Kim Weatherall (who gave evidence today at the Committee hearing). You could also look at this post on the blog of a chap called Bruce, who expresses strong concern at the rushed process).

The fact that these Committee inquiries into major legislation are being held while the Senate is sitting is a sign of how rushed the process is. There is a Standing Order against this occurring, as it obviously means Senators in the Committee hearing can’t follow what is happening in the chamber. These days Committees regularly seek exemption from it, but it is a less than ideal process, particularly when the Senate is considering legislation which is a conscience vote.

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19 Comments

  1. It’s heartening to see that you are putting so much balanced thought into this bill, Andrew. Rather than jumping to ideological conclusions like those on both polar opposites of the debate you seem to be genuinely considering both sides of the argument.

    A refreshing occurrence in parliament.

  2. All this rushed legislation. Are they just clearing the decks to prepare for an early election?

    My guess is there are heaps of coalition operatives in the U.S. at present learning what they can about their election and will develop a strategy quickly after seeing which way the wind is blowing there.

    In recent times we have seen
    1/ The compassionate face of the treasurey department with a senior bureacrat recomending structural change

    2/ A road to Damascus conversion of the coalition, now embracing the urgency of climate change action and putting solar power on the mainstream agenda.

    3/Drought relief to farmers

    4/Coalition leadership issues settled

    plus all this rushed legislation.

    My Melbourne cup tip – an election called during the school holidays (minimise enrolments) for Sat 3rd februry (soon after Australia Day, which will be a centrepoint for public funded government advertising with pictures of John Howards smiling eybrows everywhere.)

  3. I really don’t understand your objection to the animal eggs. Why, when it will only be allowed to develop for 14 days, is it a problem?

  4. You could be right, JT. How long is it before John Howard will HAVE to hold an election? It doesn’t seem all that long since my last attempt to get rid of him.

    If John Howard wins another election, I think it will be proof that there are more well-to-do people among us than we might have previously thought.

    These days, lots of couples are working, have few or no children, are better educated, and earn more money.

    Couples on high incomes are now getting $4000 every time they have a baby, along with their fairly recent tax cut. To them, the baby bonus is comparable with receiving a bag of lollies – and to young girls parenting alone, it’s more like a Gold Lotto win.

  5. Anna:

    After watching “Catalyst” today, I think the use of animal eggs is a brilliant solution to the shortage of human eggs.

  6. There is no way an election will be called before July next year at the earliest (meaning an August polling day) – there cannot be a Senate election before that date and there is no way the PM will hold an election only for the House of Reps and have a separate one for only the Senate less than a year later.

    It will also not be later than December 2007, as the three years since the last election runs out around then.

  7. Andrew,

    I don’t like this legislation. The more I read about it, the more I think it does to much to dissolve what fair use we might currently have (including what I might need to use as a researcher). As a constituent, I’d urge you to vote against it.

  8. im with j.t. i think hes prediction is close
    why elce would the c.i.a. be setting up an office in australia
    me thinks it is to help little johny get re ellected.
    as for stemcell reserch take a look at what the british rescerchers are asking for now.
    its in the indeendent news paper on line.

  9. Re #5
    Since when has tradition got in JWH’s way? If this drought goes through to next winter, things are going to look grim by July. He’ll be desperate to hang on to what he’s got by New Year.

  10. I think Bronwyn Bishop and Amanda Vanstone have about the same chance of ever getting into the seat of power – Buckley’s or none.

    I can’t imagine Australian men voting for either of those two hard-nosed old battle axes.

    Howard only uses them to do his dirty work in the social arena.

    Jim:

    Can you please tell us more.

    Andrew:

    Thanks for the info about when the last election was held. I’m not sure what John Howard’s agenda could be.

    Now he wants to pipe grey water out to the farmers. Not such a bad idea, I suppose.

  11. Your predictions can only get better JT. John Howard will alwasy go to the wire its in his nature and a proven past action. Plus by holding on it enables the media to focsu on speculation and peripheral bumf, puts the pressure on the opposition to produce when there not ready etc. Not many grandfinals are won in the middle of the season.

    Like him or not he’s got 30 odd yeasr of form on these issues.

  12. Ken, my predictions are brilliant, but rarely accurate. That is the fun of gambling I suppose.

    But by fluke the senator is correct. The constitution, as tested by court precedence, says there cant be a senate election until july, so I guess my prediction is scratched. Still, I lost no money on it which is better than most melbourne cup punters and Telstra investors.

    Howard might drag it out as long as he can but Iraq is only going to get worse, interest rates will continue to rise in accordance with the recent mineral boom, the ACTU have a staggered IR media campaign running, preparing for their grand crescendo in an the election campaign. The recent first fair pay commission decision will have its gloss rubbed off before too long. Telstra is imploding as we try and flog it off, which is represented as glossy advertising at present but when the figures are analysed it will be a disaster, not to mention it’s consequence on the bush.

    In light of constitutional restrictions to an early election and the recent rush of legislation…………I predict

    That the coalition have a pre fabricated, full on agenda to dominate the headlines for the first half of next year including nuclear power (hence the damascus road conversion on greenhouse), a new paternalism in Aboriginal affairs, a new reduced role in Iraq and militarising the pacific and a cracker of a budget for regional Australia thanx to the Barnaby rebellion.

    These should dominate the debate and we will all forget about the other things.

    July!

    p.s. It is a very sad state of affairs when senators of all parties do not have time to properly consider matters that have gone to a conscience vote. At least on party lines, an expert has done all the thinking behind the party line. The whole point of a conscience vote, especially in the house of review, is for the people’s representatives to get a firm understanding of the issues themselves to find where their conscience fits in.

  13. Andrew:

    I have read your speech. It seems to me that you would rather put women at risk in donating eggs (and there is risk involved) than do the same thing to an animal.

    In your speech, you seem to have dismissed the human safety issue. Perhaps Dr Peacock needed to make his concerns more clear.

    When women are given drugs to increase egg production, it may put them at higher risk of ovarian cancer.

    I have seen some extremely sick women, suffering severe pain after their ovaries have been hyperstimulated – an essential component of multiple egg collection. Some have had to be hospitalised.

    An IVF specialist would be far more knowledgeable about the risks involved.

    I will concede that you make a valid point about research complications which might result from use of animal eggs.

    My father-in-law used to work in an animal house attached to research laboratories. He was an animal lover and ensured they were well looked after. I took my children in there to see the various animals in his care.

    When I worked with researchers, dating back quite some years now, the animals were treated very well.

    I sometimes find your penchant for valuing animals more highly than people disturbing – which comes across as being the main upshot of your objection.

  14. Andrew:

    Further to post #15, I have thought of other related issues.

    In order to collect human eggs, Australian women undergo a general anaesthetic, which is not without risk. The collection procedure itself can be risky as well.

    I’m wondering if the reason scientists want to use rabbit eggs (as opposed to mouse or rat eggs – all 3 animals being rodents) is because a rabbit is bigger.

    If they used mice or rats, they might need to remove the ovaries in order to collect the eggs.

    In a rabbit, they might be able to collect the eggs without doing that, due to the animal’s size.

    I previously mentioned problems associated with hyperstimulating women’s ovaries in order to produce more eggs, but the same procedure would probably not be needed with rodents. They produce multiple eggs naturally.

    You said that animals should not be used for experimentation if there is some other option available. With this I would normally agree … if the other option wasn’t using a human.

    For decades at least, the same ethos you use for animals has applied to humans.

    This is the very reason we use animals for experimentation purposes before using people.

  15. In response –

    Jim: There’s more in the Copyright Bill than the Fair Use provisions, and there does have to be some degree of balancing of interests done in the fair use area too. However, it does seem to be done in a very messy way.

    The fact that people with interests on each side of the issue seem unhappy does not necessarily mean, as the government has suggested, that they much got the balance right. It could just mean their approach is so flawed that it doesn’t work for anybody.

    Coral:

    I did not dismiss the safety issue for woman donating eggs. I said that Dr Peacock’s comments were not about the safety issue.

    If you really have read my speech and can still make the statement that I value animals more highly than people, then I’m afraid beyond saying “no I don’t” and noting that my speech specifically said this, there’s not much more I can do.

    The propensity for humans to give no regard at all to animals is one reason why there are good grounds for suspecting that ethical boundaries will get pushed further once a particular use becomes common place.

    When people respond to such a basic expression of concern by saying this is valuing animals equally to humans (or higher), it just demonstrates how blind so many of us are to the many practices which give animals no intrinsic value at all.

  16. As I mentioned on another thread, there is a 7 year wait for donor eggs.

    I don’t agree that there is a propensity for humans to give no regard at all to animals. They are a certain number of people who do this, but it isn’t the vast majority.

    Not everyone is blind to the many practices which give both animals (not to mention humans) no intrinsic value at all.

    I value the health and safety of men, and when it comes to these kinds of reproductive issues – women in particular – above animals.

    This is because I am a human being, not an animal.

    I have never thought that you were uncompassionate towards people’s illnesses and disabilities, but I think it has been proven that the vast majority of men in the parliament are less compassionate than women.

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