Gene Technology (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) (11:03): I rise to speak on behalf of the opposition to the Gene Technology (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016, and I thank the government for bringing this forward. Just quickly, it is our standard procedure now to sit at 11am on Wednesdays which causes some problems for members of the opposition who serve on the Legislative Review Committee. I am speaking on this bill now just to allow the Hon. Andrew McLachlan—honourable and gallant Andrew McLachlan—a chance to catch his thoughts before we deal with a number of bills he is dealing with.

I think the committee overlaps that occur with Wednesday morning sittings are something the government must consider, as we need to have a little tolerance in regard to our members here. Clearly, ministers never sit on committees, so if it is government business, they are not going to be captured in that problem but we could well be. For future Wednesdays, I urge the minister to give us a little bit of grace when it comes to these things.

In June 2001, a regulatory system for Australia's national gene technology was formed through the Gene Technology Act 2000 which is a commonwealth act. The act aims to identify and manage risks to human health and the environment posed by, or as a result of, gene technology. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, known as the OGTR, within the federal government, was also created as a result of the Gene Technology Act. The independent Gene Technology Regulator oversees this office whose role it is to administer the laws and make decisions relating to gene technology research and development across Australia.

A ministerial council was created through that act, comprising the commonwealth health minister and ministers from each state and territory, to provide broad direction and regulatory guidance to the regulator. The bill we are dealing with today relates to the Gene Technology Scheme which regulates dealings with genetically modified material. It does not look at the regulation of genetically modified food, which is done under Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), or genetically modified drugs, which come under the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The scheme covers the use of genes as tools where the end goal is not a food product or a drug product but possible uses are in medical research or in plant research. In 2011, the commonwealth act was reviewed and 16 recommendations were presented to ministers at the Gene Technology Forum. Of these recommendations, 14 were supported or supported in principle. These recommendations fall within three main categories: one, modifications to the operations of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator; two, minor technical, administrative and consequential amendments; and, three, other technical amendments.

In August 2015, the commonwealth Gene Technology Amendment Bill 2015 was passed without amendment by the House of Representatives and the Senate and came into force on 10 March 2016. The commonwealth bill dealt with five technical, administrative and consequential amendments that have minimal impact on the technical operation of the act.

South Australia is a signatory to the National Gene Technology Agreement, an intergovernmental agreement which sets out the understanding between the commonwealth, state and territory governments to establish a nationally consistent regulatory scheme. Within that agreement the Gene Technology (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016 before the council will bring the South Australian Gene Technology Act 2001 into alignment with the commonwealth legislation. These changes will have minimal impact on the operation of gene technology activities within South Australia.

I was advised that three states applied agreed provisions by reference to the national law and that three state parliaments currently have bills before them. While the bill deals with five recommendations from the 2011 review, with minor administrative changes to the scheme, a further six recommendations have been implemented by the office of the regulator without the need for legislative change. Three more significant recommendations are still to be considered further by the ministerial council.

With those few comments, I indicate that the Liberal Party has always been a supporter of any new technology and we see that this bill will foster development of technology and confirm that the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.

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