Thursday, 13 November 2008

Hansard 2008-10-29 Innovation: stem cell research

Professor Martin, emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, had recently written a letter showing that cloning for research purposes has been absolutely superseded and has become completely redundant.
Mr Peter Kavanagh, DLP MLC for Western Victoria Region, asked Mr Jennings the Minister for Innovation about changes that have been made to government policy in response to this fundamental change in research technology.
Mr Kavanagh's comments in Parliament on Hansard are below:

Title: Innovation: stem cell research
Activity: Questions without Notice
Date: 29 October 2008
Page: 4611


Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- My question is for Mr Jennings, the Minister for Innovation. It relates to a topic that was raised yesterday in the house regarding cloning for stem cell research. I refer to a letter written by an emeritus professor of medicine, Professor Martin, at the University of Melbourne. It was a letter that I think was received by most members, and it shows that already, over the last 12 months, cloning for research purposes has been absolutely superseded and is now completely redundant. It concludes:

"As it stands now, there is no basis for any further efforts to achieve therapeutic cloning using the transfer of adult cell nuclei to human eggs. Indeed it would be irresponsible to attempt this."

I ask the minister: what changes have been made to government policy in response to this fundamental change in research technology?

Mr JENNINGS (Minister for Innovation) -- I am happy to answer the question from Mr Kavanagh. Every time I talk about stem cells I pre-empt the eventual arrival of his question and probably matters that he will raise in consideration of a matter that I will not pre-empt by talking about what is on the notice paper. I am well aware of Mr Kavanagh's enduring interest in this matter.

When I talk about the funding that has been provided by the state of Victoria and joined in a collaborative effort by the New South Wales government in recent times in supporting stem cell research, I take the opportunity to talk about the parallel stream of embryonic stem cell research with induced pluripotent stem cells, which is the alternative stream that Mr Kavanagh and other members of the community have a greater degree of confidence in because it is derived from other forms of tissue rather than through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). I have taken the opportunity to reflect on the intention of the government through its funding arrangements to test the validity and the application of these various forms of stem cell research.

I understand Mr Kavanagh is not alone in having ethical considerations about SCNT stem cell research; others in the community share his concern. However, what Mr Kavanagh purports to be the accepted scientific wisdom is an assertion which I refute.

That it is well established and recognised and that there is no longer a valid reason to pursue SCNT stem cell research are assertions I reject.

Part of the scientific research program that we have in Victoria, part of what is happening around the world and part of the collaboration between ourselves and the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is to test what is the appropriate application of that field of scientific endeavour and what benefits the community may derive from it.

I am happy for us to be tested in this field and I am happy for us to see the relative effectiveness of these two forms of the significant streams of stem cell research, but I do not accept that there has been unequivocal scientific evidence to fall on one side or the other.

I will assert in this place, in the public domain and in subsequent debates, in terms of providing support for research into the future, that there are still many reasons why we should continue with determination to explore the application and effectiveness of stem cell research.

Supplementary question

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- If the obsolescence of cloning as a research technique can be shown to the satisfaction of the minister, would that not warrant, indeed necessitate, a change in government policy?

Page 4612

The PRESIDENT -- Order! In my opinion Mr Kavanagh is asking for an opinion, which is contrary to the standing orders.

Mr Jennings interjected.

The PRESIDENT -- Order! I am sure the minister can answer, but the question is whether the Chair will allow it to be answered. I will allow Mr Kavanagh the opportunity to rephrase his supplementary question.

Mr KAVANAGH -- If it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the minister that the cloning technology is now obsolete, does he intend to change government policy?

Mr JENNINGS (Minister for Innovation) -- I thank the President for the opportunity to allow Mr Kavanagh to ask his question because it still warrants some personal opinion of mine and in terms of my responsibilities, but I am happy to outline what the sequence of events would be. In terms of the evidence and in terms of the commitment to research, I do not desert for 1 second from what I have said in my substantive answer. There are still many reasons for us to pursue with vigour the potential for SCNT research.

If the hypothetical situation of Mr Kavanagh's assertion came to be the scientific opinion that I would accept, then subsequently I, as a part of the government, would have some opportunities and obligations to share that with my colleagues and, with the collaboration within the policy development process of the government, to determine what the appropriate policy framework may be, and then, if necessary, to lead to legislation.

But at this point in time the Victorian government absolutely reaffirms its commitment to the legislative framework that we have in place in Victoria, to support the scientific research that we have in place and to consider -- on the basis of the best evidence, the best science and the best ethical considerations -- our position going forward. At this point in time we have got a lot of work to do.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

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