QUESTION: Minister declines access to reports on deregulation of new GM techniques

During Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing for a copy of the reports he received in relation to the deregulation of new GM techniques.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: My question is to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Is the minister able to provide me and other interested parties with a copy of the regulatory impact statement and consideration of trade and market access implications report in relation to the new gene editing techniques being considered for regulation by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for the question. It was my privilege to represent the state last week at the legislative forum in relation to gene technology, and I must admit that it reminded me yet again how I really should have paid more attention during my science lessons.

At the meeting of the forum on 11 October, ministers endorsed the final report of the review of the National Gene Technology Scheme, and agreed that the 27 recommendations will enhance and strengthen the scheme so it continues to be fit for purpose and is sufficiently agile to address future developments and challenges, spanning fields such as health, medicine, agriculture, plants and animals. Any risks posed by gene technology will continue to be identified and managed.

It was interesting, because it is apparently the first time the forum has actually met in its current form, and it has not met in any form since 2009, which I think is a challenge for us as legislators; if we have responsibility to maintain oversight of regimes, we need to make sure that we have mechanisms to do that. In that context, ministers have agreed to meet annually to monitor the progress of the scheme review recommendations, and will use out-of-session processes where timing requires or where the issue is considered minor.

I understand that the honourable member's question relates specifically to the technical review of the gene technology regulations, which was instigated by the national regulator to provide clarity following technical advances in this field. The regulations specify activities and organisms that fall under the scheme, and the technical review considered any risks to human health and the environment and proposed steps to address ambiguity in regard to some gene technology techniques.

The dilemma is the different tolerance, if you like, and, again, I need to be careful, not being scientific: the tolerance for different forms of techniques, some which, I am told, mimic natural processes but still offend some people in relation to gene technology. There is also concern about the use of terminology. For example, one of those mechanisms, which I am told million mimics natural processes—I could be wrong—on my understanding is the term SDN1. There are certainly people who object to that process, but I am advised on layman's scientific understanding that it mimics natural processes.

The issue was raised as to whether the use of the terms themselves tends to raise concern in the community which may not have a scientific base. So there was a significant discussion about the use of terminology and how we communicate effectively to the community.

The honourable member, I think, asked specifically whether the report in relation to the review was being published. At the forum last week we welcomed the technical review and requested further information regarding the impacts of the proposed changes to the gene technology regulations. While we are awaiting that information, it is not intended to release the report. I am advised that the normal practice in relation to matters such as this is that, until the full process is completed, the reports are not released.

For more information see Mark's previous question to the Minister on this issue