28 August 2011

Gene Patent Bill Update – Senate Inquiry Extended… Again

As some readers will recall, the Australian Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, which is currently conducting the inquiry on the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010, was originally due to report by 16 June 2011.

Having received over 100 written submissions, and conducted two days of public hearings, the Senate granted the Committee an extension of time for reporting, until 25 August 2011 (see Update on the Australian Senate Gene Patent Inquiry).

Now, in the most recent development, on 23 August 2011 the Senate granted the Committee a further extension of time, until 21 September 2011.

Rumour has it (and we would love to hear from anyone with any additional ‘inside information’) that the reason for this latest delay is, quite simply, because the Committee is hopelessly divided over the Bill, and is unable to reach a sufficient consensus to make any recommendation.

Anybody who has read the Committee Hansard record of the public hearings would be unsurprised by this rumour.  While a number of Senators appeared to be genuinely interested in what all witnesses – on all sides of the debate – had to say, there were others (notably Senators Heffernan, Xenophon and Siewert) who are well-known for their opposition to gene patents, and who appeared openly sympathetic to witnesses whose evidence supported that position while at times (particularly in Senator Heffernan’s case) almost hostile towards other witnesses.

This suggests that at least three of the nine members of the committee are most likely immoveable in their desire to recommend that the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010 be passed by the Senate.

If nine senators cannot reach agreement regarding a recommendation, the prospects of an entire chamber (let alone both houses) passing the amendment bill must surely be slim, no matter what the Committee’s final report may say.

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