BILLS: Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law)

12 December 2021

I rise to speak to these amendments to the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021, or, as we now know it, Maeve's law. As this is a conscience vote, I rise to speak not as a shadow assistant minister but as an individual MP. Before I go to the amendments, I would like to acknowledge every member of the House who has expressed their views in this chamber with respect and passion. It has been an honour to bear witness to this considered debate on an issue that raises age-old tensions between the advancements of technology and deeply seated faith based beliefs. I thank the community members, faith leaders, researchers and, of course, the mito community and the Mito Foundation in particular for all their hard work and consultation. And, of course, we acknowledge and thank Maeve's family.

To all the members of the commissions and parliamentary inquiries, I say thank you, especially to the member for Macarthur for taking the time to sit with me and go over this with long explanations and discussions. I pay tribute to the hard work of the minister in bringing this important bill to this House and the enormous amount of work that he has done. I pay tribute to past shadow health ministers, especially the member for McMahon, who has worked on this bill over the years. But in particular I would like to acknowledge the member for Hindmarsh, the shadow minister for health, who has shown great sensitivity and stewardship of this bill through our own party processes in this last leg of the bill's evolution. On speaking to these amendments, he has offered me very wise counsel, and I am pleased to say that we are absolutely on the same page in supporting these amendments. I thank him for his patience and clarity in explaining them not only to me but to all of the Labor MPs who sought his advice.

The amendments will do a number of important things. They will clarify that donated mitochondria must be sourced from human eggs. This was already a feature of the bill but, due to its importance, the amendments put it beyond doubt. They expand and clarify the circumstances in which proper consent is needed before mitochondrial donation techniques are used. They clarify the circumstances in which the Embryo Research Licensing Committee of the NHMRC is able to seek expert advice when performing its statutory functions. They enhance mitochondrial donor privacy by clarifying the operation of provisions that deal with the mitochondrial donation donor registry. They further enhance privacy by ensuring that the Embryo Research Licensing Committee statutory report to parliament can't disclose identifiable personal information. Finally, they address an issue raised by the recent review of the bill by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee that relates to sex selection of embryos by providing that embryos created using the mitochondrial donation techniques cannot be selected for implantation on the basis of their sex.

This last point is a late addition to the amendments that is worthy of a little more explanation. The review of the bill by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which delivered its report in August 2021, recommended that additional clarification or an amendment may be appropriate in relation to embryo sex selection. In particular, the committee questioned whether the provision of the bill that would enable a woman the option of selecting the sex of embryos is necessary and appropriate. This is especially the case as the inclusion of sex selection requires additional manipulation of embryos and can create additional risk to their viability. The government amendments omit this sex selection condition and insert a new licence condition in its place, meaning the selection of an embryo cannot be on the basis of sex.

On the basis of in-depth discussion with the member for Hindmarsh and other stakeholders in the mito community, it is clear that these amendments do not impinge on the purpose and promise of this bill. Therefore, I will be supporting them.

In conclusion, both the member for Hindmarsh and I support these amendments and this bill because, as the member for Hindmarsh said in his speech on the second reading:

… for all of the technical and ethical issues that this bill raises for members, ultimately these pieces of legislation are about people. They're about patients. In this case, they're about very young children and their parents, grandparents and wider families.

I support these amendments.