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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill today released the findings of a high-level inquiry into one of the major environmental issues for the new millennium - access to biological resources.
The inquiry was initiated by Senator Hill in December 1999 and recommends ground-breaking regulations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
These would control access to biological (including genetic) resources on Commonwealth areas.
Senator Hill said the plan would regulate access to genetic material in plants and animals and would deliver substantial benefits to industry, the environment and indigenous communities.
The regulations would control access to genetic material extracted from plants or animals which could be used in products such as drugs to fight disease, to develop soaps, shampoos or sunscreens.
"Access to biological and genetic resources is of strategic importance to Australia's ability to develop a prosperous biotechnology industry,'' Senator Hill said.
``This is why the inquiry is recommending a scheme which streamlines access - it provides certainty for industry at the same time as safeguarding Australia's unique biological resources.''
Senator Hill welcomed the inquiry's recognition of the special knowledge held by indigenous people in relation to Australia's biodiversity.
``Indigenous people may have special knowledge about native plants which have medicinal qualities or about species which could be used to enhance a bush food industry with new flavors,'' Mr Hill said.
"If this knowledge is used by others for commercial benefit then the access regime must ensure the benefits arising from indigenous knowledge are shared with those indigenous communities.''
Senator Hill said the Government would consider all 71 recommendations of the inquiry and make proposed regulations under the EPBC Act. These draft regulations would be released for public comment.
"This gives effect to the Government's election commitment in Our Living Heritage to 'introduce regulations to regulate access to genetic resources in Commonwealth areas'. This commitment was restated in Australia's Biotechnology - A National Strategy, released by the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources in July 2000.
Senator Hill paid tribute to the work of the Chair of the Inquiry, South Australian legal practitioner Mr John Voumard, and the expert advisory group which assisted him.
"As a result of the work of the Inquiry, Australia now has a chance to lead the world in addressing some of these contemporary challenges, such as those raised by 'bioprospecting'.
Senator Hill said he hoped the inquiry report would make a significant contribution towards the development of a nationally consistent system of access to biological resources. All stakeholders recognise the importance of implementing a nationally consistent scheme.
"Mr Voumard has made particular efforts to consult with State and Territory Governments, and their views are reflected in the inquiry's recommendations.
A brief outline of the access scheme recommended by the inquiry report is at Attachment A. The report is also available on Environment Australia's website at http://chm.environment.gov.au/documents/inquiry.doc
September 6, 2000
Belinda Huppatz (Senator Hill's office) 02 6277 7640 or 0419 258364
Max Kitchell (Environment Australia) 02 6274 2345
Outline of the scheme for access to biological resources under s 301 of the EPBC Act
The major recommendation of the Report of the Access Inquiry is that regulations under s 301 of the EPBC Act provide for an access permit and a benefit-sharing contract.
Under the recommendations of the Inquiry, the regulations will require a party seeking access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas to apply for an access permit from the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.
While the assessment process for the permit is underway, the applicant will be required to negotiate with the holder (or owner) of the biological resources a benefit-sharing contract which covers the commercial and other aspects of the agreement (in particular, matters such as up front payments, royalties and protection of Indigenous knowledge). It is proposed by the Inquiry that the contract be based on a model contract which the report outlines and recommends be developed and agreed by Governments, industry, Indigenous organisations and other stakeholders.
The Inquiry recommends that the regulations provide that the Minister may issue the access permit on being satisfied, among other things, that:
The Inquiry recommends that the contract only have effect if the Minister issues an access permit.