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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

22 December 1999

INQUIRY TO EXAMINE ACCESS TO BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES


Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill today initiated an inquiry into the key issues associated with access to Australia's biological resources on Commonwealth areas.

The inquiry is to advise on a scheme that could be implemented through regulations under section 301 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to provide for the control of access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas.

'The inquiry is an important initiative in the Federal Government's ongoing program to provide for the conservation and sustainable use of Australia's biological diversity. It will help deliver on Australia's responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the goals of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity.

The inquiry will address some of the major environmental issues for the new millennium, including the ownership of biological resources and the terms on which access to such resources should be granted.

'Recognising the special knowledge held by indigenous people in relation to our biodiversity, the inquiry will particularly focus on ensuring the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of indigenous knowledge and practices.

The inquiry will also report on mechanisms for ensuring that the collection of biological resources does not adversely affect the conservation status of any species.

"Access to biological and genetic resources for environmentally sound uses is of strategic importance to Australia's capacity to develop a biotechnology industry," Senator Hill said. 'The inquiry will therefore look at options for implementing a streamlined access regime that, consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, delivers certainty for industry.'

The inquiry is an important opportunity for everyone with an interest in these issues to contribute to a system which will ensure that the Australian community gets maximum benefit from the commercial and scientific potential of our diverse biological resources."

South Australian legal practitioner Mr John Voumard will chair the inquiry. He will be supported by a reference group comprising specialists in environmental and intellectual property law, and representatives of the business, Indigenous and scientific communities.

The inquiry will consider public submissions and conduct hearings around Australia before reporting to Senator Hill by 30 June next year. The inquiry's terms of reference are available on the Environment Australia Website: www.environment.gov.au

Contacts:
Rod Bruem (Senator Hill's office) 02 6277 7640 or 0419 258 364
Con Boekel (Environment Australia) 02 6274 2894

Commonwealth of Australia