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Stem Cell Research: A Case Study Of How Cabinet Works

This newspaper report provides a good case study of how Cabinet government works.

Note the interplay between Ministers, parliamentary committees, the Prime Minister, the public service and state governments.

The article points to the importance of ideological leanings amongst ministers. It also shows the role parliament can play in the formation of legislation.

Any study of Australian politics can never be complete unless it includes federalism. This article shows the involvement of state governments in the stem cell issue.

Cabinet to look at stem cell ban

by Steven Lewis

Federal Cabinet will consider today imposing a total ban on the use of human embryo stem cells for research purposes in a move certain to trigger a backlash from Australia’s scientific community.

The ban on therapeutic cloning, if endorsed by Cabinet, is also likely to harm Australia’s aspirations to be a global leader in biotechnology and other medical research practices.

It would go against a recommendation from the former federal health minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge, who last year backed claims that stem cell research was necessary to improve the chances of finding cures for illnesses such as diabetes and asthma.

The new recommendation, by the Minister for Ageing, Mr Kevin Andrews, a conservative Liberal, has also been sharply criticised by several key government departments, including Prime Minister and Cabinet.

A parliamentary committee, chaired by Mr Andrews, gave the go-ahead in September to such research although it recommended the introduction of tight controls.

Mr Andrews is expected to tell Cabinet that research could be conducted using surplus “adult” cells rather than using embryonic cells surplus from techniques such as IVF treatment.

Mr Andrews was not available for comment. But his hard-line stance is expected to receive support from other senior ministers.

The view of the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, will be crucial, with one senior government figure saying the Coalition was merely reflecting community opinion.

The Department of Industry has also recommended to its minister, Mr Ian Macfarlane, that he reject the Andrews recommendation on the ground that it will set back Australia’s aspirations to be a leader in the global biotechnology industry.

Cabinet’s backing for the Andrews submission is likely to cause a fallout with the States and territories, which have been working with Canberra on a national framework for cloning.

Several States have backed the use of stem cell research and were expected to reach formal agreement in April. The Attorney-General’s Department is also understood to have cast doubt on the Commonwealth’s legal position in overriding the States.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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