The Gene Technology Bill 2000 proposed a GTTAC and one committee (GTEC) to provide advice on ethical issues. During the first triennium of GTEC’s operations, however, it embrace ethics in the broad sense noted above, to include consideration of socio-economic and environmental issues that it construed as relevant to proper ethical analysis.
In the three years of GTEC and GTCCC operations there have been many instances where issues of concern have been raised in one committee that were also relevant to the functions of the other committee. On several occasions the cross-member between GTEC and GTCCC has recommended that the two committees would do well to combine their expertise and efforts to address matters such as the release of information and notification of DIRs, public attitudes on trans-kingdom gene transfer, and public attitudes to GMOs, as they might be relevant to the ethics of risk analysis or to ethical values and principles in general. Some roles and functions of GTEC and of GTCCC also overlap: both provide advice to the Regulator on matters of community concern (ethical and social issues) in relation to gene technology, both are required to keep abreast of local and international developments relevant to gene technology and both provide a forum for discussion and the provision of information to the community. It could be argued that the overlap between the two committees represents a duplication of operations and that greater efficiency would be achieved if one advisory committee were to provide advice on ethical and social issues.
GTEC notes that the membership provisions of GTEC in the s.111 of the Act currently require persons with skills or experience in areas such as ethics, law, religious practices, population health, agricultural practices, animal health and welfare, issues of concern to consumers in relation to gene technology and environmental systems. Membership of the GTCCC requires persons with skills or experience in environmental issues, consumer issues, the impact of gene technology on the community, issues relevant to the biotechnology industry and to gene technology research, public health issues, issues relevant to primary production and local government. Here too there is overlap. Both committees must have members competent to advise on public health, environmental and consumer issues.
GTEC notes that the GTCCC was established following a Senate amendment to the Bill. GTEC also understands that there is no analogous committee in any other local or international jurisdiction. GTEC suggests that the roles and functions undertaken across the two committees currently might be more efficiently combined and undertaken by one committee. GTEC suggests that the Review Panel consider the possibility of a regulatory system with two, rather than three, advisory committees: a technical advisory committee (GTTAC) and one committee that provides advice to the Regulator and Ministerial Council on ethics but in the broad sense in which GTEC has been operating over the past three years: embracing ethical, social and community concerns. GTEC suggests that an ethics committee, broadly conceived, would, with appropriate membership, in addition to advising on other ethical and risk matters, also have the expertise and experience to provide sound advice to the Regulator and the Ministerial Council on the provision of information to the community on matters of ethical and social concern in relation to gene technology.