This morning in Canberra, MPs, Senators and staff have been attending a seminar on embryonic stem cell research organised by Liberals Mal Washer and Jeannie Ferris.

Washer is a medico and Ferris has seen over cancer. They put together some impressive speakers – Australian Chief Scientist, Dr Jim Peacock, Professor Loane Skene, ethicist and deputy chair of the Lockhart Committee, neuroscientist Professor Peter Schofield, another Committee member, Professor Peter Rathjen, a biochemist and Dean of Science at Melbourne Uni and Australian of the Year for 2006 and immunologist Professor Ian Frazer.

There are two private members’ bills on stem cell research waiting in the wings – one from former health minister Kay Patterson and another from Democrat Natasha Stott-Despoja. The numbers mean Patterson’s is more likely to proceed. There will be a conscience vote.

It’s interesting what pollies say when they can speak freely. Debates on matters of conscience tend to bring out the best in the Parliament. Pols must enjoy being let off the leash.

And it’s going to be interesting to have a conscience vote around the same time as the media bills are being debated. Pols enjoy being let off the leash. They also enjoy being patted and being told that they’re a “good boy” or “good girl”. That might mean they also bark and whine over Helen Coonan’s proposals.

Peter Fray

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