Gene technology, risk, regulation and communication
thesisposted on 2023-05-26, 07:59 authored by Gogarty, B
This thesis examines the social, political and legal basis for the establishment of a\ national regime for the oversight of risks posed by gene technology in Australia.\ It provides an overview of the public debate about gene technology and considers\ how that debate served to motivate and shift the focus of regulatory reform which\ led to the Gene Technology Act 2000 (Cth) (GTA).\ The debate about gene technology belies a much deeper social preoccupation with\ novel risk generally - something described by risk theorists as the 'risk society'.\ This risk society has placed pressure on legislatures to manage the perceived risks\ posed by novel technologies or to use novel technologies to manage man-made or\ natural risks. Yet the traditionally prescriptive and cumbersome process of\ regulatory reform is ill-suited to the pace and transient nature of scientific\ innovation. Consequently, legislatures have developed a new legislative form,\ risk governance, designed to provide a more flexible scientifically based\ response to novel technologies. This form of legislation is exemplified by the\ GTA. Yet risk governance has proved to create problems of its own. Maintaining\ regulatory flexibility necessitates that rule making is virtually, if not officially,\ undertaken outside of the parliamentary process. Furthermore, because risk\ governance adopts a scientifically based assessment and management process\ (risk analysis) it must co-opt technical specialists (the subjects of regulation) into\ the decision making process. These factors have contributed to risk governance\ being perceived as anti-democratic in some quarters. Such perceptions are agitated\ by a growing distrust of technocrat's ability to serve the public interest in the risk\ society. Lack of trust was a major theme throughout the Australian gene\ technology debate.\ The response to public distrust in technocratic oversight of novel technology has\ been the inception of risk communication, a process that encourages public\ involvement in risk analysis. Unfortunately, best practice risk communication has\ tended to be promulgated in policy but avoided in practice - something revealed\ with the commercialisation of gene technology. This has resulted in increased\ pressure to put promise into practice by institutionalising participatory risk\ communication principles within risk governance. I have referred to this more\ democratic regulatory form as 'deliberative risk governance'.\ The GTA was enacted with the promise that it would involve the public in all\ aspects of regulating risks posed by gene technology. I consider how we arrived\ at such a system, if it matters and whether the promise of deliberative risk\ governance is real, efficacious and genuine within this act.