Coalition calls for inquiry extension in Senate committee report

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The Coalition has urged a Senate committee to extend its inquiry into changes to organ and tissue arrangements that have raised alarm amongst donor families.

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee has published its report on the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Amendment (Disclosure of Information) Bill 2023.

According to the Bill's explanatory memorandum, its purpose is to "broaden the disclosure of information provisions" in the enabling legislation for the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority (OTA)

However, donor families used their submissions to the inquiry to argue that the Bill includes a provision that practically restricts them from talking about their experience other than via official campaigns run by the OTA, DonateLife or a related entity.

Their concern has been compounded by the lack of consultation on the Bill.

The Bill protects families from prosecution under state and territory laws restricting communication about deceased donors but only where they consent to share their story through OTA or a DonateLife agency. Their own activities must also align with those of the government agencies to be protected from prosecution.

The Senate committee, chaired by Labor's Marielle Smith, has acknowledged the concerns of donor families in its report but recommended that it be supported.

The committee accepted reassurances from the OTA that Bill "will not affect the ownership of information relating to deceased donors and recipient, and that the bill does not impose any restrictions on how family members conduct community awareness, promotional, educational or commemorative activities or engage in any other communications about their loved one."

The health department also described the changes as "interim" to address immediate issues pending a broader review of state and territory laws "to properly resolve the disclosure of information issue as well as the other identified inconsistencies."

In its additional comments to the report, Coalition senators said, "The Coalition supports the intention of this Bill however it has concerns over the failure of the Labor Government to properly consult and communicate these changes."

"While this Bill does a lot to expand the list of authorised family members and permits the Organ and Tissue Authority, DonateLife agencies, grant recipients and authorised family members to publish, disseminate or disclose information about deceased donors for the purposes of the OTA’s community awareness, educational or commemorative activities, it doesn’t address concerns regarding the rights of donors, donor recipients and their families," they said, adding, "While the committee received a guarantee from the department that this amendment won’t impact the rights of organ donor families and recipients, more work must be done to clarify their concerns, or else this legislation will risk sending organ donation backwards."

The Coalition said the committee "must seek an extension from the Senate for this inquiry, so that donor families can have the opportunity to properly engage with the legislative process for a Bill that directly impacts them, and so that this committee can explore other ways in which this Bill can be improved upon."