"The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has refused to block the continued use of rabbit calicivirus as a control device pending the hearing of a challenge to the Government decision to register the product.
Seeking to overturn the registration of the rabbit calicivirus injection
by the National Registration Authority is an organisation known as Defence Coalition Against RCD Incorporated. It was formed to
oppose use of the product.
At the request of the CSIRO, the authority registered the injection last September, on condition that the product carry a 12-month use-by date and that data be provided supporting the nominated shelf life.
Rabbit calicivirus works by infecting rabbits with rabbit haemorrhagic disease which, the authorities hope, will result in rabbit deaths on a massive scale. Defence Coalition is challenging the decision to register the product, and the authority's refusal to reconsider registration or suspend registration. It is proceeding in
both the tribunal and the Federal Court.
Its most recent application was for a stay of the authority's decision pending a full tribunal hearing. This was refused recently by Deputy President T.E.Barnett in Perth. The next stage will be fought in court.
The organisation believes rabbit calicivirus is unsafe for registration.
Among other things, it asserts that: the origins of RHD in China are
unknown; the genetic mechanisms resulting in RHD-induced death are unknown; the modes of RHD transmission across oceans and
between continents are unknown; the host range of RHD is virtually
certain to extend beyond rabbits; RHD vaccines are not available to protect non-rabbit species, including humans; and RHD may have already affected human health.
In Australia, it is claimed, RHD is uncontrollable, unpredictable
and often unreliable as a rabbit-control agent. The reality of having RHD loose is that virtually every Australian and New Zealand RHD program prediction has been turned into a "statement of silly foolishness".
It is argued that the tribunal should stay registration now.
If left until after a full hearing, it might be "too late" because
of the significant risk. The more the product was spread around, the greater the risk of an unintended target becoming infected.
The authority did not seek to counter these claims. Instead, it
argued that the tribunal's jurisdiction was limited to the two conditions attached to the registration. If it granted a stay, the
conditions would disappear. The product could still be used,
but without the present safeguards and the applicant would achieve nothing.
It argued also that it would be a denial of natural justice to grant a stay without the CSIRO and farmers having a say. Noting that the product had been registered for several months and been released widely, the tribunal said other parties had an interest in the matter.
These included the CSIRO, farmers, the manufacturers of the virus,
animal-rights proponents and animal lovers (who might favour or oppose the product, depending on which animal life they were concerned for), scientists and health specialists (who might be concerned that the virus could mutate or affect foxes and feral cats and even humans), and the general public, some of whom may favour a rabbit-free environment, while others may put a higher priority on an environment free of a potentially dangerous virus.
The tribunal said it could not assess the competing interests at this stage or how they might be affected by a stay. And given the authority's attitude - it would treat a stay order as requiring the removal of registration conditions - suspension of the product might not be desirable or appropriate."