BioWorld International Correspondent

After considerable debate, the Australian federal government and state governments agreed to a compromise that will allow stem cell research on embryo surpluses from Australian fertility programs.

But the legislation to permit the work still must get through the Australian Parliament including the Senate, which the current conservative government does not control, and may be amended.

Although work on embryos in Australia does not rouse the same passions as it does in the U.S. abortion has been legal in Australia for many years and is rarely mentioned as a political topic the required legislation still may be watered down.

The compromise proposed by Prime Minister John Howard is attracting considerable media interest in Australia and was reached only after reportedly fierce opposition by members of the Australian Federal Cabinet.

The proposal then was taken to a regular meeting of the governments of all the states and the federal government, where the states also agreed. A number of the states have their own legislation on the issue.

Last week, the federal minister who will be responsible for taking the legislation through parliament, Health Minister Kevin Andrews, declared on a national television program that he would not let his own strong opposition to the proposed law get in the way of his work.

However, he declared that if an amendment was moved to any key clause there would be a “free vote” on it, meaning that members of parliament would not be required to vote along party lines.