Australian medical researchers are attempting to formulate a response to some of the ethical issues in medical research. The debate over the in vitro fertilisation programme has highlighted some community concern about research ethics and the role of the ethics committee. While very little is known about Australian ethics committees, it appears that a two-tiered approach comprising both ethical review and scientific review is acceptable to the research community. However, this approach plus some problems with the nature of informed consent, begs the question of the role of these committees in the broader context of medical research in the community. Important aspects of a seminar for members of hospital ethics committees are reported.