Wednesday, 11 September 2019
National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2019; Second Reading
This is an important bill which I'll say more about in a few moments, but with the indulgence of the House I'll first say that, as we speak, an event which has full bipartisan support is just finishing outside the chamber—that is, the Big Aussie Barbie in support of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. I am the acting co-chair of the foundation, as Jason Clare, the member for Blaxland, is on sick leave. It has the full-throttle support of both sides of parliament.
This morning the member for Leichhardt and I had our PSA tests done jointly, in the same booth, to provide the level of bipartisan support necessary to lift the importance of testing and to remind men of the importance of prostate cancer testing, particularly for men over 50. The member for Leichhardt was kind enough to point out that I have a few years to go before I'm 50. Nevertheless, I've done the test. It's a good idea to have the test done even if you still have a four at the front of your age, as I do, but it's particularly important for men 50 and above to have the test.
The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Leichhardt and I have just addressed those at the barbecue and expressed full-throttle, bipartisan support for this important initiative, which has been driven by the member for Leichhardt and the member for Blaxland, together with others, for many years in this chamber. Pathology Australia has done a good job in providing the complimentary tests for honourable members and their staff today, which I believe are still available—
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
At the private dining rooms.
I'll be here for a little bit, but the member for Lingiari should proceed, at some pace, to go and get his test done.
I know this is not directly germane to the bill before the House, but it is health related. We should take every opportunity to lift the profile of prostate cancer, as every honourable member here does regularly. I would encourage honourable members, as I am doing, to hold their own Big Aussie Barbie in their electorates. I'm doing it in a week or so. I'm holding a big barbecue in St Clair in my electorate, and all the residents of St Clair and Erskine Park and environs are very welcome to come to that barbecue.
The opposition supports the legislation before the House. It is a sensible updating of the arrangements for pharmaceutical benefits. We have been engaged with the government on the process which led to the bill before the House, so of course it will receive our support. The National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2019 makes two relatively minor changes to the supply of medicines. It's well over a year since the 2018 budget was delivered, but the first change in this bill implements a measure from that budget, which is to recover the costs of the pharmacy approvals process. As many members know, applications to open or relocate pharmacies are assessed by the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority, which makes recommendations to the minister's delegate. Under the bill before us, the cost of this process will be recovered from applicants. I note that this cost recovery was due to begin on 1 July 2019 but it wasn't listed in parliament in time. While that occurred, taxpayers continued to foot the bill.
Under the second change, the bill aims to continue supply for PBS medicines following bankruptcy or external administration of pharmacies. The bill sets out a framework to allow the Secretary of the Department of Health to grant and revoke permission to a trustee to supply PBS medicines at a location where the approved pharmacist is bankrupt. The government says this will ensure access to pharmaceutical benefits to an affected pharmacy is not compromised in the meantime.
We have consulted pharmacists, the Pharmacy Guild and associated bodies, and we will support this bill. It is a sensible change.
There are a number of other barriers to accessing medicines in Australia that are not addressed by this bill, including PBS listings. I note that there are 60 medicines recommended by the PBAC currently which have not been listed by the minister, including Symdeko, which is an important drug for cystic fibrosis treatment. Symdeko should be listed by the minister. The minister said he would. Of course there are 59 other drugs which are not listed by the minister despite the fact the PBAC has recommended that they should be.
Waiting lists have never been higher and out-of-pocket costs have never been higher than under this government. It's important the government recognise that and take action. One of the things they can do to address out-of-pocket costs for people suffering various conditions is to list the medicines that have been approved by the PBAC. That could improve the situation. The minister likes to say that when the PBAC recommends a pharmaceutical to the minister, he acts on it. Well, he doesn't. He doesn't always act on it. Sixty medicines have been recommended to the minister. Accordingly, I foreshadow that I will be moving a second reading amendment to this bill. That will give the House the opportunity to express the view to the minister that he should do better. Pharmaceutical listings are not about a Sunday media event at every opportunity; they are about giving relief to Australians who need it.
Last week I visited Jordan and Tracy. Jordan is a sufferer of cystic fibrosis and so are two of his siblings. Three out of four children in the family suffer from cystic fibrosis. Symdeko would not be a suitable medicine for each of them, but it would be for at least one of them. The massive improvement in his quality of life that would result from having Symdeko available to him and the extension, potentially, in his life span of up to 20 years are not things to be disregarded by the minister. But so far it has been disregarded by the minister, despite the very clear recommendation from the PBAC to list Symdeko for sufferers of cystic fibrosis.
Other honourable members will have other examples of constituents in their electorates who are suffering from cystic fibrosis who may benefit from Symdeko, who at least should have the option, based on the very best clinical advice to them, to seek advice as to whether Symdeko would be suitable for them, but they just simply can't afford it. The cost is astronomical for families. There would be very few families in Australia who could afford Symdeko. This is, as I said, one more example of a drug which has failed to be listed by the minister. Accordingly, I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House criticises the Government for its record of delayed and withdrawn Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listings".
It is interesting to have the shadow minister, Mr Bowen, give his opinion on where the PBS is at. However, the work we're doing on the PBS, bringing new medicines onto the scheme each and every month, is something the federal government are exceptionally proud of. The opportunity for us to have this structure has been put together in a bipartisan way. Both sides of politics have had a hand in developing the PBS to make it assume this role within Australian society. Our drug companies are given the opportunity to go away and develop, and to introduce new drugs onto the market that are going to find a way to make lives better for people who have a whole raft of ailments.
However, over a period of time, these subsidies are taken away and generics have the opportunity to flood the market at a much more affordable price. But in that time where these drugs are put on the market for exorbitant amounts, it is with the recommendation of the board that these drugs are put onto the PBS. So we're very proud of the work that we have done and we plan to continue with this work. Adding extra billions of dollars to most of our budgets in the last few years has seen billions of dollars added to the PBS to ensure that more and more drugs are going to be able to be put on the market—