House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022; Second Reading

10:46 am

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

As a nurse, I know how difficult it can be for people to manage the health needs of themselves or their loved ones. It is complex, often tiring and often stressful to navigate managing your health or the health of your family. Often individuals have to calculate multiple health concerns, think about multiple medications, visit multiple health services. It's hard enough for many patients to remember their care regimes, let alone deal with the stressors that come with illness. They shouldn't need to deal with the further stress of financial strain on top of their illness.

Of the 19 million Australians eligible for savings under this bill, people filling just one script a month could save around $150 a year. Those filling two scripts a month could save around $300 a year. That is a lot of money for say someone on the minimum wage. The bill will also allow optional discounting by pharmacies for specific PBS prescriptions via an optional reduction in the maximum price of a medicine. We recognise that it is an established practice for some pharmacists to discount medicine to at or below the current general patient co-payment. Instead of this meaning that the new co-payment price leads to an increase for some patients, these amendments will ensure that no patient is worse off. This means, for example, that Sophia, who lives with elevated intra-ocular pressure, a leading risk factor for glaucoma, will continue to pay the $27 her local pharmacy charges her for each script of her eye drops. To ensure no patient is worse off, the amount paid by the patient will still be counted towards the safety net threshold.

The current system, as I said, is complex for people to navigate. Under current policy, if a patient was given 40 scripts to fill in one year and all were priced at or above the current $42.50 co-payment rate, then they would have paid $1,445 for the first 34 scripts. At that point of reaching the safety net, their additional six scripts will cost them less but will still bring their total cost to $1,485. Under our policy, if a patient had 40 scripts to fill, they could fill all of those and have spent only $1,200 in total, which means they don't reach the safety net threshold and they will have saved $285. That's a real difference to out-of-pocket costs.

From 1 January 2023 this bill will enable pharmacists to continue to provide a discretionary discount for drugs with a price between the new and the old co-payments, $30 and $42.50 respectively. Establishing this discretionary discount means that Sophia should continue to pay only $27 for her tablets. This is creating real savings for families over the long term. As we know, there are so many Australians who require medication over a long period of time.

Over 1.3 million Australians, more than five per cent of the population, live with diabetes. One treatment option for diabetes is a combination of pills which are on the PBS. Ann is 35, she has diabetes and she needs that medication. She has been prescribed tablets, and she has to take them every single day. This means filling 13 scripts a year at a cost of $42.50 per script. With rising costs, Ann has tried to find extra work after hours and extra days to help contribute to her medical costs. Under this bill, from 1 January 2023 Ann will only pay $30 per script, saving her $162.50 per year. Ann needs this medication so she can thrive in her day-to-day life.

These are the kinds of reforms that a Labor government delivers. This is what Labor does. Having spent so much of my life in the healthcare system as a nurse, I'm proud to stand and support it here today. This bill will ease pressure on families and will do so quickly. I'm pleased to hear the debate on this issue and I look forward to hearing from others in the House and the Senate this week. I urge the opposition and the crossbench to really think about the positives in the legislation. It's important that it passes this year so that savings to households can come into effect from 1 January next year. That's a real boost to household budgets in the short term that our Labor government is pleased to be providing.

The reforms are needed now. We came into government with a promise to address the issues plaguing our health system left by the previous government. We came into a government with a promise to strengthen Medicare, because we understand Australians deserve access to the medicines they need and their postcode should not determine the healthcare they get. They shouldn't have to sacrifice and scrimp to afford the medications they need to get through the day. This bill delivers on that commitment. It delivers a fairer deal for all Australians. I hope all members in this place will support it.

10:52 am

Sophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. The cost-of-living crisis is impacting Australians hard. Inflation continues to increase and is set to peak at eight per cent. Interest rates are rising, as has the cost of petrol, energy and food. The past few years and months have created the perfect storm. The price of powering a heater has surged due to a nine-year failure in energy policy by the previous government. The cost of filling up a car is almost double what it was 12 months ago. Extreme weather events have impacted our supply chains. At one stage an iceberg lettuce was nearly $12. The maximum co-payment for a medical prescription has doubled since 2000.

But now things will change. As a local GP, I know that even long before the current cost-of-living crisis the cost of medications has been a major issue for many Australians, particularly for those with chronic disease, co-morbidities, or a family with a number of children. As a GP developing treatment plans for the average everyday Australian, I know that the cost of medications and therapies needs to be taken into account. By reducing co-payments for medications to a maximum of $30, down from $42.50, someone with two or three medications can save up to $450 a year. That is why I welcome the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill. It is a small but significant and important cost-of-living measure that will support millions of everyday Australians.

Over the last few weeks I have spoken to a number of pharmacists in my electorate. All welcomed this legislation. One pharmacist in particular, who owns pharmacies in both my electorate of Mackellar and in Western Sydney, expressly told me how critically important this bill will be in his Western Sydney practice. He described how it is increasingly common for customers to ask their pharmacist which medicines are the least essential, because they can't afford all of them. He told me that he believes cutting the cost of medications to a maximum of $30 a script will make a significant difference to many of his customers.

Equity of access to health care is a core principal of the Australian health system. I would like to acknowledge that the former government pursued this goal by decreasing the PBS safety net threshold. This bill goes one step further by limiting the cost of each individual script for those not already on concession cards. But decreasing the cost of medicines is only a start when it comes to equity of access to health care in Australia. So I take this opportunity to call on the government to do more to make health care more accessible for all Australians.

There is also a looming crisis in primary health care in this country. The cost of seeing a GP has been steadily rising for years, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to even get an appointment to see a GP, especially one that bulk-bills. The waiting times are getting longer and longer. In some rural and regional areas, the wait to see a GP, I'm told, can be months. These are significant barriers to ordinary Australians accessing health care.

Just yesterday I received an email message from a constituent who said: 'I sometimes have to skip my medication to make it last longer. Getting a doctor's appointment is near impossible, especially a bulk-billed one, and paying for consultation fees isn't in the budget.' So what needs to be done in this regard? Firstly, we need to decrease the cost of seeing a GP by increasing the Medicare rebate. Following a several-year freeze of the Medicare rebate, more and more general practice owners facing increasing costs and stagnant revenue have had to adapt by introducing private billing of their patients. Most GPs in my electorate are now private billing.

I was recently visited in my Mackellar office by the CEO of Cornerstone Health, a healthcare company which has the stated purpose of increasing access to quality primary health care for all Australians by providing a network of bulk-billing GP services across the states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Henry Bateman, the CEO, told me that even they, as a corporate healthcare provider, are feeling the pressure to implement a co-payment due to the long-term inadequacy of the Medicare rebate. If this were to happen, it would mean that access to bulk-billed GP services would be significantly curtailed even further. Unless there is a change, the cost of visiting a GP will become increasingly prohibitive for many, meaning millions of people will simply delay or avoid medical care.

Barriers to seeing a GP have been further compounded by the chronic shortage of GPs that has been slowly growing over the past couple of decades. Deloitte Access Economics forecast that by 2030 Australia will be short 10,000 GPs across the country, or almost 25 per cent of the workforce. My electorate of Mackellar is already 17 per cent below the Australian average number of GPs per 100,000, and many doctors are not able to see new patients.

Additionally, the GP workforce is an ageing one. Almost 25 per cent of GPs in my electorate of Mackellar are over 65 years old. That's a potential decrease of 25 per cent of GPs if they retire over the next five to 10 years. We simply don't have enough medical graduates undertaking general practice training. Only 15 per cent of junior doctors are specialising as GPs. We need policy measures that build on advocacy to drive this number to what the AMA believes should be 50 per cent.

Both of these factors outlined above—the increasing cost to see a GP coupled with GP shortages—mean that people are instead presenting to emergency departments to get their medical care, thereby putting extra strain on an already overstretched and stressed hospital system. We also know that GPs are critical to preventive health. The problem is not going away. It is forecast to get worse. We need to act strategically now to resolve the current GP shortage before it becomes a full-blown crisis. The Royal Australian College of GPs' 'Become a GP' campaign is a start, but there need to be more incentives at a tertiary level and we need for the workplace to drive the uptake. So I applaud the Minister for Health and Aged Care, who has stated that GP shortages will be a priority for him.

There is a simple policy measure similar to the PBS medications co-payment bill that, if implemented, would go a long way to solving the problem of the GP shortage—that is, increasing the Medicare rebate. This would help to address the high cost of visiting a GP while also supporting GP practices to remain viable. We are still playing catch-up from a six-year freeze—six years when the cost to doctors increased and the CPI increased. What is needed is a reasonable increase in the Medicare rebate, one that will help relieve the cost-of-living pressures of everyday Australians, by reducing GP fees, while balancing the considerations of our current national debt. That increase would also assist doctors to continue to bulk-bill and help to incentivise more new doctors to become GPs.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend this bill to the House. Lowering the cost of medications will deliver a reduced cost of living for many Australians and improve equity of access to health care. I look forward to further health equity measures being implemented to increase access to primary healthcare services.

11:01 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to be speaking about the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. I know the Speaker's chair is neutral, but I'm particularly keen to do so with you in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker Freelander.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you!

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians will remember that we went to the last election with a commitment to cutting the cost of medications. The Labor Party gave a commitment that we would cut the cost of medications by reducing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment from the current maximum of $42.50 per script to a maximum of $30 per script, a reduction of 29 per cent. Under our bill—an Albanese government bill—a person taking one medication a month could save $150 per year; those people taking two medications per month could save as much as $300 to $450 each year.

After nine years of neglect by coalition governments, the costs of living are soaring and many Australians are cutting back on essentials in order to make ends meet. This will be the first time in the PBS's 75-year history that the maximum cost of general scripts under the PBS will fall. Under the PBS, patients make a co-payment towards the cost of each PBS medicine, with the Commonwealth covering the remaining cost, which can vary from zero to thousands of dollars per prescription. This keeps otherwise expensive medicines affordable.

Just for some history: the very first attempt to legislate for a scheme to provide approved prescription medicines, such as antibiotics, free of charge to Australian residents was made by the Curtin Labor government back in 1944. So if you're an Australian resident and you hold a current Medicare card then you're eligible to receive benefits under the PBS. Ensuring access to cheaper medicines is part of our belief that all Australians deserve access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care. No-one should have to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing for their families.

These changes to the PBS will take effect from 1 January next year and will save Australians more than $190 million in out-of-pocket costs. The existing safety-net provisions will continue, and all scripts currently counting towards the patient safety net will continue to do so.

The maximum cost to general patients for PBS medications has doubled—doubled!—since 2000. Sadly, the former coalition governments—the Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison progression—did nothing to fix this problem. Not only is this measure good for household budgets. This government knows that the health of Australians is so important because if don't have your health then everything else becomes secondary. The Albanese government understand this, and that is why we want to do what we can to make sure Australians have access to affordable medicines by listing every drug recommended by the independent experts on the PBS. We know that people are being forced to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing food, shelter, warmth et cetera for their families.

We've heard from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that, because of the high cost of medications, nearly one million Australians delayed or didn't fill their prescriptions for medication in the 2019-20 year. Think about that for a moment. Nearly one million Australians—they could be your grandparents, your neighbours, your family, our children. One million Australians who were prescribed medicines by qualified doctors because they were sick were then not able to take that same medication, because they could not afford to do so. We know what not taking your medicine means. Not taking your medicine means it can take longer for you to recover—if you recover at all. It can mean more time out of the workplace, serious complications, hospitalisation and all the costs that come with that. This means that, in the long term, not taking medication can be unhealthy for an individual and unhealthy for our economy. More people ending up in hospital can lead to higher healthcare costs.

Last Sunday was World Pharmacists Day, in recognition of the vital role that community pharmacies play in caring for the health of their patients. Pharmacists see a lot in their day-to-day workplace. They do much more than provide advice on medicines and their side effects. They are one of the centres of local communities. They provide health advice. They provide health care and make a difference in their local communities. Their connection with community is great because they are the most accessible of all health professionals and have been at the front line of providing health services during these incredibly challenging and stressful times associated with COVID.

In the communities I represent and in communities throughout Australia, people rely heavily on our pharmacists to help us get through some of the health difficulties. Pharmacies have consistently spoken of their experiences of having to deal with patients that come to them with multiple scripts and seek advice about which ones they really need to fill—an economic question for a health professional. Why is this? It is because some people can't afford to fill them all. Patients often decide to fill a script that might give them immediate relief—for example, pain medication—but not fill a script that's actually very important for their longer term health. Across my electorate of Moreton, most local pharmacists have welcomed the action by the Albanese government to cut the out-of-pocket costs their patients pay for medicines on the PBS.

Kuraby is at the southern end of my electorate, next to Treasurer Chalmers's electorate of Ranking. It's got a high percentage of people from overseas, and in many family homes English is their fifth language. Sohail Ashgar is the pharmacist at Home Pharmacy in Kuraby, and he's been there for quite some time. He's the only pharmacist in Kuraby and he knows just about everyone. He has commended the move by the Albanese Labor government to cut the maximum co-payment for drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from $42.50 down to $30. Sohail says, 'This move is the best course of action to make sure that the people are not missing out on essential medication because of the expense. He said he has seen a recent uptick, especially amongst elderly patients struggling with the cost of their medications. The tragic reality, says Sohail, is that he and his staff have seen too many customers being forced to choose which essential medication to go without. Sohail told of cases where patients have been cutting tablets in half in order to make them last longer. Sohail said that it has become quite regular for patients to go weeks without picking up their medication at all—an economic decision. Sohail made it clear that these sorts of things have become too common and can leave vulnerable patients at high risk of further illness, which, as we know, will then put a larger economic strain on the healthcare system, which could be avoided. Sohail cares and said, 'Our country is better off when people are as healthy as possible.' Thank you for your service to your community, Sohail.

There is the suburb of Acacia Ridge, which is a part of my electorate that has a significant proportion of residents with long-term health issues. It's a battler suburb that my grandfather moved into in the forties. The staff at Chemist Warehouse Acacia Ridge have noticed in recent months an increase in people not being able to afford crucial medication. The chemists said that, when people are in a position where they just can't afford to put those few extra dollars towards their medication, it is really difficult for the patients' wellbeing. However, this change by the Albanese government will make huge difference for many people in the Acacia Ridge community and will be a huge direct relief for many regular patients that visit the chemist.

Fairfield Gardens Chemist said that these changes will have a positive impact on the Fairfield community. While they haven't seen the same struggle to afford medication as I've mentioned in Kuraby and Acacia Ridge, the chemist knows very well that chemists right across the country are seeing devastating scenes of Australians, especially our elderly, being unable to purchase essential medication. The Fairfield chemist made it clear that cheaper medicine is always a benefit to society.

Then there's Salisbury, a suburb next to my home suburb of Moorooka. It's a suburb undergoing a huge transformation. Younger families are moving into the area. And, like elsewhere, housing prices are going up. So, while the cost of medication has always been an issue, this latest medicines announcement is great for the Salisbury locals. Lowering the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment threshold means that the elderly regulars at the chemist will save money on medication and will have more to spend on regular, day-to-day items.

And finally to the suburb of Yeronga—a suburb hammered by the floods in February this year. I know the member for Sydney came to that part of my electorate and saw the devastation firsthand.

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I did.

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yeronga is a suburb that is basically surrounded by the Brisbane River. Many of the residents are of reasonable means. However, staff at the Yeronga Village pharmacy told me that they have witnessed a rise in older patients struggling with the cost of medicines.

It makes sense that, as we get older, our health deteriorates, and so our reliance on medication increases. And, as we know, as we get older our income tends not to increase. So, while this measure will benefit many in my local community, it will especially have a positive impact for many local seniors.

We live in a very rich country, and Australians should not have to decide which family member they can afford to treat or which medication they should go without. No longer will general patients taking medication like apixaban for the prevention of stroke have to choose between their script and their groceries—and I hope I got that pronunciation right, for the doctors in the house!

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Very good.

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill will ensure that they receive the essential medical care needed to prevent serious illness.

This bill fulfils the Albanese government's election promise to cut the cost of medicines and ease cost-of-living pressures for Australians. Cutting the price of medicines by nearly one-third will mean that more people can afford to get the medications they need to stay healthy, without worrying so much about the price. This bill will put close to $200 million back into the pockets of Australians each and every year, helping millions of Australians living pay cheque to pay cheque, week to week.

This bill also fulfils the Albanese government's election promise to cut the cost of medicines and ease cost-of-living pressures for all Australians. I commend the legislation to the House.

11:12 am

Monique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise also to speak in support of this National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. Firstly, may I just note how nice it is to speak on a bill in such a bipartisan way—

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Monique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you!—and how pleasant it has been, over the last couple of days, to hear from so many people with a medical professional background, like the members for Dobell, Robertson, Cooper and Mackellar—pharmacists, nurses, doctors—about how strongly we feel about our PBS and its value in this country.

But I have to say that medicine affordability matters to all Australians, not just to those of us who have been involved in the healthcare sector. In 2020-21, almost two-thirds of us needed at least one PBS medication. In total, 314 million prescriptions were dispensed under the PBS or the RPBS.

This bill will reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general patient charge from $42.50 to $30, indexed annually. Three point six million Australians with current scripts costing more than $30 will immediately save money as a result of this bill.

The PBS is a vital part of our medical system. It ensures that Australians have timely, reliable and affordable access to safe medicines. It keeps otherwise overly expensive medications affordable.

This move to decrease the co-payment for medication is a significant one. It is the first time in the 75-year history of the PBS that that co-payment has been cut.

It's worth remembering, though, that this bill only applies to the more expensive medications, and for a subgroup of Australians. It will primarily benefit people who do not purchase a substantial amount of PBS medications each year and so do not hit the safety net threshold, and those who do not qualify for concession cards. The bill does not affect the safety net threshold or the concessional co-payment amount.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2019-2020 nearly 900,000 Australians delayed having prescriptions filled or did not have them filled at all due to the cost of those medications. People who need to pick and choose which script they will fill and which one they will defer are potentially risking their health. They are also potentially having to put up with loss of function and with pain. Parents shouldn't have to choose between getting the medication that they need and putting food on the table for their families.

I also note that we know that many PBS medications costing less than $30 per script will increase in cost after 1 October. This results from agreements made by the previous government with manufacturers to increase the cost of almost 1,000 medications. This happened during the COVID pandemic in mid-2021 as a result of the minimum stock holding requirements strategic agreement. But the fact remains that a $20 or $25 script is not a minor consideration for many Australian families. We need our government to advocate effectively on our behalf to secure medications as inexpensively as possible for this hugely important scheme.

Finally, I would like to note that we need our government to promote best-practice prescribing. In March 2022 the Morrison government defunded the NPS MedicineWise scheme. NPS MedicineWise is a 24-year-old scheme providing national leadership, education and resources on the best-practice use of medications and medication safety in Australia. Its programs and resources reach all GPs. They reach one-third of residential aged-care facilities across Australia. The program has made significant improvements to the health of Australians by reducing medication errors and decreasing overprescription. Its importance has been highlighted in the reports from the aged-care commission on the safety of medications and the frequency of medication errors in aged-care facilities.

With the Albanese government Minister Butler had the chance to reverse the decision to cancel the NPS MedicineWise scheme, but he chose not to do so. I believe the Albanese government has erred in not reversing the decision to cancel the NPS MedicineWise program. Proposals to transfer its activities to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care or to competitive grant processes are undeveloped and relatively underfunded. Given that the government spends $14 billion a year on the PBS, the $24 million a year spent on the NPS is a pittance, especially given that this program has delivered a net return on investment of more than two to one to the federal government by delivering more than $1.1 billion in direct savings for the PBS and NPS—improvements like a 25 per cent decrease in the overprescription of some antibiotics, prevention of 50,000 unnecessary scans for low back pain, and half a million fewer scripts for opioids, saving us more than $9 billion. The health of the Australian people and our budget bottom line will only be improved by ongoing support from our government for consumer education programs which improve health literacy.

This bill provides the targeted healthcare intervention that we need to help those most in need of assistance with cost-of-living pressures. To further improve our health system we need to optimise our use of prescription medications and to improve our healthcare outcomes. I call on the Albanese government to reverse its decision to withdraw support for the NPS MedicineWise program.

11:19 am

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. This is a very important bill. We know that with the cost of living going up at the moment, and interest rates, we hear many, many people, not just over this period where it's becoming even more difficult, but over a period of time people making really tough, hard decisions. One of the things that they're jeopardising is their health. We hear people who are on very, very low incomes saying things like: 'Which medication can I go without to be able to pay the rent? Which medication can I go without to pay the electricity bill?' That is very detrimental not only to them and their health but also to the nation as a whole, because when people get sicker it costs the public more and more to keep them healthy. So it's a very important bill. It's a bill that acknowledges that we are trying to make it a little bit easier for Australians who are, as I said, having to make very difficult choices about how to make their money last and what to prioritise.

Medication is an expense that people often have no choice about. They rely on medication to stay well and even to stay alive. We can look at just a few illnesses around the place which mean people are reliant on medication, like diabetes, with insulin pumps and a whole range of things. Other people rely on their blood pressure tablets or cholesterol treatment—things that have to be taken for the rest of their lives. These aren't choices that people make. It's the circumstances of their health that have put them in this situation, which gives them that added cost on the day-to-day costs of living. As I said, we know that patients have been choosing between getting the health care that they need and providing for their families. So this is a very important bill. It'll make it easier for people to afford their medications and not go without essential medication.

The bill proposes to reduce the PBS general co-payment from its current amount of $42.50 to $30, subject to annual indexation. It will also enable pharmacies to apply an optional discount to the price of some PBS medicines. This is delivering the biggest cut to the cost of medicines in the 75-year history of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or PBS, as the acronym is. So it's very important. It is a change that will make a difference to people's lives. We went to the last election with a commitment to decrease the general co-payment from January 1 2023, and that promise is being kept as we see this bill presented here in the parliament.

The PBS is an important scheme which ensures people can afford essential medication. In fact, I'd say it would be one of the best schemes that I've seen anywhere in the world; sometimes we have to look at the type of country that we live in, where we provide these services. But, at the same time, we have to ensure that these services are provided within a person's ability to source them, and this will assist with that. The last thing we want is people making choices whether they get their medication or they don't get their medication and they pay for some other essential service.

Patients generally pay a co-payment, as we know, towards the cost of each PBS medicine. Concession card holders pay less. Once patients have spent over a certain amount on PBS medicines, then they can qualify for the PBS Safety Net. This means that general patients will then pay a lower amount for medicines and concession card holders will receive medicines for free for the remainder of that calendar year, once they go over that threshold.

This is a much, much needed reform after almost a decade of neglect from the former government in this area. We saw co-payments for Medicare going up. It was harder to find GPs, as you would know yourself, Deputy Speaker Freelander. The eradication and eating away of our health system over the last 10 years has been detrimental to Australians and detrimental to the health of Australians, which means that added burden of cost. In some ways, the former government thought that they were saving money by making all these cuts or by not ensuring that legislation was keeping up to date, but the reality is that it ends up costing governments more through the deterioration of a person's health.

We have to look at the future in terms of the benefits that you get as a whole, not just the actual cost itself. I think health care is one of the essential needs that we, as a government, should provide to people. People should be able to access health care, whether it be medicines or whether it be a hospital bed, regardless of their credit card or income. Medicare, which was a Labor initiative, has been one of the greatest things that we have done in this country.

Look at systems around the world, Mr Deputy Speaker, where people have no choice. If they get sick, they're then burdened with poverty for the rest of their lives. They basically don't have the ability to recover their health. I remember speaking to a driver in Bali many years ago. We were talking about the health system, and I said to him, 'What happens when you get sick and need to access a hospital or a doctor if you don't have money?' His direct answer was: 'It's too bad. You will die.' That is a really sad situation to be in.

We really need to keep an eye on our health system to make sure it doesn't deteriorate and that we protect Medicare. I'm so pleased that, at election after election, there has been a commitment by the Labor side of politics to maintain Medicare, strengthen it and ensure it's available to everyone, regardless of their postcode and regardless of their credit card, because it is a right in this country. Everyone should have access to health care.

The co-payment for general patients has doubled since 2000. Since 2000, we've seen a doubling of what people have to pay for pharmaceuticals and medicines. According to the ABS, more than 900,000 Australians delayed getting or didn't get a script filled in 2019-20 due to cost. That's nearly a million people. If you think of the damage that may have been done to their health and what that ends up costing us, Mr Deputy Speaker, it far outweighs the cost of making sure people have the ability to get their medicines. Is this the type of country we want to live in—one where over a million people make a choice to delay getting script or not to get a script because they can't afford it? All Australians, as I said, should have access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care. No-one should be faced with having to make the dreadful choice between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing for their families, paying the rent, paying energy bills et cetera.

As I said, the PBS is a significant component of the government's investment in our health system. It provides significant direct assistance to make medicines affordable, and affordable throughout the financial year. The co-payment makes the scheme sustainable, while the Commonwealth pays the remaining cost. Of course, many PBS medicines cost significantly more than the patient contribution. The maximum patient co-payment for the 2022 calendar year is $42.50 for general patients. Under this bill, Australians will now pay only $30. This translates to a 29 per cent, or nearly 30 per cent, saving for general medicines, and around 19 million Australians will be eligible for this saving.

People filling one script could save around $150 a year. It's not uncommon, when you hit your 50s or 60s, to be on cholesterol tablets, blood pressure tablets or perhaps diabetes medication. When you add up three or four medications, which are usually on month-by-month scripts, you could be looking at over $200 to $300 per month. That is a big burden on the budget of a family, so this is important. As I said, people filling one script could save around $150 a year, while those filling two scripts could save around $300 a year. In addition, 3.6 million Australians with current prescriptions over $30 will immediately save on medical scripts thanks to this bill.

The bill will also ensure that no patient is worse off under this change. It will permit pharmacies to continue offering optional discounts to general patients on prescriptions with a Commonwealth price between the new and current amount. The amount paid by the patient will still be counted towards the safety net, ensuring that no Australian is adversely impacted by the changes.

We are constantly amending the PBS to ensure that it conforms with new health research and advice. Every year, in fact nearly every month, we hear of new cutting-edge medicines that are added to the PBS, and access to existing medicines is expanding to new patient groups. I am very enthused when I see new drugs and medications coming out that are life-saving medications. We have seen many that have been produced and made here in Australia these last few years. That gives hope to many people that perhaps would not have that hope without those drugs. Some subsidised medicines available through the PBS can cost thousands of dollars per script, but they're supplied to patients at significantly reduced cost. I am proud to be a member of this government that is constantly putting health care at the forefront of all of our policies and at the health front of every campaign we have run in elections, especially Medicare, about the significance of Medicare, the universal access to health care.

There is no doubt that cutting the cost of medications is good for households, who are dealing with unprecedented cost-of-living pressures that we've seen over the last few months; but it's also important for the health of the nation. If we can assist people with their health and keep it from deteriorating, as is usually done through modern-day drugs and medicines, then it ends up costing the government and public purse less in the long run. When you look at easy quick fixes to cut from health budgets in the short term, what you're really doing is causing massive damage in the long term.

That is why this bill is seriously tackling the cost of these medications. For example, up to half a million patients with stomach ulcers or reflux disease will pay less for their prescriptions. Over 60,000 patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder will also save, as will 20,000 migraine sufferers and people with epilepsy. We're also including essential drugs in the treatment of various cancers and making them more affordable and available more people.

There is a direct correlation between the health of the population and the health of the economy in which people live, as I said earlier. We know that medicines are an essential need for people. We know that it is absolutely important that they take their medications and it's absolutely important that they don't have to be under pressure when they're buying medications. That's why this bill will ease that pressure for the majority of people so they can buy those medications, to make them affordable, to ensure they don't have to make those difficult choices. It would be a horrendous situation to be in, knowing that you need to take medication for a particular illness or disease and knowing that you cannot afford to buy that medication. I couldn't think of a worse position to be in.

I'm proud that I'm part of a government that is making medicines cheaper. That's exactly what this government is doing. This bill is a really important step. Good health is the foundation of our human capital, our society and our economy. I will always fight to ensure that Australians have access to the health care and medications that they need, as all my colleagues on this side of the House do as well.

11:32 am

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. I am very pleased to speak on this bill, which of course is yet another coalition policy. They say the best form of flattery is imitation, and this bill is no different. But I'm not going to stand here and complain, because this bill ultimately results in a good outcome for the Australian people, and the coalition supports it. It is very much in their interest, particularly as we are dealing with cost-of-living pressures right now.

On 30 April 2022, before the last election, the coalition announced an election commitment to reduce the PBS general patient charge by $10. But, not to be outdone, just the very next day the Labor Party came out and announced that they would be reducing the charge by $12 50, a $2.50 improvement—very, very good policy work! I may jest a little bit and say it with a smile on my face, but it is a good outcome for Australians. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that the Labor party don't have any of their own policies. They continue to look to the policies of the coalition for addressing the cost of living. We support Labor's bill to reduce the maximum general co-payment for medicines on the PBS whilst we note that it is a copycat policy, made from our policies.

The bill will reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general co-payment by $12.50 from the current amount of $42.50 to the new amount of $30. I want to point out that this won't take effect until 1 January 2023. If this Labor government really cared about the cost-of-living pressures faced by Australian families and their businesses, they would have pursued this policy and pursued the introduction of this bill in their first sitting.

What Australians are really worried about right now is their financial stability and national security. While Labor dances to the tune of republicans, left-wing academics and militant unions, Australians are sitting around their dinner tables worried about their financial future. They are worried about how they are going to continue to put their kids through school and how they are going to continue to pay their mortgages. These are very real issues that Australians are grappling with on a day-to-day basis. They're worried about whether they are going to be able to put food on the table for their kids. They're worried about whether they're going to be able to put fuel in the car to drive to work and take their kids to and from school.

They worry about whether they are safe. They are worried about whether they are safe from malicious actors who are attacking our essential services online. They wonder about whether they are safe from national security threats after the dismantling, effectively, of the home affairs department. They wonder whether they are safe from geopolitical threats. They wonder about the decisions of this Labor government in vacillating on important defence projects, like whether it should be replacing the Taipan helicopters with Black Hawks. That's an absolute no-brainer, but the defence minister, in his ultimate wisdom, has decided to effectively put that project on hold and conduct a review as to whether it should be doing that. These are important projects. These are important defence projects that this government should be backing the coalition government's decisions on. The Labor Party talked a big talk about defence being bipartisan, but—

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lyons on a point of order?

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I fail to see how the points the member has raised bear much reference to the bill before the House.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Please proceed.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for his point of order, but these issues do directly go to cost of living. They go to cost of living and security and how Australians believe that they are best served by a government who want to see action on cost of living and security, whether that be national security or the security of their own bank accounts and security of their own records. If the member opposite thinks that's not relevant, I don't know what would be.

Australians want a healthcare system that provides them with safety and with a degree of comfort, just like they want a government that looks after them in relation to things like industrial relations when members opposite are pushing through reforms in this place that will see union lawlessness with the abandonment of the ABCC. Australians want to know that their taxes are being put to work effectively. They want to know, through things like the abandonment of the ABCC, that our costs of construction aren't going up by around 30 per cent. Those are not my words, they're the MBA's words. Australians want to know—

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Sydney on a point of order?

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I think we have ranged pretty broadly from the topic of the legislation before us. I'd ask you to suggest to the member that perhaps he might like to return to the legislation that's being debated.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. Please proceed, member for Fisher, and try to address the question before the chair.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I noted earlier, these are important issues which go to the heart. And I'll take the second point of order that has been raised, in relation to relevance. I note that the deputy speaker didn't find in favour of the first point of order.

Be that as it may, Australians want to know that their government has their backs. Australians want to know who is in charge and what the government is doing to relieve cost-of-living pressures. This is a question that is directly on point to the minister at the table. This is a bill which the government is putting up as easing cost-of-living pressures on Australians. Between 2013 and 2022, the coalition government made nearly 2,900 new or amended medicine listings to the PBS. In our last year, in the last year of the coalition government alone, 2.2 million free or subsidised medicines were funded through the PBS just in my electorate of Fisher. In our last budget, we invested an historic $132 billion to deliver the essential health and aged-care services Australians need.

Let me say those figures again: in our last budget, $132 billion—an historic amount—compared to the Labor Party's budget of just $75 billion when they were last in government. It was $75 billion in 2012-2013 and now $132 billion. And yet for six years all we heard about from those opposite were cuts to the healthcare system. I'm no mathematician, but it was $75 billion in 2012-20 $13 to $132 billion in our last budget and yet those opposite consider that to be a cut.

Despite what Labor may tell you, we strengthened Medicare and revolutionised health treatment with our telehealth system. We committed $133 billion over four years to continue bolstering our Medicare system, a jewel in the crown of Australia's world-leading health and social care infrastructure. On that, I think we all agree—that the Medicare system in Australia is probably the best in the world. Australians demand, rightly, an effective healthcare system, and the coalition has always been absolutely committed to delivering on that. In government we delivered a 133.69 per cent increase in funding for public hospitals in Queensland. That's record funding to a hospital system that Queensland Labor, which is my state, continue to mismanage. After nearly a decade of reform, record-breaking investment and action, the coalition has set the standard for health care in this country.

But what's the real cost of living in Queensland? We talk about the cost of living in this place and we talk about health care. Australians are already tuning out this government because they know that federal Labor isn't listening to them. They know that after just six months in power this Labor government is hopelessly out of touch.

On 4 April this year the now Prime Minister, in the lead up to the election, announced to the Australian people that he would govern in the style of the Queensland state Labor. As I say that, around about 4½ million to five million people in Australia—namely, Queenslanders—are rolling around on the floor laughing. The Prime Minister said:

But I've also seen what Premier Palaszczuk has presided over as a bit of a template for the way forward for Federal Labor let way forward for federal Labor.

Let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, Queenslanders are shuddering with this news.

Let's take a look at the cost of living in Queensland under a Labor state government. Roads are congested because of Labor's inaction. A drive down Caloundra Road in my electorate will demonstrate that the state members for Caloundra and Nicklin are not listening. Rail projects are overbudget. Cross River Rail is overbudget and late. The North Coast Rail duplication has been delayed by the state Labor government. The state Labor government take the Sunshine Coast for granted, like they do the state over. In fact, both the federal and state Labor parties are choosing red carpets and photo-ops over looking after people.

What has Labor done from a healthcare perspective in Queensland? Ambulance ramping is at levels that are unprecedented. Paramedics and patients were ramped for nearly 123,757 hours last financial year. In the 2021-22 financial year Queensland paramedics and their patients were being ramped for more than 357 hours every single day. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and our hardworking nurses, doctors and frontline staff are struggling to keep up. Maternity wards in regional Queensland have been shut down, and mums-to-be are being handed do-it-yourself birthing kits in regional Queensland. This is a disgrace. The integrity of Queensland's DNA labs is now subject to an historic commission of inquiry.

Bullying, secrecy, cover-ups, photo-ops, name changes and political games cannot mask the frightening truth. The fact is in Queensland the cost of living comes from the risk of financial and physical peril. From Cairns to Caloundra to Coolangatta, Queenslanders have seen the cost of Labor in government. This is federal Labor's blueprint for government. This is their template. It's their goal, and that should alarm every single Australian.

Every young couple in regional Australia who may one day want to start and raise their family beyond the big city should be very, very worried. Every senior Australian who relies on public health care should be worried. If the Prime Minister is looking to Queensland Labor as the best practice on how to manage health care, we are doomed. (Time expired)

11:48 am

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before the honourable member departs, he mentioned that Labor will continue to look to the coalition for cost-of-living policies. I can't help but think perhaps he's referring to their policy to deliberately keep wages low, which is what happened under the Liberals. Perhaps that's the policy he's referring to. We won't be copying that one. Perhaps he's referring to the coalition's policy to keep power price rises secret in the days before the election. I can tell you, Deputy Speaker Goodenough, we won't be copying that policy. Perhaps he's referring to the coalition's policy to keep the Medicare rebate frozen for six years. We certainly won't be copying that. So Labor will not be copying the coalition's policies when it comes to cost of living because we know that, after nine failed years of the coalition government, the cost of living has only increased for the vast majority of Australians.

I rise to speak on the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. In both respects, Deputy Speaker Goodenough, I welcome the former speaker's contribution because he was in support of this bill, although the vast majority of the content of his speech had nothing to do with the bill before the House.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the National Health Act 1953 to reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general patient co-charge payment, commencing 1 January 2023. So in three short months time Australians will have cheaper medicine. It's the first time that the PBS co-payment has been reduced by any government in the history of the Federation.

The Albanese Labor government are delivering on the commitments that we made at the election as part of our plan for a better future for this country. We said we would make medicines cheaper and that is what we are doing. Under the bill before the House today the most that Australians will pay for medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is $30, a reduction of up to $12.50. About 19 million Australians will be eligible to save money under this great Labor reform; 3.6 million Australians with current prescriptions will save money immediately that the bill comes into effect, from 1 January 2023. That means 14 per cent of the Australian population will have an immediate benefit, immediately have their medicines cheaper, from 1 January 2023. People filling out one prescription a month could save $150 a year. People with two scripts stand to save around $300 a year. That's money back in the pockets of Australians, many of them older Australians.

This Labor reform to make medicines cheaper is one way that we seek to address the cost-of-living mess that we inherited after nine years of failed coalition government. After nine years of neglect from the former government, the costs of living are soaring and many Australians are cutting back on essentials in order to make ends meet. As I alluded to, that's nine years of deliberate wage suppression, nine years of superannuation sabotage, nine years of Medicare vandalism and nine years of childcare inertia.

We are 129 days in government and, already, we have done more to address cost-of-living pressures than the coalition did in nine years. We have backed a minimum wage rise, we are backing wage rises for aged-care workers, we are making child care cheaper, and we are allowing more seniors access to the seniors card and ensuring that age pensioners can work a few more paid hours, if they wish to, without losing their pension.

Since 2000 what Australians pay to access medicines under the PBS has doubled to $42.50 per prescription. For low-income Australians, especially those already struggling with higher rent and transport costs, it has become a choice between looking after their own health or feeding and sheltering their children. We've all seen the stories in the media that that's the choice parents confront: do they get the medicines that their doctors say they need or do they feed and shelter their kids? For the vast majority of parents, the choice on that is clear. It's a choice no parent should have to make.

The PBS co-payment for general patients has doubled since 2000. More than 900,000 Australians told researchers that they delayed buying medicine that their doctors said they needed or they didn't fill the prescription out at all because of the co-payment cost. This is unacceptable in modern Australia and this Labor government will not have it. All Australians should have access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care.

The PBS is a significant component of the Commonwealth's investment in our health system, providing significant direct assistance—$13.8 billion in the 2020-21 financial year—to make medicines more affordable. The bill before the House today seeks to further reduce the maximum cost that Australians will pay for the medicine they need.

I have said before, in this place, that access to health care in my electorate—a big, regional electorate in Tasmania—is something that keeps me awake at night. After a decade of policy neglect, regions across the country are facing a primary healthcare crisis, with an inability to retain and recruit GPs and other healthcare professionals. My electorate has few big population centres. It's a seat of small towns, where access to health care can be hours away.

For example, Interlaken, in the Central Highlands, has a rugged beauty about it, but it's an hour from the nearest pharmacy and even further from a GP. One of my constituents lives in a small shack with no mobile phone reception and only a wood heater to provide her warmth. She would have preferred to live in a town, but she couldn't afford the rent. She'd been waiting years for hip surgery, and she lived in constant agony. The only GP she could get in to see was in Hobart, a four-hour round trip. After getting her new scripts, she faces a two-hour round trip on other days to the nearest pharmacy. The bill before the House today won't fix Tasmania's appalling hospital waiting times, and it won't fix the ambulance ramping that's at crisis levels in my state and has kept my constituent on the elective surgery list for years, but it will make medicines cheaper for people like my constituent and others.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is a significant partner to Medicare. Both of them are proud Labor reforms that have transformed Australians' access to affordable, quality health care. I want to speak briefly to the minister's opening remarks in her second reading speech, where she mentioned—you learn something new every day!—it was John Curtin and Ben Chifley who fought hard to create this essential pillar of our health care system, the PBS. It took two High Court challenges; two referenda; constitutional changes; and battles with the British Medical Association, the Liberal Party—which in those days opposed it—and many others over 15 years to make the PBS what it is today: a genuinely universal system and perhaps the best medical system, pound for pound, in terms of bang for buck, that we have in the world.

I was very pleased to hear the member for Fisher remark with what sounded like genuine support for Medicare. It was a long time coming. We know that those opposite vigorously opposed Medicare for decades. Certainly, over the last nine years of their government, while they said they supported Medicare, we saw it being nibbled away at the edges. There was a bit of vandalism going around on the edges.

Under the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022, a reduction to the PBS general patient co-payment by $12.50 will mean that the maximum Australians pay for PBS medicines will drop from, as I say, $42.50 down to $30. That's a 29 per cent saving—not bad. Furthermore, no patient will be worse off. Pharmacies can, if they choose, continue to offer optional discounts to general patients on prescriptions with a Commonwealth price between the new amount and the current amount.

Under the bill before the House today, medicine will be cheaper. We promised this at the election, and we are keeping our promise. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Medicare are the foundation stones of Australia's public healthcare system, and it's only a Labor government that makes them stronger. Australians have a right to affordable, quality health care and should never have to face the choice of forgoing the medicine they need because of cost. I commend the bill to the House.

11:58 am

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll just pick up on some of the remarks of the previous member, welcoming the member for Fisher's comments about the coalition commitment to Medicare. It's not a new thing. It is not a new thing at all. The coalition is very committed to Medicare. One would not have thought so in 2016, of course, and I think that's the problem the previous member is dealing with—the scurrilous campaign the ALP ran that was later termed 'Mediscare', when they said the coalition would get rid of Medicare. We had six years to do so. We did not. We supported Medicare. We increased the funding for Medicare. That kind of dishonest campaigning should be called out every time there is an opportunity, so I take that opportunity to do so.

This proposal is to drop the Medicare co-payment from $42.50 to $30. The coalition put forward during the campaign that we'd reduce it by $10. This is a $12.50 reduction which came soon after from the ALP. I think it is good that they matched it or even upped the ante. Those payments will be coming down at a time when people are under pressure. It's a shame that they will not coming down immediately. There is a wait time before this will hit the market at the end of the year.

Having said that, it shouldn't be forgotten that, in its last year in government, the coalition reduced the threshold for the PBS safety net to around $1.244, off the top of my head, down from $1,400-and-something. That is welcome. That's a very targeted response to the cost of living at the moment. By definition, those constituents that reach that threshold are some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in our community because they are on multiple medications, which means their lifestyle is probably already impeded, and in fact are often on welfare payments as well to fund their living or are at least on a limited and fixed income. So I think that was a very serious move to reduce cost-of-living pressures, and I welcome that. I was very pleased by the fact that we had legislated that before we got to the election.

The PBS is exemplary. The PBS stands alone in the health field as something that actually delivers an efficient, expanding service. Importantly, it keeps costs under control. The member for Fisher went through the increased spending that the coalition had afforded to health and aged care during the period in which we were in government. It was a little more than double, from $75 billion to $132 billion. That was a 100 per cent increase. When you look at the PBS, in 2012 it was operating at about $9.5 billion a year. It is now at $13 billion. So we have seen a roughly 30 per cent increase in the PBS over the same period that the rest of the system has had a 100 per cent increase.

In that time, we have been able to deliver a plethora of new medications to an expanding population. While I know a lot of the drug companies don't particularly love our PBS, I think it places itself in the marketplace around the world quite uniquely in that it enables us to get great value for dollar but is not so punitive on the manufacturers and marketers that they don't still seek to sell their newly developed drugs in our market. I sometimes shake my head in wonder at what has been able to be achieved with the PBS when I look at the ballooning costs not only in the health sector but across a whole range of other government expenditures.

One of the things is making those new drugs available in Australia. The approval process through the TGA has improved over the years. There is a great effort to make sure that Australians get the very best. It's not only in the drug field. There are associated things that the taxpayer contributes to which allow people to live there lives to the fullest.

Greg Hunt had a fabulous record while he was the health minister. In fact, we approved 2,800 new and, at times, incredibly expensive new drugs to the PBS, all the while keeping the lid on those PBS costs. Keeping the pressure on the drug companies is not the only way of keeping the lid on PBS costs. Some expiry of patents has contributed greatly. Blood pressure tablets and cholesterol tablets, for instance, are ones that Australians are very large consumers of and for good reason. They keep Australians alive longer. They keep them fitter and healthier.

But, of course, some of those very significant patents of the past have expired now, and we now have the listing of generic drugs on the PBS that are equivalent. Most of the original drugs remain on the PBS and are marketed into our market, but the manufacturers have had to reduce costs. They've had that period of protection that is afforded to them for the great cost that they commit to in developing these new drugs, doing the testing associated with them and bringing them to market, and it's right and proper; that's what a patent system works around. But as those patents expire it's also very important that the PBS then goes out to find the alternative suppliers, puts the pressure on the original suppliers and brings down the cost to the public.

I remember—in fact, you might remember, Deputy Speaker Freelander; I think you were in the place of the time—when we had a fairly strong debate in this place about the delisting of Panadol Osteo. I'm a little scratchy on the numbers, but at the time you could buy Panadol Osteo at the pharmacy for, let's say, $40. Actually, I think it was more than the cost of a Medicare bulk-bill rate. Or you could go to the doctor, get it prescribed from the doctor and pay $42.50. Let's say it was $60 at the pharmacy. You go to the doctor, pay $42.50 and get the Panadol as prescribed. In fact, by the time there was a pharmacy dispensing account and a whole lot of things that hung off the doctors' bills, it was quite expensive for the taxpayer, and there was a cry: 'If you take this off, we will not be able to afford Panadol Osteo.' Within a matter of months, if not weeks, the price of Panadol Osteo over the counter at the chemist dropped to the equivalent of Panadol Rapid.

It just shows that, while it is very important that the PBS is in place when it should be in place, there are times when it actually distorts the market and it should be out of the market. That's not 100 per cent relevant to what we are talking about with this bill, of course, but it does come back to this theme that I have been talking about, where the PBAC over a very long period of time and subsequent governments—apart from one time that I will come to in a little while—have managed the PBS in a very good way for Australia, providing maximum benefit to Australians across the board for minimal cost, about as good as you can get around the world. Anyone associated with that I give a pat on the back.

The coalition, of course, as I said, committed to a $10 reduction, and now we've got $12.50. I was going to say a bit more about Greg Hunt and the other associated things that actually came not through Medicare but through the health budget to assist people to live their life to the fullest. As you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I'm the co-chair of the parliamentary enemies of diabetes, and in fact the constant glucose monitors, set to be listed universally by the government before the last election, were matched by the then opposition and now the government, and it was a great move forward and something we campaigned for over many years. In the period before that, we had gradually campaigned to extend those constant glucose monitors.

I have told this story in the House on a number of occasions. I was at a function, the Port Pirie Smelters Picnic, in my electorate, and a young couple came up to me. From memory, I think they had a two-month-old baby who had gestational diabetes and was on a constant glucose monitor at the behest of the hospital but had to give it back and did not qualify for the constant glucose monitors under the current rules. I went and saw Minister Hunt at the time, and after speaking to him for five minutes he said, 'That's not good enough.' Virtually with the stroke of a pen, 30 similar families around Australia had that problem fixed. That was good, responsive government. That was a minister listening, being in touch and knowing what's achievable. It was a great outcome. I thank him still and that family thanks him still for that outcome. Of course, now it's universal, so we don't have to argue about such things, but it's a progressive step. The point is that the PBS isn't the only scheme in place to assist Australians to achieve their life potential.

One of the things we remember of course is that it has been the custom of health ministers to sign off on the PBAC recommendations. In the last 50 years I think there has only been one period when that did not occur: in 2011 the then Labor government put a freeze on listings due to budgetary constraints. Our budget is in pretty tough shape at the moment. We're heading into an October budget and I haven't heard any murmurs from the other side that there's any likelihood of being a move to stop listing new drugs on the PBS, but I absolutely say to the government: don't. Don't go down that pathway again. It hasn't been the pathway followed by the previous government and it's not one that should be followed by you.

When people come to tell me about advances in the health system they say that they'll save lives and will save money. It's one of the great paradoxes of our modern health system that the more lives we save the more it costs! I'm a living example of that as I stand here. I had life-threatening cancer just on nine years ago. I was saved by some very clever surgeons and a whole heap of radiation, which a lot of people don't seem to like either—I have some arguments about the location of the low-level radioactive waste management facility in my home community. But I was saved by the miracles of modern science. Since that time I've had a shoulder reconstruction and I've just had a partial knee replacement. Those wouldn't have cost the taxpayer anything if I had succumbed to the first ailment! Now, the point being there is that our modern medical system is saving people—absolutely—and getting them into useful lives. But we're all there for more complicated challenges later in our lives, and that's why these health budgets keep ballooning out rather than actually coming in when we think we're making all these particular advances.

I don't know that that adds anything particular to this debate; it is what it is. I'm not suggesting by any means that any of this should be curtailed. I'd like to think that my survival through that ailment, and the facts that I do pay the Medicare levy, invest in private health cover and am a significant taxpayer, would say that I hope I can square the ledger! But it is the case that the more things we combat things the more it will cost us, and this is something that government has to consider in the long term. It's one of the reasons that the health budget keeps growing at a faster rate than inflation or other indicators—the CPI, for instance—in our society. It's something that governments always have to be aware of: the increasing share that it's taking of the GDP or the government tax take. How we manage that, I think, is a challenge for both sides of this House, for the whole parliament, and not just now; not today or not tomorrow but over the next 10 to 50 years this will be an increasing challenge.

I have come roughly to the conclusion of my time, so I will leave the debate there. I look forward to these changes coming. I wish they were coming faster because, even today, we know that fuel is going to go up 22c tonight. So it would be good if we had this coming down the pipeline a bit quicker, but I think we've got to wait until January.

12:13 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

This is my first address in the new parliament when you've been in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, and I want to say how pleased I am that you're continuing on the Speaker's Panel—continuing to make a strong contribution to this parliament.

I'm pleased to make a contribution on the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022, a bill which will have a positive impact and be warmly welcomed in the Shortland electorate. I thank the Minister for Health and Aged Care for his work on this very important legislation. This legislation will provide a reduction to the PBS, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, general patient copayment by $12.50. This is the first reduction in the history of the PBS. This means that the maximum Australians will pay for PBS medicines will be $30. This is a reduction in cost of almost a third from the current rate.

This change and cost reduction is sorely needed. We know that millions of Australians are struggling with cost-of-living pressures—their groceries, petrol and medical expenses. Under this legislation around 19 million Australians will be eligible for the savings. Combined, these general patients could save around $190 million each year People filling one script a month could save around $150 a year, while those filling two scripts a month could save around $300 a year.

This is a key commitment that Labor took to the last election. I'm proud to be part of the Albanese Labor government that is delivering this cost-of-living relief, which is desperately needed. Unlike the previous Liberal government, which was all announcement and absolutely no delivery, we are seeing a markedly different approach to delivering on our commitment from the Albanese government. This bill is significant in that delivery. We are actually delivering tangible cost-of-living relief to millions of Australians. Unlike the last government, we are not waiting until two minutes to midnight before an election to make an announcement, when they had nine years, almost 10 years in power to do something, but did nothing.

In a prosperous and wealthy country like Australia no-one should be forced to pick between accessing vital medication and putting food on their table. Yet that's exactly what so many Australians, including people in my community, are doing. We know that over the last nine years the previous government was obsessed with attacking Medicare and our healthcare system. They cut bulk billing incentives for doctor, and they reclassified the Hunter and Central Coast regions as not being a priority area for GPs, which has led to a significant GP shortage. They cut funding to Hunter's vital GP access after-hours service, funding that the Albanese Labor government will restore. All those changes made it much harder and more expensive for people in my community to see their GP. But patients have also been hit with a double whammy of their vital medicines becoming increasingly unaffordable. The co-payment that general patients contribute to the Commonwealth to sustain the PBS has doubled since 2000. According to ABS figures, more than 900,000 Australians delayed or didn't get a script filled in 2019-20 due to the cost. This is just plain wrong.

Former prime minister Gough Whitlam said in 1975 that the purpose of universal health care is to make medical treatment available to all who need it to ensure that medical care is not just another marketable commodity but a right of every citizen. All Australians should have access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care. No-one should have to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing for their families. Unfortunately many of my constituents currently do have to choose.

So of course this Labor government is committed to enacting progressive and meaningful health policies that positively impact the lives of many Australians. This builds on our strong history. Labor introduced visionary programs such as Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It was that great Australian Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley who established the PBS in 1948. It wasn't easy. It took two court challenges, two referendums, a constitutional amendment and 16 years to embed the scheme. Yet almost 80 years on it has helped the lives of so many Australians.

Labor has been in government for only a few months, but we have already put our money where our mouth is when it comes to improving the health outcomes of Australians. One of the biggest issues my constituents face is finding an available appointment with their GP or finding a GP that takes new patients. This is one of the biggest concerns they raised with me in the lead-up to the recent election. As I mentioned earlier, the GP shortage in my community is a direct consequence of the previous government's decision to reclassify the Hunter and Central Coast as non-priority areas for GPs. So I was so happy that in July, exactly two months after the election, the new Labor government reversed these changes. Medical practices in my community can now access doctors from the bonded medical program as well as overseas trained doctors, making it easier for them to recruit more GPs to our region. This change will not only take stress off local GPs; it will also reduce patient wait times, making it much easier for people to see their doctor.

The new Labor government has also delivered on our commitment to give 130,000 Australians with type 1 diabetes access to subsidised continuous glucose monitoring devices under the National Diabetes Services Scheme. These Australians over the age of 21 will be able to access CGM products through their pharmacy, with a co-payment equivalent of $32.50 per month or $390 per year. These life-saving devices were previously costing them up to $5,000 per year. Similar to legislation we are discussing today, this measure will help ease health costs for people living with type I diabetes. Not only that, having access to these devices will save lives.

Unsurprisingly, delivering this election commitment was welcomed by many people in my community. Nicole said to me via Facebook:

… as a mother of a T1 this brings music to my ears.

Andrew was equally pleased, saying:

I have been diabetic since 1994 and if it wasn't for the subsidies I would be broke. The free glucose monitor is another plus.

And Jessica said:

This is amazing news! I received an email last week from NDSS and nearly cried. I haven't been able to access the CGM since having my son. Financially it was totally out of my reach. This is absolutely lifesaving stuff.

That brings me back to how important the legislation we are debating today is. It will save millions of Australians hundreds of dollars a year on medication they need. This is what Australians expect from a Labor government, a government that cares about their health and their ability to access affordable medicines.

Concern about the rising cost of medicines is something that I regularly hear about from my constituents. Martin from Warners Bay is on the disability support pension. He told me that he pays over a quarter of his pension on medication. He said:

I have five that are non-PBS, despite some of them being considered the most effective for my condition, and the kindest on my body. There is one drug I pay $40/month for, and it has less ingredients than one on the PBS that would cost me $5.50.

Carolyn from Kahibah is on a part age pension and contacted me about how the rising costs in medicines are impacting her family's budget. She said:

I have been on prescribed melatonin for a number of years. All this time I have been purchasing a three months' supply from a compounding pharmacist. I can now only get a month's supply at a time at a cost of $35. I was paying $75 for three months' supply, and I could claim all but $40 of that back from my health fund. So from costing me $10 a month it is now costing me $35 a month. This is a lot extra from a limited income! We do the right thing and pay for private medical but when things like these changes occur it makes it less attractive to be covered.

This is just a small handful of the feedback I've received from the Shortland community. As a member of this place it's imperative that I listen and act on the concerns of my constituents. It's also vital that we bring forth real reforms, reforms that will transform the lives of so many Australians.

As an electorate that is, on average, the sixth oldest in this country, health care and the need for better health services are issues that the Shortland community are rightly concerned and passionate about. Over the course of the most recent federal election campaign, my team and I knocked on thousands of doors and called more than 20,000 Shortland residents. Over and over again, health care, and the cost of health, was identified as the major issue of importance for my constituents, particularly the cost of health care dramatically increasing over the last decade.

That's why this legislation is so vital. It demonstrates yet again that the Albanese Labor government is committed to addressing these cost-of-living pressures that Australians are facing in these uncertain times. This delivers on that commitment and I commend the bill to the House.

12:23 pm

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not often I can say this, but two years before I was born the Chifley government introduced a PBS scheme, and what a benefit that has been to Australians all of these 73 years—73 years of benefit to families, to the people the former speaker mentioned, especially those with type I or II diabetes, and every other condition that may have come upon the Australian people.

Our health and wellbeing, the food we eat, the exercise we have, the things we can do for ourselves, have changed dramatically since 1948. In 1948 most of the food that you ate would have come from within two kilometres of your own home or, if you were in a city, five kilometres from your own home. It was all produced in Australia, and it was produced locally. Your food was of the highest standard, which enabled the very healthy growth of our broader community throughout that time. Since then, though, our food isn't necessarily local. It can come from interstate. It can come from around the world. And it's not necessarily seasonal, as all our food was. Why am I talking about food in relation to the PBS? Because, as our nutrition is less, as we eat more fats and sugars, we have a greater need for the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme to keep the health and wellbeing of our community in the state that it's in.

Of course I'm supportive of this legislation, and every government since 1948 has been supportive of the health and wellbeing of the Australian people however it's implemented. I'm not going to criticise any former government for what they did and didn't do with regard to health, because health expenditure has increased exponentially every year since 1948, and there have been massive changes made to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme over the years. We now have remarkable new drugs that can change the lives of people in a week or so. And, of course, this PBS scheme is unique throughout the world. The Australian people, this nation, have the opportunity to access drugs for their health and wellbeing at a price that is affordable to every family. I know there are families out there today that have to choose between whether they buy food or their drugs, and we need to look more closely at how we can support those families. But, importantly, the PBS scheme has been crucial to the health and wellbeing of Australians for 73 years.

This general co-payment bill amends the National Health Act to reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general co-payment by $12.50, from the current amount of $42.50 to the new amount of $30, taking effect on 1 January. This is happening in a time when inflation is rampant and greater in the foods and commodities that families actually have to buy. We may have an inflation rate of around six or seven per cent, but the increases for the actual food that you need to buy, the food that is important for a family, are from 12 per cent in some cases to 23 per cent, and there are not the specials available in the supermarkets that were available. The costs have increased for families. So, at a time when families are under enormous pressure for their day-to-day living costs, this is a change that I support wholeheartedly—and I mean wholeheartedly.

The fact the government has moved one step further than the coalition was prepared to, by $2.50 or whatever it was, is irrelevant to me. This gives an opportunity for the Commonwealth to supplies of pharmaceutical benefits that have a Commonwealth price between $30 and $42.50 indexed annually. The bill also gives pharmacists an option to discount the price for general patients by more than a dollar when supplying a PBS prescription. It's really important that this bill will ensure no patient is worse off after the reduction of the general patient charge, and it is established practice for pharmacists to discount medicines that have a Commonwealth price at or below the general patient charge.

So, when it comes to individuals, every individual has an entirely different need under the PBS scheme. New drugs come on to the PBS after a lot of consideration by the committee that recommends to government. New drugs, especially in the areas of cancer, can make such a difference. There's also a safety net involved in here for families that have an ongoing need for medicines. So the reduction in the general patient charge will likely have an impact on the number of scripts a general patient can have filled before they reach the safety net threshold However, with the reduction a patient will save $285.80 in out-of-pocket costs. So even though it will take you longer—because the price is cheaper—to get to the threshold where you no longer have to pay, you will save $285.80 in getting there. So there is some benefit to the patient.

The bill gives effect to an election commitment made by Labor in response to the coalition's leadership on the issue. On 30 April 2022 the coalition announced an election commitment to reduce the PBS general patient charge by $10. Following the announcement, on 1 May 2022 Labor announced that they would reduce the charge by $12.50. That's a difference of $2.50. I'm happy that they have been able to find the money to be able to reduce it by $12.50 because it's a benefit to a lot of people in my electorate. Why? Because I happen to have an electorate that has an older cohort of people than most other electorates in Australia. The electorate of Monash is older and I would like to think wiser—and that's why I'm still here, but that's probably not the truth. If they knew me well then I probably wouldn't be here, but I am here and I'm honoured to represent them. I do have an older cohort right across my electorate.

It's a regional rural electorate. At this point it hasn't had the massive growth that you are seeing in many electorates down the east coast of Australia and in Western Australia, but that is now encroaching in one part of the electorate—in the Drouin-Warragul area. Within a very short time those regional areas will become very large areas, which will bring the young families in

This change to the PBS will make an inordinate difference in my electorate because of its age cohort and the number of people over 55, over 65, over 75, in their 90s and in their 100s. I want to make a point about that. The PBS enables people to live longer because they are able to manage conditions that previous generations didn't have the opportunity or the drugs to manage. So they are living longer. Since I first started as the member for McMillan the number of people over 80 who I write to has increased. The number of letters I write to people in their 90s has also increased. There used to be very few in their 100s that I wrote to, but now the number has increased.

My community is not only ageing better but ageing well, and that's because of the PBS. They are able to get their drugs and organise the drugs that help their lifestyle. If you can help somebody's lifestyle, it will mean that they don't go into aged-care facilities earlier and it will mean they are a greater help to their family and are less of a burden.

What I'm saying is that the PBS enables our community to live well and to live longer. Therefore, that has benefits throughout the whole community because they are actively participating in the community and, therefore, they are a benefit not only to themselves but to their children and to their children's children. That's why the PBS has been such an integral part of the health and wellbeing of communities in my electorate and I'm sure in the electorate of every other member of this House.

The PBS is also very expensive for government. Many of the drugs people use cost thousands and thousands of dollars. When a government makes the decision to list a drug on the PBS that's your government taking responsibility for your health and wellbeing at a price way below the delivery price. That's why the government often negotiates for long periods of time with drug companies to make sure it is getting the best deal it can possibly get to bring the costs down as far as it possibly can while at the same time delivering the drugs for the benefit of our community.

I think you'll find Australia is a great innovator when it comes to not only conducting research into new drugs but also introducing them as quickly as possible. Sometimes this is for the benefit of only a few people, but we have the luxury in this country of saying, 'One life, two lives, three lives are important.' I'm saying to the Australian people: you are important. I'm saying to my electorate: you are important. That's why the government continues to invest in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. We invest in it on behalf of families and we invest in it on behalf of very ill young children. This is a commitment to this scheme and to this reduction from all members of parliament, on both sides. Therefore, I support this legislation, I support the process that we go through and I support the ongoing benefits that this legislation will bring to families right across the electorate of Monash.

12:35 pm

Alison Byrnes (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With the National Health Amendment (General Co-Payment) Bill 2022, Labor is taking action to ease the cost-of-living pressures Australian families are facing after nine years of coalition government neglect. Labor is taking action to make medicines cheaper so Australians do not have to choose between the health care they need and providing for their families. The relief that this bill brings will be welcomed by the people in the electorate of Cunningham, and I thank the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Mark Butler, for his work on this.

Last night I met with Trent Twomey, the National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, and they are also really excited about this legislation. We spoke about how much there is still to do but how happy we are that this government is moving in the right direction—and so quickly as well. Our government is introducing this bill because we believe in access to universal health care, to health care that can be relied upon when Australians need it and to health care that is world-class and the envy of other nations.

The Labor government story is very different from the record of those opposite. After nine years of neglect from the former government, many Australians are having to choose between vital medicines and putting food on the table, and many are forgoing those medicines due to the cost. The Albanese Labor government is making medicines cheaper for approximately 19 million Australians. We are reducing the PBS general co-payment from $42.50 to just $30. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2019-20 more than 900,000 Australian families delayed getting or did not get a script filled due to cost. This is a terrible statistic, but it is easy to forget the individuals that make up this number. They are people in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our sporting groups and in our religious organisations. They are people who, because of financial pressures, are not able to buy their medicines. Australians deserve much better than this.

This bill acts on our government's commitment to reducing the maximum amount Australians pay for their PBS medicines. New medicines are regularly added to the PBS. This enables more patients to access cheaper medicines for their conditions. Some of the medicines available through the PBS can cost thousands of dollars per script. These medicines are supplied to patients at a reduced cost, with the government paying the rest. The cost for the patient is capped and referred to as a co-payment. Since the year 2000, the PBS co-payment has doubled, placing increasing pressure on Australians buying medicines. Currently, the maximum co-payment a general patient will pay is $42.50; for a concession cardholder, this is $6.80. This bill ensures that, from 1 January 2023, the general patient co-payment will be reduced to $30. This is a reduction of $12.50 for PBS general patient co-payments. Around 19 million Australians will be eligible for savings under this bill, and these general patients together could save $190 million each year. A person filling one script per month could save around $150 per year; someone filling two scripts a month could save around $300 per year.

The Albanese Labor government has also committed that no patient will be worse off following the co-payment reduction. Pharmacies will still be able to offer optional discounts to general patients where the cost of the PBS medicine lies between the new $30 price and the previous price of $42.50. The amount paid by the patient will still count towards the PBS safety net.

For my electorate of Cunningham this bill will have a huge impact. The 2021 census data shows why this bill will be so important to my constituents. Cunningham's rates of long-term health conditions are higher than both the New South Wales and national averages. These are conditions such as arthritis, cancer, mental health conditions, stroke, among others. Lowering the co-payment will help people in my electorate afford the medicines they need to manage and treat their conditions. Many constituents have shared with me their concerns about the cost of living and the difficult decisions they are increasingly being forced to make. Through the reduction in the co-payment on PBS medicines to $30, some of these cost-of-living measures will be addressed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our local pharmacies, who do great work in helping our community every day. Like other frontline workers, they have worked so hard over the last three years. Over the past year they have administered COVID vaccines in addition to the many flu shots that they administer in the lead-up to winter. In preparation for World Pharmacists Day recently I had the great opportunity to meet Ahmed Sawan, pharmacist and owner of the Priceline Pharmacy at Woonona, with his son and my good friend Aboudi Sawan. Ahmed invited Ryan Park, the local state member for Keira, and me to meet with David North, the president of the Illawarra Pharmacists Association, and Amanda Fairjones, the state manager of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. Ahmed and David told Ryan and me about the work they do in our community and their goal to provide even more services to local residents.

This bill supports broader health reform that has occurred since the Albanese Labor government was elected. From 1 October 2022, Australians will also pay less at the pharmacy for PBS medicines, thanks to the government's price disclosure policy. This will make medicine cheaper for thousands of families, representing out-of-pocket savings of over $130 million for Australian patients and almost $930 million for taxpayers. Australians with conditions such as migraines, arthritis, breast cancer, stomach ulcers and bipolar disorder will have access to cheaper medicines because of this. From 1 October the government is also expanding the number of medicines under the PBS. These include newly included medicines used to treat a number of conditions, including some types of cancer and growth hormone deficiency in children.

Labor's suite of health reforms also extends to the creation of our Medicare urgent care clinics. These clinics will help to take pressure off our hospitals by providing medical care for Australian families who have an urgent but not life-threatening medical issue. The Medicare urgent care clinics will provide bulk billed appropriate care for many Australians while helping to minimise unnecessary emergency department presentations. These are just some of the actions that Labor is taking to improve access to health care and to protect Medicare. Labor built Medicare and we will always protect it. Our community deserves universal, prompt and world-class health care. The Liberal government spent a decade attacking Medicare. They tried to introduce a compulsory $7 co-payment, freezing rebates and cutting $2.6 million from Medicare. They abolished psychiatric telehealth items and removed regional bulk billing incentives. Under the previous government, average out-of-pocket costs to see a GP increased by 33 per cent. But Australians know they can trust a Labor government to look after their health system. It is a history of action that we are immensely proud of. The Labor government is making medicines cheaper. We are taking action on cost-of-living pressures. We are repairing nine years of neglect, and we have hit the ground running.

I have chosen to speak on this bill today because access to universal health care is something I care deeply about. Many of my constituents face daily financial struggles. They don't need the added pressure of being unable to afford the medical care that they or their families may need. But we on this side of the chamber know that there are two major factors that can turn aspiration into reality for working families: access to health care and access to education. The Labor government knows that Australians are resilient and hard-working. They just need to be given the chance to succeed—a leg up when times get tough. By increasing the availability and affordability of health care for Australians, as this bill does, the Labor government has proven once again to the people of Australia that we are on their side and we will always fight for better health care for Australians and their families. I commend the bill to the House.

12:44 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. It was interesting listening about Labor's urgent Medicare care clinics. The minister opposite was just saying, I think, that they're going to build 50 around the country, which sounds like a good thing. I do hope that they're a lot more successful than the last Labor commitment, around GP Super Clinics. I remember when I was elected in 2013 that we had a GP Super Clinic that was just sitting empty for three years. Then it took us to get actual doctors in there. That was at the Redcliffe GP Super Clinic on Anzac Avenue. Many people in my electorate will remember that when the coalition came in we got it up and running, and operating well.

The coalition does have a strong track record of providing Australians with timely, affordable access to effective medicines, cancer treatments and services. As other coalition speakers have mentioned, during our time in government, under the Liberal-National parties, we listed over 2,900 medicines, worth over $15 billion on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I remember that when we came in the previous government had frozen those listings. So 2,900 medicines in nine years is an exceptional record that people are aware of, not just in the Petrie electorate but right around the country.

In the 2022 budget, which the former government handed down this year, we provided greater access to cheaper medicines for 2.4 million Australians, with fewer scripts needed for free or further discounted medicines. To further reduce costs, during the election campaign the coalition announced that we would lower the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or PBS, medicines general copayment from 1 January 2023 by $10 per script. The Labor Party would agree that the coalition has a strong record on reducing the costs of medicines, because three days after we announced our election commitment this year to lower the PBS medicines general copayment the Labor Party copied that announcement and introduced a $12.50 reduction—an extra $2.50—starting on the same date, mind you! But that's okay—an extra $2.50, well done, that's good. We support it; the coalition and I, as the member of the Petrie, will be supporting this government bill. We're debating the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill today: this is good policy and I'm happy that it's going through. It's something that the people of Petrie will appreciate and, as their voice here, I'll be supporting it.

The medicines under the PBS medicines general copayment help people suffering from cancer, heart disease, epilepsy, spinal muscular atrophy, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, severe osteoporosis and chronic migraines. This will really help people who suffer daily with those medical issues. Some of these cost thousands of dollars and, thankfully, because of the PBS up until now these things have only cost a maximum of $42.50. But if you're someone who has multiple issues, which many people do, that can add up significantly each month. So to help Australians who receive these medical treatments, throughout our time in government we made medicines more accessible and affordable. In opposition, we'll keep doing the same thing; we'll keep the pressure on the government to make sure they do the same. I don't think the current government will revert to what the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government did when they stopped listing them. I think the current government will do the right thing and will have bipartisan support across the chamber here.

The reason that the coalition supports the reduction of the cost of medicines is that we understand the needs of Australians. When in government, through our strong economic management, and throughout the whole pandemic, we prioritised the health and safety of all Australians. And that's important; people know that during the pandemic the coalition government invested a lot into health. And we didn't do it just in health; we did it with employment, through programs like JobKeeper, as well.

We all remember—those people in the gallery, you'll remember—that, when the pandemic hit, people were lined up outside Centrelink. In my own electorate—in Deception Bay, in Margate and in Chermside, down on the border—people were lined up out the front of Centrelink offices, concerned about what the pandemic would do. But the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, established the National Cabinet. He brought bipartisan support across Labor and Liberal state governments because he wanted to deal with this once-in-a-generation pandemic, as the leader of the Liberal-National government, in a bipartisan way. That is something that I think he will be remembered for. In years to come it will be remembered that during the pandemic it was the member for Cook and the coalition government—and the former health minister, Greg Hunt—that stepped up and helped Australia, not just in saving lives but also in saving jobs and businesses. They put us in the economic position we're in today, where the Treasurer just found $50 billion in the back pocket!

The Moreton Bay region and the Brisbane City Council area, where my electorate is located, are known popular retirement destinations, and I can understand why. They have some of Queensland's most beautiful coastline throughout Deception Bay, Burpengary East, Redcliffe Peninsula and—on the other side of the bridge, in Brisbane City—around Brighton. It's a wonderful place to live. In my electorate of Petrie, 20 per cent of people are over the age of 65. Many people say that with age comes wisdom, and it does, but unfortunately it often comes with a decline in health as well. Not everyone is blessed with great health as they get older. With that decline, many rely on medical treatment in the form of prescription medications. The Liberal-National coalition remains absolutely committed to ensuring that, if required, Australians have access to affordable medicines when they need them. Pensioners are just one demographic that will benefit from this co-payment reduction. Self-funded retirees, who are often paying for high-cost scripts, will too.

In addition to the rise in the ageing population is the rise in chronic health conditions. The recent census revealed that almost one-third, 31.6 per cent, of people in my electorate of Petrie report having one or more chronic or long-term health conditions. These long-term health conditions include diagnoses such as arthritis; asthma; cancer; dementia; diabetes; heart disease; kidney disease; lung conditions; mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety; and stroke. This is not an exhaustive list; it only scratches the surface of long-term health conditions. Let's not forget that these are everyday people. It could be your grandmother, your mother—your child, in some cases. It could be your neighbour or friend. These are people who rely on regular medications to manage their long-term health conditions and maintain a quality of life that every person deserves. It was these people that the former coalition government were thinking of when we first committed to reducing this as part of our election commitments earlier this year.

I recently spoke to Andrew Twist, a pharmacist in my electorate working at Priceline Pharmacy in Kippa-Ring. And I do want to join former speaker Wallace in thanking pharmacists, particularly those in the electorate of Petrie, right through Brisbane City and throughout the Moreton Bay region, for the work they do every day to help people who walk into their pharmacy—filling scripts and, for people with multiple medications, packaging them up and putting them in bags so people get their medication right each day. They even deliver them to the homes of people who are unable to get out to the pharmacy. So thank you not just to Andrew at Priceline Pharmacy Kippa-Ring but to all the pharmacists in my electorate.

Andrew informed me that the reduction of the PBS co-payment would benefit local people in my electorate. When there is a policy that will benefit people, we support it as we have been elected to represent them. Andrew also told me that the constituents who will benefit the most in my community are the 10,000 people with type 2 diabetes; the 21,000 people who suffer with respiratory conditions such asthma, COPD and emphysema; and the 6,000 people with cancer.

I was speaking to a constituent last night who lives in Scarborough, on the Redcliffe peninsula, and uses the drug Breo Ellipta, which helps with asthma. That can cost the full $42.50 a month. It obviously costs a lot more, but the Australian government through the PBS pays that. Traditionally, this constituent would have been paying $42.50 a month, and what we're legislating for now will put it down to $30 a month. That drug has changed her life. She also has diabetes and uses two different types of insulin that can also cost $42.50 a month. She also was very thankful when the former coalition government brought in the continuous glucose monitoring sensors, which were costing her $150 every seven days. When you combine all this—reducing the $42.50 down to $30 and also what was done with the continuous glucose monitoring sensors that were costing $150—that's a big saving each month for this one constituent in the Petrie electorate. So I'm pleased with what the government is doing here. It will support local people. The coalition welcomes the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022.

My fellow Australians are feeling the cost-of-living pressure right now and will tonight with fuel excise going back up, which will equate to 25c a litre—22c plus GST—to fill your car up if you can in the next five days. With electricity bills going up, with rents going up—and during our MPI yesterday we spoke about the cost of living under this government—this one measure will help, and we are thankful for that. The people of Petrie are thankful for that.

Finally, the coalition calls on the Labor government to continue to reduce the cost of living like this bill will. People are hurting out there, it's not just families that have kids in child care. It's also single people and 'double income, no kids', as I spoke about yesterday. Their mortgage repayments are increasing significantly at the moment. So I encourage the government, in the budget that they are handing down later this year, to continue to help with cost of living so Australians can make ends meet.

12:58 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. This bill, which is going to relieve cost-of-living pressures for so many families in my electorate of Newcastle, is welcome news indeed. It comes off the back of a very historic week in this parliament. The Australian people voted for change back on 21 May and, my goodness, has this government been delivering. This week we have seen the introduction of the anticorruption commission legislation, a matter that the former government kicked down the road year after year after year. That legislation is now before the Australian parliament. We have finally seen legislation that covers the implementation of all the legislative reforms that are required to deliver on the first Kate Jenkins review, Respect@Work. Again, the government had a lot of opportunities to act on and honour their promise to implement all 55 recommendations but they squibbed it. They were deaf to the demands of Australian women, and they were punished for it. We saw what happened at the last election.

Again, people are crying out for some relief when it comes to cost-of-living pressures, but they are also crying out for a government that genuinely cares about the health and wellbeing of the Australian people. This is a government that went to the last election saying we would consider the aspects of both access and affordability when it came to health. We have all just lived through years of a global pandemic, where we got to see, firsthand, the pressures upon our health system. People in Newcastle are extremely appreciative of the efforts from all those men and women working in our health system. But they, like so many families across Australia, are really feeling the pinch of the massive inflation that is occurring. The economic position that we've inherited from the former government is now playing out in the quality of life that families get to live. So providing relief, wherever we are able to, is a great thing.

This is a great piece of legislation that is before the Australian parliament today, where we've said, 'Instead of you paying the current maximum rate of $42.50 for every script at the pharmacy, there will now be a maximum payment of $30—and that's per script.' We've all heard reports in our electorates—and, indeed, we've heard them on a national scale—that the high cost of medicines has been forcing patients into a situation where they're beginning to make choices about their health care and providing for their families. They're weighing up those two different pressures that they're facing. There's not a single doctor in Australia who would think that this is a good place for families to be forced into—a situation where they are making decisions about how to manage their health care because of the high cost of medicines. The PBS co-payment rate for general patients has doubled since 2000. According to the ABS figures, more than 900,000 Australians delayed filling or, indeed, did not at all fill their prescription in 2019-20 due to the cost alone.

This isn't something that has snuck up on us; this is an inequity that has been baked into the system over time, while the former government had ample opportunity to act. But it has taken the election of a new Labor government in order to get some action and to deliver on demand from the Australian people that we do something. We have a quality health system—no-one disputes that—but we know it's under extreme pressure, and we are now doing everything we can, as a government, to deliver on those two questions about accessibility and affordability. This is a critical part of Labor's commitment to ensure that health care is of a high quality, accessible to people and affordable.

In my electorate, I have seen this time and time again. The chances of you finding a bulk-billing doctor in Newcastle now are nearly Buckley's. That is a radical shift that has occurred over time, and it has everything to do with the very long pursuit of freezing Medicare rebates. There are lots of complex reasons why this is occurring. We are seeing a shift from people getting quality primary health care from their GPs—which is, absolutely, where we want people to reach out and get their health care from—to emergency departments in our hospitals, because of affordability issues.

Tertiary health is the most expensive way to deliver health care in this country. The idea of putting unnecessary pressure on our emergency departments, and the cost is quadruple what it is to deliver through the primary health system—if you don't need to be in hospital let's not encourage people to be there. Let's not force people to be there because of other inequities that have been baked into the health system along the way. We're going to do everything we can to make remedies to those inequities in the system.

This bill before the House will amend the National Health Act and, therefore, reduce the maximum general patient co-payment under the PBS from that current maximum level of $42.50 per script to just $30. That's a deduction of $12.50 and represents a saving of 29 per cent for consumers on each and every script, and that is a great thing. That is very good news for Novocastrians and families where I come from. Nineteen million Australians will be eligible for savings under this bill. Nineteen million Australians are going to get some relief because of good laws being made by this Albanese Labor government. And we should celebrate that.

We should be celebrating but also doubling down on our efforts to keep up the great reform work that we have planned, the reform work that we took to the Australian people and received a mandate for. So 19 million Australians will be eligible for savings under this bill, and that's going to present a total savings for consumers, it's been calculated, of almost $200 million per year. These are big figures. No longer are patients going to have to make choices about whether they can afford particular prescriptions in order to help prevent stroke in their lives.

Where I come from we have an extremely high prevalence of asthma, and so many of those medications will be made affordable, will be life changing. We know the difference between people who take their medications as prescribed by a doctor—there's a reason why a doctor says you should take it this frequently and in this manner. But if there are financial barriers and obstacles in front of people, then they are making those difficult choices themselves: 'I can't take it that frequently; when should I take it? Do I fill it?' For most doctors, that is a nightmare. That is not following a care plan that has been delivered by their trusted GP.

Making sure that these drugs are within reach for people with chronic health issues, like asthma, diabetes or stroke prevention, is a really worthwhile investment in trying to keep people healthy. This is what we've learnt about the health system. If you invest at the front end of our primary healthcare system, and you are making the investment in ensuring that people can access a GP and take the prescribed medicines, it's keeping them out of health options that are not good for their health and wellbeing, down the track, but also they're super, super expensive.

We are adding important medicines to the PBS each and every week. That is the job of government. As we learn about improvements in medicines, if they stack up—and it is the job of the manufacturers to ensure that they have run their clinical trials and they have a good argument about the cost-benefit of these drugs—then they are listed on the PBS. This is a terrific system. It is a great Labor initiative. It is a scheme that you would want to see continue to grow and serve the Australian people for generations and generations to come.

Having watched the dramatic increase of PBS co-payments over the last couple of decades, I know this legislation couldn't be more timely. It is vital that this legislation be passed. And I am very pleased to hear that members opposite have seen their way clear to support this bill. It is good policy. It is good public health policy. And it is deserving of support from all quarters of this parliament, because, right now, Australians are paying the price for a decade of missed opportunity and drift in health. This bill will make a real difference to their household budgets for millions and millions of Australian people.

So this is a sign of the Albanese Labor government taking action. As I said, it has been a massive week, where our government has been getting on with the business of governing. We don't have a day to waste. We've got an agenda that is full. We are ensuring that we honour those commitments each and every day in this parliament. We don't have time to waste. All of us have commitments that we are adamant about delivering, both in our electorates and for the national agenda. And this is a very important contribution towards ensuring an improved healthcare system for all of those Australians.

The pandemic gave us insights into how marvellous our healthcare system is in Australia but also the pressure points within that system. We are a Labor government. We are the party that built Medicare. We are the party that has always stood up to defend Medicare, whenever it has been under attack from conservative governments over the decades. We are a party that understands the importance of universal health care. It is a fundamental principle for each and every one of us on this side of the House.

I see Dr Mike Freelander, the member for Macarthur, joining us—a man who was inspired to do medicine because of his passion for our universal healthcare system in Australia. We need people like him in health care. We need them in the parliament as well, and I'm very pleased he's here.

You can always depend on a Labor government to deliver better health outcomes for the Australian people. We will always look to ensure both equity of access and affordability for each and every Australian, because health care matters and we will be here to defend Medicare, universal health and the PBS each and every day in this parliament.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Newcastle. The question is that this bill be now read a second time. I call the honourable member for Bowman, and I congratulate him on his election to the 47th Parliament.

1:13 pm

Henry Pike (Bowman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is a pleasure to see you, my neighbouring MP, in the chair; it's always good to see a friendly face and a fellow Queenslander. I'm sure we look forward to returning to the Sunshine State and enjoying the rest of the week up there after the parliament rises this evening.

The National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022 amends the National Health Act to reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general co-payment by $12.50, commencing from 1 January 2023. The bill reduces the PBS general patient charge by allowing pharmacies to apply an optional discount to the PBS dispensed price of certain PBS medicines with a Commonwealth price between the new co-payment of $30 and the current co-payment of $42.50.

We support this bill but note that it is copying coalition policy. I've just spoken in the Federation Chamber about the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Incentivising Pensioners to Downsize) Bill 2022, which is another initiative of the federal coalition government that the current government have appropriated and adapted and introduced as a bill in this new parliament. I don't begrudge them that. There is no monopoly on good policy. If the government wishes to implement the policies of the previous government, then I encourage them to do so. We can give them plenty more good policies from this side of the House which we would welcome their adapting and implementing.

We want them to do well. They are our government: we want them to do well and we want Australia to do well. We'd encourage them to continue to use the playbook established by the previous government to grow Australia's welfare and to grow Australia's communal support and how we're assisting our citizens. Hopefully, we can be as one on that. It was the coalition's policy to reduce the co-payment back to 2008 levels, a policy that, obviously, was adapted by the Labor Party ahead of the recent election. There are of course no intellectual property rights in politics, and I encourage the government to copy away. I welcome the government putting forward this bill, which will largely enact a coalition policy.

We all recall that under the last Labor government they had to stop listing medicines on the PBS because they couldn't afford it, a direct result of poor management of the budget. They also slashed funding for mental health support and tried to rip funding out of medical research. Today, I want to take the opportunity to compare that to the coalition record.

We had 2,900 new or amended listings on the PBS. That represents an overall investment by the government of $16.5 billion. The coalition government established the landmark $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, which has funded 722 projects by last count. Medicare funding, of course, grew from $19 billion in 2012-13 to $31.4 billion in 2022-23. The GP Medicare bulk-billing rate reached a record 88.8 per cent, up from 82.2 per cent under Labor. And, of course—a more recent development following the pandemic and the disruption that we all had to our daily lives, to medical provision and even to the operations of this place—we saw the government introduce permanent and universal telehealth. More than 100 million new telehealth services have been delivered at the last count I have information of. I'm sure the new government might be able to update us on some of those statistics, but the last count I had was that over 100 million new telehealth services had been provided to over 17 million people.

The former coalition government also doubled funding for public hospitals, from $13.3 billion in 2012-13 to $27.2 billion in 2022-23. That is certainly reflective of the investment that I've seen within the electorate of Bowman. We've had a record level of investment in the Metro South local health network, and there are also a number of critical projects at Redland hospital that we've gotten federal funding for. I certainly don't think there was that level of investment under the previous Labor government, but I hope the new Labor government will look with positive eyes on any projects that I put forward in relation to health investment in my neck of the woods—or, indeed, in your neck of the woods, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta; I'm sure it would be most welcome.

The provisions of this bill were announced as a cost-of-living relief measure, but Labor has taken its time to implement the bill, which won't commence until next year. While a useful cost-of-living measure—I certainly accept that—it is the only cost-of-living measure the government has announced while in office, and they must do more.

The bill follows through on Labor's promise to cut the PBS charge by $12.50. This was a policy, as I mentioned, that was introduced in response to the coalition committing to a $10 reduction. It's another case of this government copying coalition policy and, certainly, a little bit of one-upmanship there with an extra $2.50. It's reminiscent of some commitments that were made during the recent federal election. I recall one within my electorate, where a $100 million commitment for a road project was trumped by a $110 million commitment the next day. I'm sure these things happen; I can't complain, and I absolutely welcome it.

The coalition has always been, and always will be, committed to ensuring that Australians have access to affordable medicines whenever they are needed. We have a strong track record regarding timely access to effective medicines, treatments and other services. I'm keen to remind the House that, while in government, the coalition listed no less than 2,900 new and amended medicines on the PBS. I will repeat that number: that's 2,900 new and amended medicines on the PBS. I was going to try to list them today, but I know we have time constraints; we do want to get away from here at some point and, of course, a lot of those medicines are very difficult to pronounce and I wasn't intending to make a fool of myself in this chamber! But that's almost 30 new medicines a month, if you do the calculations. Following consultation with all components of the pharmaceutical supply chain, the coalition shifted drugs to be listed in line with the recommendations of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, ending the negative impact of government bureaucracy in this space.

So the coalition certainly has a proud track record of making medicines more affordable. I've noted that some of the contributions from those on the government benches would have you believe otherwise, but when you go through those numbers that is a very proud track record. I've certainly seen the impact that this has had firsthand in the division of Bowman. I've seen the impact these policies have had and the differences they've made to local households. But I know there's certainly a long way to go in terms of affordability of medicines.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia does excellent work. They recently supplied me with research undertaken in my electorate which found some very interesting statistics, and I want to share some of these today. One is that 25 per cent of adults in the Bowman electorate have delayed the purchase of prescribed medicines because they could not afford them. That's quite a high percentage. Then 13 percentage of adults in Bowman have gone without prescribed medicines because they could not afford them, and 41 per cent of women in Bowman aged 35 to 55, and without a concession card, have struggled to pay for medicines in the past three years. And then 74 per cent of adults in the electorate of Bowman were concerned about the affordability of health care.

These statistics are quite high, comparatively; I had a look at some of the other electorates across the country which the Pharmacy Guild of Australia conducted some research in. I have an older demographic in the Redlands; traditionally, we have been a retiree area. I think that, while not anywhere near some of the other regional electorates in Queensland, which have much higher aged cohorts, we certainly have an older demographic in terms of a suburban seat. So it's a very real concern for the people in my electorate and we certainly welcome this bill. This is because it will assist them in being able to purchase these medicines and also assist in preventing the erosion of the value of their dollar in such high-inflation times. That's an issue which is not going to go away any time soon.

This bill will make a real difference to these Australians. Approximately 19 million Australians will be eligible for savings under this bill. Total savings for consumers is calculated to be almost $200 million per year—that's certainly not an insignificant saving for Australians. It's an important step to ease the cost-of-living pressures, and the bill has potential to help in that regard. In 2020-21 nearly 70 per cent of people were supplied at least one PBS medicine. That's quite a remarkable number. I was surprised at how high that was.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Australian Patients Association, Chronic Pain Australia and Musculoskeletal Australia have issued a joint press release welcoming this bill. I want to refer to that joint press release because I think it's quite illuminating. Having worked for a number of different industry associations, I know how difficult it can be at times to get stakeholder groups together to support anything, let alone a bill in front of the parliament. I want to have a little look at that press release. This is a very significant endorsement of this policy. It's from 1 May and it quotes the National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Professor Trent Twomey, as saying:

On behalf of patients, we and our partners the Australian Patients Association, Chronic Pain Australia and Musculoskeletal Australia are thrilled that both major parties have now committed to making medicines more affordable if they are elected.

Of course Labor, who were then in opposition and are now in government, followed the lead of the coalition government and adopted this policy. It continued:

A bipartisan commitment to address the cost of prescription medicines is a win for patients around the country who have been doing it tough …

…   …   …

This announcement is an acknowledgement of the importance of medicine affordability at a time when Australians are struggling with the cost of living.

I note that word 'bipartisan', and I'll come back to that in a second. Another section of that press release was attributed to Fiona Hodson, who is the President of Chronic Pain Australia. Fiona wrote:

The reduction in the co-payment will be welcome news to the one in five Australians living with chronic pain. Medicine affordability is a key issue for these patients as they manage their complex and chronic conditions.

I note there all these wonderful advocacy groups who offered their support for strong bipartisanship on this issue. This was pre election.

Whilst I was on duty here last night I noticed—with wonder—some of the statements made by Labor members. There certainly wasn't a spirit of bipartisanship. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the former government had cut medicines from the PBS rather than having an additional 2,900 new or amended listings, an investment of $16.5 billion. You'd be forgiven for not thinking that Medicare funding grew from $19 billion in 2012-13 to $31.4 billion in 2022-23 or that Commonwealth funding for public hospitals grew from $13.3 billion to $27.2 billion.

I note that one speaker last night even tried to accuse the Liberal Party of having opposed a measure by John Curtin—a measure that predated the existence of the Liberal Party of Australia! You would expect that sort of partisan theatre in question time—in half an hour's time—but not when you're speaking to a bill that is a carbon copy of coalition policy. I will wrap it up now because I have about 30 seconds left.

This bill will achieve a welcome outcome—$200 million of savings in subsidies that are accessible to 19 million Australians. It builds on the great work of the former Liberal-Nationals government, a government that listed more than 2,900 new and amended medicines on the PBS. I encourage the government to immediately outline what further actions they're going to take to relieve cost-of-living pressures, particularly in relation to combating inflation. This is a good start, but more is required.

1:28 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to congratulate the Minister for Health and Aged Care for introducing the National Health Amendment (General Co-Payment) Bill 2022. This is a really momentous health bill. It demonstrates to all the measured approach of the Albanese Labor government to our program that we will put in place over the next three years. It also continues Labor's history of understanding health care in Australia, supporting health care in Australia and making sure Australians have access to the best affordable health care around the world.

Australia has had a wonderful record in health, thanks to Labor governments. From the introduction of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme by the Curtin and Chifley Labor governments in 1949 to the introduction of Medibank by Gough Whitlam in 1973, which we know was destroyed by the Fraser government subsequently and was reinstated as Medicare by the Hawke government in 1984—the year I started my private practice—

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sorry, but the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate will be resumed at a later hour. The member's speech was interrupted, so he will be granted leave to speak when the debate is resumed.