Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Regulations and Determinations

Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016; Disallowance

12:39 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to have the vote on the motion to disallow the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016 taken again.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that the question on the motion to disallow the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016 be put again immediately.

We have here a disallowance motion that effectively says to people around Australia: if you are suffering from a terminal illness, it is no longer acceptable that you cannot get access to medication that can relieve you of your pain and suffering. We are seeing the chamber express a view that it will no longer stand by and watch the government prevent effective treatment from reaching terminally ill people. We stood here on 11 May, the last sitting day that we had the opportunity to speak to this issue, and I spoke about the patients whose lives would be improved through this disallowance. These are people who are dying. They are people who are suffering. Some of them have intractable nausea. Some of them have pain. Some of them have no appetite. They are people with brain tumours. They are people with cancers. They are people on chemotherapy. They are people who cannot get access to treatment that will relieve them of their pain and suffering. It is shameful that the position of this government is to deny access to treatment to those people who are suffering. Today we are seeing the Greens and, hopefully, the Labor Party and the crossbench coming together and saying: 'We are behind you. We will not make your life harder. We will give you access to treatment that you cannot currently access.'

As I outlined last time when we considered this motion, support for this disallowance motion is effectively support for restoring the existing rights of patients who, by definition, are suffering from life-threatening conditions. We have said on numerous occasions that medicinal cannabis should be treated like other medicines, like other treatments. There are special pathways that give people who are suffering from terminal illnesses access to treatment that may not be available here in Australia. We say that for all other medication. If we are saying that medicinal cannabis is a treatment that can treat symptoms like intractable nausea secondary to chemotherapy, why are we making a special case that says, 'You cannot access this drug through a scheme that allows people to access all other drugs that might not be available here in Australia'?

This disallowance makes two simple changes to the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016 to restore—and again I say 'restore'—the rights of terminally ill patients, rights that were stripped away when the government supported this regulation, so that those people can now access medicinal cannabis products through category A of the TGA Special Access Scheme. This Special Access Scheme is designed to provide a pathway for Australian patients to get access to medicines that are not available to people here in Australia. We are saying: if this medicine is available here in Australia, wonderful, but, if you cannot get access to it right now and you are suffering—you have oesophageal cancer or pancreatic cancer or a brain tumour and you are on heavy-duty chemotherapy drugs and you cannot hold your food down and your quality of life is miserable—that we are going to give you an option to source this drug, to make sure that it provides you with relief from your symptoms.

There are two different categories—category A and category B—and they have got different levels of regulation associated with them. The condition of the patient is very strictly defined in the Special Access Scheme. Under category A, this is who gets access: 'persons who are seriously ill with a condition from which death is reasonably likely to occur within a matter of months, or from which premature death is reasonably likely to occur in the absence of early treatment'. That is why this scheme exists. Why would we abolish this scheme just for medicinal cannabis but keep it open for access to other drugs?

Singling out medicinal cannabis is saying to people that we are treating this medication in a different way to the other life-saving medications that are available in the current category A scheme. I say to this chamber: support this treatment and support the patients who are suffering right now.


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