Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


Colac District; Liberal Candidate for Corangamite

6:58 pm

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to raise an issue of such significance to the people of Colac, in Victoria, that 4,479 people signed a petition calling for action. The petition was presented to the Senate today and has been incorporated in Hansard. This number of petitioners is remarkable in itself. What is even more remarkable is that the 4,479 signatures were drawn from a population of approximately 12,000 people. So what is the issue? The wording of this petition speaks for itself. It reads as follows:

To the Honourable President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:

The petition of the undersigned shows:

That the Colac district is in need of an additional pharmacy to service the needs of the community.

Your petitioners ask/request that the Senate:

Immediately call upon the Government to facilitate an additional licence to dispense medicine in Colac without further delay to improve competition, accessibility and choice for the members of the community.

By the standards of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, you would need four pharmacies to service a population of this size in adequate fashion—one per 3,000 people. But in Colac today there are only two pharmacies, both of which are owned and operated by the same company. That means that Colac is 50 per cent underresourced when it comes to pharmaceutical services. So not only is there a pharmacy shortage problem in Colac; there is also a monopoly problem. As a result, there is a rising sense of dissatisfaction in the community.

One Colac resident, Mrs Jeannette Sell, was quoted in the Geelong Advertiser about her frustrations with the existing state of affairs. She said:

“People are sick and tired of waiting 40-50 minutes even longer.”

That is for a script to be filled. She went on to recount several instances when she was forced to wait two hours before she could pick up a simple dose of medicine.

Some people have responded to the situation by seeking their prescriptions elsewhere, but that involves a 20-kilometre drive to Birregurra, at least a one-hour round trip when one takes into account the stop at the pharmacy. Other residents have reacted in a quintessentially Australian manner. They have organised to make their voice heard, and what a loud voice it has turned out to be. Over the past month, a group of determined Colac citizens has put together a petition drive. This classic example of grassroots democratic action has managed to collect those 4,479 signatures calling for a new pharmacy in town. As I said earlier, that is 4,479 out of 12,000 inhabitants. That is better than one out of three, a truly amazing result.

If those statistics alone do not convince the government of the strength of feeling in the Colac community about the pharmacy issue, allow me to tell you a few stories. Allow me to tell you about Ruth Spokes. Ruth is a long-term Colac resident. She was extremely ill when the petition drive commenced, but so strongly did she feel about the negative impact the pharmacy shortage was having on her community that she refused to be admitted to hospital until she had delivered the petition to businesses throughout the town. Because of this self-sacrifice and dedication, Ruth was forced to spend more time in hospital than originally planned. I am happy to report to the Senate that she is doing well. There is also a silver lining to the cloud of her prolonged stay in hospital: during her time on the ward, people recognised her and knew her role in the petition drive and asked her for copies of the petition sheets so that they too could collect signatures. All in all, these added numbers were a fitting tribute to Ruth, who celebrated her birthday in hospital—and I would like to take this opportunity to wish Ms Ruth Spokes a belated happy birthday as well as thank her for her drive and determination.

The moving force behind this classic example of grassroots democracy consisted of Ruth Spokes and Jeanette Sell, whom I previously mentioned, and their colleague Faye Roscoe. Together these three local ladies made a triumphant triumvirate that achieved an amazing success. Initially, Ruth, Jeanette and Faye each had 50 copies of the petition sheet, but so overwhelming was the public response that two of them were back for more within the first hour. In total, about 300 petition sheets were handed out on the first day alone.

One local business phoned at lunchtime on the first day of the petition drive to advise that their three sheets were already full. ‘Send us more,’ they asked, ‘many more.’ The same thing happened at the local milk bar, which saw three signature sheets filled within the very short space of two hours. One person stopped by to sign the petition and decided to take to sheet back to their place of business. After 90 minutes, an employee showed up with a request for more petition sheets because the first one had already been filled. People who came by the office asked whether they could sign on behalf of other people they knew would support the cause. When they were told that was not permitted, they would take a petition sheet with them, returning it filled with signatures from neighbours eager for a new pharmacy in the town. Many of those who showed up to sign had a personal story to tell about their pharmaceutical trials and tribulations.

The number of signatures on this petition, as well as the speed with which they were collected, reflects the distress and dissatisfaction caused by the pharmacy shortage in Colac. This is a serious problem that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable elements of the Colac society—the sick, the infirm and the elderly.

The other person I want to mention in relation to this issue is the community’s local representative in the Victorian parliament, the member for Polwarth, Mr Terry Mulder. Terry is the very model of what a member of parliament should be. His vast local knowledge lets him understand the needs of his home community. The community came to him about this issue and he responded. His widely acknowledged grit and courage moved him to fight for local concerns. Terry is a real dynamo, who puts his community first—

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why wasn’t he asked to lodge the petition?

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

The local member?

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The local member.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not a party political issue, but that is actually a very good question. Indeed—

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Who’s the local member?

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

The local member was actually asked to get involved in this—that is Darren Cheeseman, the member for Corangamite—and failed to do so. As I say, this is not a party political issue, but I think there was significant disappointment in that regard.

The people of Colac need another pharmacy. The people of Colac deserve another pharmacy. The people of Colac even rate another pharmacy under the guidelines of the Pharmacy Guild itself. So let us cut the red tape and let us dispense with any bureaucratic excuses. Let us give Ruth Spokes, Jeanette Sell, Faye Roscoe and the 4,476 other signatories to the Colac petition the pharmacy their community so urgently deserves.

I note that I have still got a couple of minutes left, so I will not waste that opportunity. On a matter unrelated to the pharmacy issue, I will take the short time available to me to talk about the next federal member for Corangamite, Liberal candidate Sarah Henderson. Sarah is a local Geelong girl who made good as a journalist and business owner. Now she wants to take that knowledge and experience to Canberra, where she can use it on behalf of the people of Corangamite, and that will be quite a change for the better. The current Labor member, Darren Cheeseman, mistakenly thinks that his role is to serve as Canberra’s voice in Corangamite rather than as Corangamite’s voice in Canberra. He does not want to rock the boat. He is so fearful of his own Labor hierarchy that he always toes the party line, even if it is to the detriment of his own constituents. The people of Corangamite deserve to have a fighter for their interests in federal parliament who can complement the sort of willingness that people like Terry Mulder have to get into the trenches for them. When Sarah Henderson wins that seat in the next federal election, that is what Corangamite will get. As I said, I had a couple of minutes left and I thought I would add that to my comments about the Colac pharmacy.