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Thursday, 28 August 1997
Page: 7281

Mr LEE —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. When the government decided to force ordinary Australians to pay more for the best and newest medicines, did the Prime Minister intend to hit heart transplant recipients, including a constituent of mine, Mr David Schneider, who is currently taking four drugs which will be affected by your government's changes?

Mr Ross Cameron —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. I refer to standing order 144(f). I note that the member is in the habit of including some cynical remark in every one of his questions. Standing order 144(f) specifically precludes the use of cynical expressions. The Collins dictionary describes cynicism as `the crudest attempt at irony'. Irony is prohibited under standing order 144(f). I ask you to rule it out of order, no matter how crude that attempt may be.

Mr SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member for Parramatta, and I take heed of the thrust of your remarks. We all recognise that this is a very robust chamber and, whilst cautioning the member for Dobell, I will not rule the question out of order.

Mr LEE —Did the Prime Minister intend to hit heart transplant recipients such as Mr Schneider, who is currently taking four drugs, affected by the changes? Is the Prime Minister also aware of a recent report by Paul Gross, who the Prime Minister invited to brief cabinet on private health insurance, which shows that Mr Schneider may be up to $38 a month worse off as a result of these changes? Finally, Prime Minister, is it your plan to force battlers such as Mr Schneider to pay hundreds of dollars more each year for their essential medicines, or will you act today to reverse this unfair measure?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —I thank the honourable member for his question. It is very interesting to look at the last two questions from the Labor Party because they are internally inconsistent. The Leader of the Opposition on one hand is saying that all this money is going to come out of the pockets of the drug companies and the shadow minister for health is saying that all the money is going to come out of the pockets of the consumers. Both cannot be right.

The fact is that you are trying to have it both ways, and you cannot. You do not understand the pharmaceutical benefits system. You could not keep it under control when you were a government and now you are whingeing when we try to do something that you should have done years ago. The fact is that what we accepted with the pharmaceutical benefits system was a system that was doubling in cost every four years.

The shadow minister for health himself got up in this House in 1990 and complained about how we could not afford a pharmaceutical benefits system that was $1.5 billion. This year it is $2.7 billion. The fact is that this year we are spending $200 million more on the PBS, even after all the changes, than last year—$200 million that will predominantly go into the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies.

With respect to the question that the shadow minister for health raises, the categories of drugs, the drugs in those categories and the bench prices have not been determined. They are not being determined on a political basis; they are being determined by an expert committee. Any speculation that you may raise as to what price people will be up for for drugs is meaningless because in the end it will be the scientific experts on the PBAC that make that determination.

Finally, I would say: why on earth should the federal government subsidise a floor price that is not a market price? The companies want to have flexibility in charging. They will have that and in the end the competition in the system will determine what the price to the consumer is. We think at most that will be a difference of about $1.50 to $2.00 in a circumstance where there are alternative drugs, which you cannot seem to understand.

Mr LEE —I have a supplementary question. Does the minister dispute Mr Paul Gross's estimate that Mr Schneider will be $38 a month worse off?

Mr SPEAKER —The question is out of order.

Mr Lee —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Why is the question out of order?

Mr SPEAKER —I have so ruled.