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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4870

Senator XENOPHON (12:56 PM) —Before this bill is agreed to I want to put on the record, briefly, some concerns that have been expressed to me and concerns I share in relation to this bill. There are concerns, from those who practice in the field of complementary medicine, that this bill may impose an unfair impost upon them—that it may put them at a significant disadvantage for no discernible health benefit for Australians. I will quote from Alan Stubenrauch, the Federal Vice President of the Complementary Medicine Association, who, on behalf of the association has written to me about this. He has said:

The association is concerned that if some complementary medicines which pass a certain threshold of harm become listed as medicines under the TGA they will be put out of reach to the professional naturopath and put solely into the hands of other health professionals such as doctors who may not have the depth and hours of training and experience in the safe use of these medicines that professional naturopaths have.

The association goes on to say:

We believe that the way to control any potential risks posed by these complementary medicines is to ensure that they are prescribed by qualified and experienced practitioners educated in the uses, benefits and contraindications of these complementary medicines. And clearly these professionals are properly qualified naturopaths. To maintain public safety we must ensure the public’s ability to differentiate between a properly qualified naturopath and someone who has not had sufficient training to safely administer these medicines.

These are concerns shared by homeopaths and other complementary health professionals. The association goes on to say:

The only way to ensure this is to urgently pursue the establishment of a properly administered national register of qualified naturopaths, and ideally statutory registration for the profession of naturopathy, thus protecting and limiting the title of naturopath to practitioners who are fully qualified in that science.

The association goes on to say that they believe that there ought to be further consultation in relation to this and that they believe a specific committee made up of qualified complementary medicines practitioners would be able to advise the minister and to ensure that the public has the greatest degree of security and safety in relation to this. I think those concerns from homeopaths that I have spoken to are mirrored by practitioners I have spoken to in the last few days.

Val Johanson, the Principal Consultant of Johanson and Associates Consulting has also written to me expressing her concerns. She makes the point:

Australia is one of the few countries in the world that regulates these natural products as medicines subject to strict pharmaceutical manufacturing standards. Canada has established a regulatory system for natural health products that is separate from both food and medicines. In the US and New Zealand they regulate most supplements under food law and last year New Zealand did not agree to adopt the Australian system for regulating supplements as medicines despite a treaty between the two countries to establish a joint office for regulation of therapeutic goods. Switzerland has recently—May 2009—become the first country in Europe to provide authority in its constitution for complementary medicines to be taken into consideration in the public health system.

She goes on to say:

The original intent of the regulation of natural health care products in Australia was to provide a risk based system of control over the safety and quality of these products—a light touch approach that reflects their very low risk. The ongoing evolution and implementation of the Australian regulatory system has resulted in an industry that is hamstrung and hobbled by inappropriate and excessive regulation and escalating costs.

That sums up the tenor of her concerns.

We should also remember what occurred in the Pan Pharmaceuticals case, where there were very significant adverse health outcomes resulting from a batch of products from Pan. This is a very serious concern and something that was well publicised at the time. But what I find interesting is that there was subsequently a very significant payout by the Commonwealth—the result of a judgement against the Commonwealth—for $50 million. It awarded $5 million in costs to Mr Selim, the owner of Pan Pharmaceuticals. I think that the way that matter was handled is indicative of some of the problems with the administration. It was handled in such a way as to effectively destroy a business and went over and beyond the appropriate concerns about health and other matters.

I cannot support this legislation. I understand that it will be agreed to, but I want to put on record my concerns. I, along with millions of other Australians, benefit from complementary medicines, and I think there are some real concerns that there may be some undue regulations that go beyond the appropriate concerns about the health and safety of these products and that will hamstrung this particular industry without any discernible public benefit.