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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 3635

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (12:54 PM) —I rise to speak on the Health Legislation Amendment (Australian Community Pharmacy Authority and Private Health Insurance) Bill 2010. I concur with the comments of Senator Ronaldson, most especially about Ministers Roxon and Elliot. The Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement is not very different from past agreements which were negotiated by the coalition. This indicates that the government has realised the value of such agreements and has carried on these past arrangements. I note that important aspects of previous agreements have been retained in this agreement, most especially the retention of the community pharmacy location rules, the prohibition on a community pharmacy being co-located in a supermarket and the continuation of the wholesaler community service obligation payments.

I remind the Senate that it was the coalition that introduced the location rules in a past agreement. This was to ensure provision of widespread community access to pharmaceutical services. They were later amended by the then health minister, Tony Abbott, to prohibit co-location of pharmacies in supermarkets to maintain that access. The coalition supports free market principles and we are keen to see competition in the pharmacy sector. However, we recognise that the supply of pharmaceuticals, which includes dangerous drugs, is very different to the selling of other items and products. So, as a government, we were prepared to take the decisions that ensured pharmacies were kept away from the big supermarkets and their retail chains. This was welcomed by the Pharmacy Guild. It is still our view that replacing focused, often family-oriented, businesses with departments of major retail chains would not improve existing arrangements. Delivery of effective, efficient and professional pharmacy services to consumers through a unique community pharmacy model is an arrangement that has served Australians well for a long time.

There are two further matters regarding the fifth agreement which I would like to comment on. Under the fourth agreement a review of the location rules, amongst other matters, was carried out. The coalition notes that the results of that review are due to be provided to the government and to a consultative committee established under the new agreement in the very near future. Secondly, there is one change in this agreement that has attracted some criticism—namely, the suggestion of allowing pharmacists to dispense some medicines without a doctor’s prescription. The coalition notes the agreement allows for such dispensing under specific circumstances only—for example, where a patient is unable to get to his or her doctor to obtain a timely prescription renewal. The coalition understands that further details surrounding this change are yet to be finalised and that consultations with stakeholders are yet to occur. The coalition will not oppose the amendment bill, which will bring the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement into operation.