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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 752

Mrs DARLING(7.41) —I rise in this adjournment debate to touch briefly on a matter of government policy which has been of serious concern to many constituents in my electorate of Lilley, and indeed constituents across Australia. The matter in question is the availability to the public of natural medicines, and I am particularly keen to address this matter in the House this evening because there has been considerable misrepresentation of the Government's intentions in this area. I stress that it is government policy and intention. There is no draft Bill before the House and no draft Bill in the office of the Minister of Health (Dr Blewett).

Indeed, I would particularly like to clear up this misunderstanding as government policy is directed not only to continuing the same level of access to these natural treatments, but also to enhancing the safety and quality of these substances for the health and welfare of the Australian public. Honourable members will be aware of the considerable number of representations made on this matter, largely through the prompting of the Australian Natural Therapists Association. They will also be aware of the response given by the Health Minister, which categorically states the worthy intentions of the Government in future policy.

The Minister assures me that the Federal Government is not intending to place restrictions on the sale or availability of popular natural medicines on the market. Nor does the Government seek to require patients to be issued prescriptions to purchase common natural remedies. The Government's intention is to continue with the present arrangements for natural medicines, but move to ensure that standards are introduced to guarantee the safety and quality of commercially produced natural medicines-mainly vitamins. This will be achieved through the introduction of a national system for therapeutic goods for human use.

This system will require commercially-produced natural remedies and homeopathic preparations to be registered, and for manufacturers to be licensed to comply with a code of good manufacturing practice. However, I would like to emphasise that all existing natural remedies would be given automatic registration and proposed controls would not extend to private practitioners who prepare remedies individually for their patients.

Furthermore, commercially produced natural remedies would not be subject to the same assessment requirements as pharmaceuticals. Vitamins which are now available without prescription-and that is the huge majority of vitamins-will still be available without prescription. They will not be assessed in the same manner as drugs and prescriptions will not be issued. The only instance in which a prescription will be required is where prescriptions are now required for particularly potent preparations that are currently identified and will continue to be in the future by the National Health and Medical Research Council. These substances are actually listed on the poisons schedule and require prescription for the protection of the patient. The Minister for Health has assured me that this will not change. I particularly welcome the policy of the Government in this area because I am fully aware of the considerable relief offered to many people through natural treatments. As a matter of fact, if any honourable member is interested, I will be delighted to delineate the considerable benefits of taking vitamin E on a regular basis.

The level and substance of constituent response on this issue has proved to me that this represents a serious health issue, and I feel that the Federal Parliament is a worthy and appropriate forum in which to reassure the people of Australia that the Government's policy retains the needs of individual patients as its paramount consideration. I am therefore pleased to support the Government in this initiative, which I feel reflects an effective amalgamation of the economic logic of free market availability and the sensible intervention of a caring government which seeks to guarantee the health and safety of its citizens.