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Thursday, 14 May 1998
Page: 3334

Mr CAMPBELL (9:47 AM) —I move:

That the Therapeutic Goods Regulations (Amendment), as contained in Statutory Rules 1997, Nos. 400 and 401, made under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, be disallowed.

In moving this motion for disallowance I am taking advantage of one of the few options that Independents have in this House to bring attention to the situation that exists in Australia, where I believe Australia's national interests are simply not recognised by the government. If this section is not passed, control of advertising would become the province of the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. While I do not think this is good, I think it might bring things to a climax because I think their heavy-handed style would have to be countered, particularly in view of the fact that we now operate in this free trade zone with New Zealand. If it is passed, however, the control of advertising will rest with the collegiate of the Proprietary Medicines Association and the Nutritious Foods Association, which would probably be a better outcome.

Under the present situation, I find that there is an unnecessary heavy hand placed on the advertising and promotion of alternative medicines. This is another example of the nanny state. I think people overwhelmingly should have the right and have the ability to discern for themselves whether alternative medicines are working for them or not. In this regard I do not discount the placebo effect. If people think a thing is working for them then it is to all intents and purposes doing just that. Under the present situation herbs such as feverfew cannot be advertised as helping to prevent migraines but they can be advertised as helping to reduce the pain of migraines. It is quite clear they have no effect whatsoever in reducing the pain of migraine, but for many people I think they do help to stop the onset of migraine. It seems to me absolutely ludicrous that the company is not allowed to advertise what they believe the real purpose of this herb is. As a herb I think it has few side effects, unlike many other drugs in this category, and should be free from these sorts of restraints.

We also have the situation that in New Zealand, which has a very liberal view of those matters, manufacturers of proprietary medicines and these sorts of herbal remedies do not have to meet the conditions that are met in Australia, yet they are free to sell in Australia, which gives them a big advantage over Australia manufacturers. This is just another example of the much lauded and illusionary level playing field.

I am taking this opportunity of opposing this to highlight what I see as the unnecessary bureaucratic interference in these drugs. Let us look at vitamins. You cannot advertise vitamins unless you say on the label that they will have no effect unless you have a vitamin deficiency in the diet. There is substantial evidence to say that this is not true. There is substantial evidence that says that large doses of vitamin C are very efficacious in preventing the onset of quite a lot of human problems, including the common cold. There is evidence that vitamin E has therapeutic effects which go beyond merely having adequate amounts in the diet. So here we have a situation where the advertising is in fact advertising an untruth by government mandate.

I believe we should be taking a much more liberal view of this situation and I believe the Australian public is well able to discern. They are not for long going to buy snake oil, and in fact there are already in place under other acts remedies for people who advertise things that do not do what they claim. I think it is just unnecessary to have this very expensive interface of the Therapeutic Goods Administration in there impacting heavily on the costs. I know that one manufacturer of herbal remedies said that their costs had risen astronomically, from something like $2,000 a year to $250,000 a year in compliance costs. For others I believe it is even more severe.

We have a crisis in medicine where people are unable to get into hospitals for elective surgery in many areas and where there is a continual blow-out in medical costs. If people are convinced and satisfied that this is an alternate to the expensive medical system, then I believe it ought to be encouraged. The fact is that we do everything we can to impede this business, and one has to ask why this is done. Is it done at the behest of the medical profession? Certainly a dinosaur like the AMA may be opposing it, but there are many doctors I know who simply say, `If it works, use it.' Is it zealous pharmacists? I do not think so, because pharmacists are in fact one of the big outlets for this sort of medicine. It is hard to say exactly why we are putting all this impediment in the way of these types of remedies.

I had my attention drawn to one proprietary brand, the name of which I have forgotten for the moment. It is a very effective laxative. This has now been put under very strict control, and it is going to become a doctor's only prescription. On two occasions it was prescribed by doctors to very elderly people who died as a result of it. To administer extreme laxatives—it is a very effective laxative—to 90-year-olds does seem to me to be rather foolish. But the effects of this particular herb were known and it was administered by registered medical practitioners, and one has to question why we should have what I consider to be this overreaction—putting this on a list where it can be prescribed only by medical practitioners. After all, there are many people killed in the everyday practice of medicine, and these sorts of accidents do happen. As I say, the effects were known. They were clearly written on the label. It is probably a fact that it should not have been prescribed in the first place under those circumstances.

I know that we are in a sense tilting at windmills—that I am not going to be able to stop this regulation. It may, in the short term, be a good thing that the power to control advertising goes to the collegiate, who are certainly more sympathetic to the industry than the Therapeutic Goods Administration, but I do believe that we as a nation have to have a very close look at what I consider the nanny state interference of decisions that should be made in the normal course of events by ordinary people.

Given that the side effects of most of these preparations are far fewer than prescriptions used in the alternative, I would suggest that it would make for a safer, healthier society if their use was encouraged. I might add that many of these things which we are deeming to be drugs should more properly be looked at as nutritious foods and treated under totally different legislation. I believe that we have a high standard in the preparation of our nutritious foods and herbal remedies in Australia. There is potentially a very large overseas market, and I believe it is not going to develop under the draconian hand and pressure that is put on it by legislation which gives so much power to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

All I ask is that this parliament look very closely at legislation that comes before it, that it not simply rubber-stamp the will of executive government—and this happens in all the major parties—and that members actually look at the consequences of their actions and give more care to how they vote on these matters. It is a very simple proposition, and I do not intend to take the 20 minutes allotted to me. I have had a lot of correspondence on this issue. It is a concern to a lot of people, and I believe that it should have had a lot more consideration in the parliament than it was originally given.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?