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Thursday, 14 May 1998
Page: 3336

Mr BRADFORD (9:59 AM) —I second the motion. It is not entirely clear to me exactly what is occurring here, but I understood that this matter was coming back to the House of Representatives as a result of the decision which was taken in the Senate to disallow these regulations. If that is the case, I am a bit surprised that the opposition is now going to vote with the government on this particular issue. In the position in which I now find myself in this place, I am on a very steep learning curve as to how to deal with these matters. I am seconding the motion of the member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) simply because I believe he is right. That may be an unusual way to operate in this place; I have lived with a system where one essentially does—pretty much as the member for Kalgoorlie suggests—what one is told to do in the situation. But if I am correct, and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services (Ms Worth) will take the opportunity to correct me if I am not, this deals essentially with the regulations in respect of the issue of `drug free'.

I have just been reminded that I am in the wrong seat. All of this is new to me. That is probably why you failed to recognise me properly, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —I know the honourable member for McPherson's heart is in the right place, even though his body may not be.

Mr BRADFORD —This is only my second day in my new seat here and, as I said, I am on a very steep learning curve. I hope the parliamentary secretary will correct me if I am wrong but I understand—and with the resources available to me it is hard to get up to speed on these things—that this deals with the issue coming back from the Senate; that is, the Senate's determination to oppose these particular regulations.

Be that as it may, I happen to believe very strongly that the member for Kalgoorlie is absolutely right in everything that he says. I do not find it easy to stand in this place and agree with him because for the almost nine years I have been here—and he has been here throughout that time—we probably have not agreed on anything at all. But it does underline for me the importance of the new role I have taken on in this place, which is that one actually listens to what other members say and attempts to evaluate what they say to take some sort of decent and intellectually honest approach to what they have said.

I believe that, in this particular area, the government has got it wrong. Like the member for Kalgoorlie, I am very suspicious of why they are going down this track. I notice in the latest budget there is mention of the government's commitment to what it calls preventative health. One would have thought that that would be consistently reflected in their approach to these sorts of issues, but it is not.

All of the input that I have had in this particular area makes me wonder about what is actually going on. I am not much into conspiracy theories. Although in the time that I have been a member of this place I suppose I have heard them all, I generally manage to discount them very heavily. But in this particular area there is evidence that there is some sort of a conspiracy here against the, broadly speaking, alternative professions and against the interests of people who want to choose what is best for their own health care.

If we are really committed to preventative medicine then we ought to take seriously the alternative options that are available to people outside of traditional or, more correctly, modern medical care and access to drugs. My experience in this area leads me to believe very strongly that these alternatives are good for people. More importantly, speaking as an ex-Liberal, people ought to be able to make choices about access to those forms of care rather than have the heavy hand of government come down on them and tell them that they simply cannot make those choices or, worse, tell them that they need the government to tell them what is good for them and to make it difficult for them to make those choices.

In the end it is all about getting information about the availability of these treatments and remedies. Yes, there is a public interest involved and that, of course, is the crux of the issue. I assume that is what leads to this particular debate this morning. People, up to a point, need to be protected and there needs to be in place a reasonable regime to ensure that the information they are given is correct and that they are not given misleading infor mation about medicines, such as herbal, homoeopathic, and vitamin and mineral preparations, which may mislead them or give them advice which may ultimately be contrary to their best health interests.

I wonder what is going on here. I have had a lot of input into this particular subject, obviously like the member for Kalgoorlie has and I assume like a lot of other members of this place have. But, as with a lot of these issues that come up, often members, because they are so busy with a lot of other things which ironically turn out to be fairly peripheral when you are not having to deal with them all the time, do not give them adequate attention.

I need to say—because I am sure the parliamentary secretary will raise it—that I have had some input from Mr Joshua Shaw, who runs a company called Bionic Products and who happens to be a constituent of mine. Frankly, I have not taken a great deal of notice of Mr Shaw. I think he has been responsible for a lot of misinformation in this particular area. I have told him so. I have known him for many years and I am aware of his product. I do not want to take advantage of the privilege of this place by saying anything negative about his product. There may be, as the member for Kalgoorlie said, a placebo effect there but other documentary evidence I have seen shown shows that his product does have some beneficial effects for some people with some conditions. So I do not make a judgment particularly about that but I do want to place on the record, in case there should be any misapprehension, that I am not driven to speak in this particular instance on behalf of a constituent who has been very vocal but nevertheless has misrepresented the situation to a very large extent. That, of course, has quite correctly been taken to task by a number of people in the various associations that represent the manufacturers of vitamins and some of these other products.

Having said that, I do share the member for Kalgoorlie's concern about who is actually making these decisions. Unfortunately I will not have the opportunity to hear from the parliamentary secretary until after I have spoken but I hope that she will make it clear what the government's ultimate concern is about the use of the words `drug free' because it seems to me that the inherent benefit of these particular remedies is that they can claim to be drug free.

I believe they ought to be able to make that claim because there is a distinction between what is a drug and what is not a drug. I do not think it is fair to attempt to enforce regulations which have the intention of preventing people claiming their product is drug free. I do not think it is fair and I do think that it is correct for that sort of regime to be forced on people.

I have got a healthy scepticism about the major drug companies in this country. I realise they are substantial businesses, they are substantial employers. They also have substantial clout—and here I am talking about political clout—and influence and of course everything that goes with those things. They have a lot of money behind them. They have a vested interest in maintaining their dominance of a very big market. I do not have any particular philosophical problems with people in free enterprise doing whatever they can to enhance the worth of their products or promote their products, but in this particular case they enjoy a very privileged position because to a very large extent by virtue of a lot of regulations and laws their regime is protected and entrenched.

For many years I have observed the valiant effort made by these so-called drug companies to prevent the incursion of all the alternatives into that particular marketplace. They have at times done it dishonestly, I suppose it would be fair to say, but they have certainly fought a major battle to prevent people being attracted to alternative treatments or non-drug treatments such as vitamins and a whole range of mineral-type remedies.

I said I am sceptical—I think it is a healthy scepticism. But I am particularly sceptical—I think the member for Kalgoorlie alluded to this, and again the parliamentary secretary may want to correct me on this, if I am wrong—about the fact that they have the numbers, as it were, for the regulatory regime that is in place. There is some concern within the alternative industry that having to deal with a regime or an authority that is stacked against them is not exactly playing on an even playing field.

The other side of the whole issue is the availability of non-traditional forms of treatment. It is amazing when we look back over the years as history has unfolded how things have changed. At one stage, for instance, the chiropractor was regarded by the traditional medical profession as being something of a quack. That has of course changed dramatically in recent years. Now the average general practitioner is not unhappy in a lot of cases about referring a particular patient to a chiropractor who has specialised training in a particular type of care. The same might be said of acupuncture. I can remember that it was not very long ago when acupuncture was regarded as being a fairly extreme form of treatment. Now it is almost considered to be mainstream. In fact, not only do medical practitioners refer people for that sort of treatment in a lot of cases but also they are trained to be able to administer that sort of treatment.

I second the motion by the member for Kalgoorlie because I think he is simply right about this. I do not want to reflect adversely on the parliamentary secretary, but I think that this debate has been dominated by the powers that be: the drug companies which have a huge vested interest in preventing an incursion into their market by the manufacturers of vitamins and mineral therapies, and to some extent the medical profession.

Again, I do not want to reflect on the medical profession because I think they have got a number of genuine grievances against the government at the moment, and I share most of their concerns about the way the government has handled health. In fact, despite the latest budget I still see health as being one of the major Achilles heels of this particular government. However, let us face it: the doctors, the medical profession, are a very powerful and influential lobby understandably and, up to a point, quite correctly so. But when the medical profession and the drug companies combine to look after their own interests—legitimate up to a point as those interests may be—one must in the end be suspicious about who has won the day as far as the political debate in this particular area is concerned. I wonder.

I have had letters from people about this. Even while I was a member of the government I was honest enough to say to them, `This doesn't all add up. There's something missing here, and one finds it very difficult to get to the bottom of what it actually is.' I do not know whether the opposition has sorted itself out on this issue yet. My understanding may be wrong about what the opposition actually joined in opposing in the Senate. If my understanding is different from what is happening here this morning, then I apologise for taking up the time of the House. But I want to support the member for Kalgoorlie in what he actually said. I am not entirely sure what he is trying to do, but I agree with what he had to say on this particular matter.