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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8554

Mr DUTTON (3:14 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Does the minister have any plans to change the government’s proposal to cut funding for chemotherapy drugs given the strong opposition voiced by cancer physicians, pharmacists and patient groups to this budget measure?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —Yes, Mr Speaker, I can inform the shadow minister and the House that we certainly do. As the shadow minister is aware, this is a measure that was announced in last year’s budget. We have been negotiating for a period of time and we announced publicly that the introduction of the measure from 1 July would be delayed to 1 September. We certainly do intend to delay that further and we will provide the details in due course.

Mr Dutton interjecting

Ms ROXON —I think the shadow minister would understand that this is a very complex measure. We believe that—

Mr Dutton interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.

Ms ROXON —If the shadow minister wants to have a serious answer to what is a serious question, I can tell him that the measure has not been implemented; it is quite wrong for him to suggest that patients have suffered in any way. There have been a lot of negotiations. I might just give members of the House an example of one of the issues that is being negotiated. One of the issues that is being negotiated is the cost of Herceptin. Many of you on all sides of the House would know that it is a very expensive drug and a very important treatment for breast cancer sufferers. In Australia, the pharmaceutical company Roche provides the vial in only one size. In other countries, like Japan, it is provided in a range of different sizes, which means that the wastage is less. We have other pharmaceutical examples where the production process allows for some waste, and there are many other parts of the procedure where we believe that there is an extraordinary amount of wastage of highly expensive drugs funded by taxpayers.

We believe that it is in the interests of taxpayers to ensure that we get value for money and that expensive cancer drugs are not wasted. We intend to pursue the measure and we certainly will advise the House and the shadow minister in due course of the timing of that. It will be delayed, and we make no apologies about that; but, unlike those opposite, we believe that taxpayers’ money should be spent wisely. There should not be an abuse of processes. It is important to make sure that the health dollar goes as far as it can. New drugs, like Avastin, would not have been listed on the PBS because they would not have met the cost-effective test by PBAC unless this measure was in place. If the shadow minister would show just a skerrick of responsibility, he might just like to think about the sorts of drugs he wants taken off the PBS because he does not support these types of measures.