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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 31

Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (11:45): I thank the member for Bennelong for this motion which allows me the opportunity to talk about the kind of healthcare system that we want to see for Australia. I look forward to seeing the recommendations that will come out of this review, and hope that it aims to build upon and improve our system for the better. Our communities want us to promote better ways of providing efficient and effective delivery of healthcare services and therapeutic goods. I hope all policy reviews are set up with this end in mind, because our healthcare system truly is world class.

In Australia we have rigorous testing of medicines to ensure they meet the highest of standards. Through this system, Australians can always be confident in the safety and quality of available medicines. We have extremely well taught and educated doctors and nurses who dedicate their lives to their professions. We also have the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which aids Australians by subsidising expensive and prohibitively costly medicines. The PBS makes life-saving medicines affordable to people when they need them most. Thanks to all of this, Australia's health outcomes are amongst the best in the world. Most importantly though, we have a universal healthcare in the form of Medicare. Universal healthcare is the bedrock of our healthcare system, an essential public good that ensures vital protections for all Australians, regardless of their background or means. We have fought very hard to establish Medicare in this country.

In 1972, only 17 per cent of Australians had health insurance of any kind. Unsurprisingly, most of those people were low-income earners. Gough Whitlam, that great titan we tragically lost last year, changed all that. Gough set about creating a fair, equitable and efficient system that would provide health insurance for all Australians. There was opposition to universal healthcare then, and sadly, there is opposition to universal healthcare now. It is a little bit hard to stomach talking about the state of our country's regulatory framework for healthcare or medicines and medical devices when a broader attack on Medicare continues unabated. However, as the deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Health, I have watched on with interest as the Minister and Assistant Minister for Health announced their intent to undertake this review.

Our pharmaceutical and medical device industry is robust, competitive and flourishing. The medicine industry employs around 41,000 people. There are around 13,000 people working in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector and 19,000 in the medical technology sector. The Therapeutic Goods Administration plays a vital role in ensuring only safe and effective medicines and medical devices are used here in Australia. The implications of this scheme are undoubtedly positive. Stringent testing and assessment are essential to ascertain the validity and quality of all therapeutic goods. These practices ensure the safety of patients will always remain the industry's primary focus.

There are, however, some costs associated with such a rigorous system. Understandably and inevitably, evaluating therapeutic goods can be a long and costly process. The process is complex in a range of ways and such stringent measures mean that innovations in the healthcare sector cannot be immediately passed onto patients. These could include things such as new therapeutic goods, which are prohibited until they are properly tested. Sadly, the duration of the testing period may mean that patients go without these drugs in the meantime. The cost of assessment can also have an impact on the final cost to the Commonwealth that patients have to pay. With this in mind, I believe there is a case to be made for a review into the regulation of therapeutic goods. We should seek harmonisation and international cooperation between regulators.

Likewise, I am interested in seeing some of the recommendations on using international standards and risk assessments in Australia. This will need to be closely reviewed, as international standards may not be as stringent as those in Australia. As someone who has worked closely with regulatory schemes in other sectors of the Australian economy, I do believe that there is much to be gained from such international harmonisation and streamlining processes. Commonality of regulation of this kind can benefit us all when different nations have consistent outcomes and objectives from their regulatory schemes.

So let's be clear. Labor only supports a regulatory framework that does not compromise the safety and quality of our system, and one that continues to put patients' safety at the centre of its approach.

Finally, Labor does thank the Prime Minister for his recent statement to the press on the need to consider international approval processes in this space. The last year has been a tough year on the beleaguered Prime Minister. We hope that whoever is Prime Minister after this week will continue this approach in the future.