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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6233


Senator CARR (3:03 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Health and Ageing (Senator Patterson) to questions without notice asked today.

Tomorrow is World Diabetes Day, and I think it must surely be apparent to all of us here that diabetes is a growing problem in this country: nearly one million Australians are affected by it. Last year in March and again in September, the government's handpicked, drug company friendly pharmaceutical benefits committee approved two diabetes treatment drugs: Avandia and Actos. It is now 1½ years later and the government has failed to make the necessary decisions about the listing of these drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Astoundingly, this minister has not even taken a submission to cabinet on the issue. In that time, over a thousand people who could have benefited from these treatments have been transferred to insulin therapy.

This is a government that claims the reason for the delay is one of price. The minister told us today that no agreement had been reached on the issue of price. She failed to tell us that in January this year her department reached an agreement with the manufacturer of Avandia and that that agreement went to the issue of price, volume, conditions of listing and use. So we have a situation where the government in fact reached an agreement that went to the issue of trying to minimise the fiscal risk of the PBS through inappropriate use of the glitazones class of diabetes drugs. This is the position that the government chose not to reveal to us today. That is why I say that this minister misled the Senate.

The Commonwealth has the capacity to force down the price of drugs by direct negotiation with the drug companies. The Health Insurance Commission has the capacity to impose stringent controls on the prescription of drugs; however, it is only if this minister chooses to exercise that control—it is only if she has the political will to do that. The minister has spoken on the issue of price, but at no point did she talk about the issue of cost. She did not point out to us the cost of forcing people onto insulin who could otherwise have avoided it. Nor did she explain the additional cost to the public health system or the community cost resulting from thousands of people who failed to get appropriate treatment. We all understand what sorts of serious complications there are for people who have diabetes and who are not treated effectively.

The other great and consequent cost that the minister chooses to ignore is Australia's reputation in research and development. She fails to understand that the patent lack of transparency in the processes of government is undermining confidence in this country's ability to be a proper place in which R&D investment can take place. A situation is emerging where the process of listing and costing drugs is being corrupted by the political interference of the Treasurer of this country. That is the truth of the matter. The minister does not have the political will because that political will is sapped by the Treasurer. The government is essentially seeking to deny sick and elderly people affordable and appropriate treatments and is encouraging a situation where painful conditions are prolonged and suffering is intensified.

The government has failed in its treatment of diabetes. We should remember tomorrow on World Diabetes Day the failure of the government to fulfil its obligations. Last year, the government launched—with all the great fanfare that only the propagandist machine controlled by this government can—a whole series of measures aimed at helping people with asthma and arthritis. The government said that these measures were about trying to improve the quality of life of people with these conditions. The government is now saying that it no longer cares about those people. It is suggesting that where there are affordable drugs—drugs that are provided at costs which can be controlled—it is not interested in proceeding. It is not even interested in taking a submission to the cabinet on the question. If the government were interested in ensuring that doctors prescribed wisely and that people used their medicines effectively, we would see a course in which we were able to assist the minister in the development and reform of the PBS. We do not see that from this government. It is difficult for the government to face up to the fact that it is concealing its own financial errors and shortcomings by trying to slug pensioners in regard to the PBS. (Time expired)