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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6235


Senator PAYNE (3:09 PM) —I rise to take note of the answers given by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson, in question time today. To make it quite clear, as I understand the minister did in her response during question time today, and which I am now able to reinforce, and contrary to the assertions made by Senator Carr—which were not made in any measured or sensible manner but were made in the typical way we have come to expect, which apparently means that if you shout louder you get more of your message across, which, of course, is entirely untrue and ineffective as you would expect— no price agreement was made in January in relation to Avandia. It is not true. The matter has been double-checked. The minister has advised that that is not the case and, therefore, any further suggestions, assertions or allegations from Senator Carr that this is a corrupted process should be of great concern to the Senate. It is an entirely inappropriate allegation to make in this chamber.

It is also inappropriate to allege that the government is in some wilful fashion seeking to intensify the suffering of individuals in this country. To try to reduce the complexity of the operations of the PBS to a diatribe shouted across the chamber to an audience of nobody who is interested, certainly on this side—


Senator Carr —That is the truth. You're not interested. You are not interested in diabetes.


Senator PAYNE —Nobody is interested in Senator Carr on this side. It certainly does not enhance the capacity of Senator Carr's reasonably inadequate argument as it has commenced. The minister made quite obvious in her remarks and in her response this afternoon that finalising pricing arrangements between the department and manufacturers involves very complex processes. They are not simple processes that can be dealt with in a matter of minutes. Negotiating those arrangements is a very difficult task because manufacturers naturally seek pricing arrangements in their best interests but not always in the best interests of Australian taxpayers. As well as the good health of Australian taxpayers, the government is also required to have the best interests of those taxpayers as a principle in its operations. I can just imagine the diatribe that would come from Senator Carr if we decided that that was not a principle we should follow: it would be even less entertaining than the last one.

As the minister made quite clear in her remarks, the government is able to categorically reject any suggestion that it is delaying the listing of new medicines. I think the minister referred to some of the aspects of the new PBS schedule, effective from the first of this month, which includes three new important listings: Xigris, which is for treating severe sepsis; Movicol, which is a laxative for cancer patients; and Valcyte, which is an important treatment for HIV-AIDS patients. Xigris—and those opposite may be interested in the importance of this—is a new drug which is used in the treatment of potentially fatal complications of meningococcal disease. It is a very important addition to the treatment suite available for combating the devastation of meningoccocal. So any suggestion that the government is delaying the listing of new PBS medicines is absolutely false.

Of course, it is important to remember that the Senate has refused to support the government's budget measures on the PBS. It is simply not the case that the PBS can continue to grow at an unsustainable rate; it cannot. It is time that those on the other side took a very close look at the government's very reasonable propositions in relation to the budget measures on the PBS and considered those far more carefully, without histrionics and without hysterics. It is time they looked at what can actually be sustained in the growth of the PBS in the near- and medium-term future and at the very sensible suggestions the government have made in relation to the budget.

What the government have done and will continue to do is to ensure that Australians have access to medicines they do need via the PBS. It is a principle to which we are committed. We are also committed to ensuring that there is access to pricing arrangements that represent fair value for taxpayers. There is absolutely nothing about that from which we resile. As the minister has indicated, if the opposition really were serious about sustainability rather than about stunts, they would support the sorts of budget measures that the government have brought forward. Again, I want to reinforce that the minister made it perfectly clear during her response—and I am able to, on her advice, confirm it—that there was no price agreement reached on this particular drug in January. It is not the case. To accuse the government or the minister of running a corrupted process is an entirely inaccurate, inappropriate and unhelpful contribution from Senator Carr.