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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26379


Senator RIDGEWAY (5:16 PM) —I want to follow on with some questions on the PBS. I note that the government have relied upon the claim by the Centre for International Economics that the PBS provisions themselves will not raise the price of medicines in Australia. I ask the minister: if that is the case, why did the government think a separate review mechanism was needed in the free trade agreement in parallel to what is already a good system of both assessment and pricing through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee? That seems an anomaly to me, unless there is some rationale as to why the government thought that it ought to be included in the free trade agreement.

If the government are convinced that the price of medicines will not increase, why have that provision in the free trade agreement in the first place? Is it not possible even at this late stage to have, for example, an exchange of letters with the United States to make it very clear and beyond doubt that the PBS or the review mechanism at least is to be removed? Doesn't the review mechanism agreed to by the government provide an opportunity for US pharmaceutical corporations to exert pressure and influence over the way that the assessments are conducted and, I suppose, on pricing itself? If the end result is to push up prices, will that not mean an increase not only in the price of medicines but also in the cost of running the PBS in this country and the cost of the copayments arrangement?

Will the minister explain why it is that, if the government are convinced that the price of medicines will not rise, the review mechanism is there at all? You do not need a review mechanism when you have a very satisfactory system—one that already enjoys the confidence of the Australian people. Why is the review mechanism there? If he could provide some information about that, that would be useful. It is not enough to say that the price of medicines will not increase. Why have the government allowed what are essentially foreign corporations to have an institutionalised arrangement to request reviews about the assessment of drugs put on the PBS list in this country?