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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26395


Senator BROWN (7:50 PM) —The Prime Minister this morning said: `No Prime Minister in his right mind would agree to any agreement which weakend the PBS.' It is one of the most thought-provoking statements from the Prime Minister in a long while. That being so, one has to ask: what on earth is the PBS doing on the ER table for the free trade agreement? What is it doing there at all? The best way to make it safe is to keep pharmaceuticals outside the reach of the free trade agreement. In fact that is the only way you can say that there is not going to be a change that might weaken the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

It was a classic statement from the Prime Minister who is so adept at saying: `Trust me. I'm making a decision for the nation. He's got weapons of mass destruction,' and, `Boat people could be terrorists and they throw their children overboard.' In this case, he is saying: `The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is totally safe because I say so. But I've put it into the reach of the free trade agreement, just the same.' That is daft. I do not believe it. Millions more, I suspect, do not believe it either and will not when they see the results of this free trade agreement. The Democrats and the Greens have said: `Let's make sure. Let's take the Therapeutic Goods Administration amendments out of the reach of the free trade agreement.' That action would achieve what the Prime Minister has assured us is the case anyway, but it would make it totally safe.

The opposition is going to join the government in voting down the Democrats' and the Greens' amendments. Why is that? The drug corporations have more than the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in mind. They have a couple of countries now opened to them for maximising their profit lines, and they are amongst the most profitable—if not the most profitable—industry in the United States because they rip the tripe out of the wallets and purses of people who are sick. They charge three to four times the prices that people in Australia pay now for major drugs for curing or offsetting cancer and for treating chest disease, heart disease, arthritis and a whole range of other illnesses. That is not ethical or humanitarian; it is all about making big dollars.

One of the worries these companies have, of course, is the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme which is about delivering affordable medicines to people who have those diseases. Instead of making those sick folk feel safe by saying, `The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is out of the reach of the free trade agreement'—a very simple thing to do—the Prime Minister left it right in there. The Labor Party has decided to leave it right in there too. The Democrats and the Greens—and I guarantee One Nation, as well—would take it right out, but we do not have the numbers. It is not going to be much good coming back a bit later and saying, `The Prime Minister proved that he was not of right mind back in 2004'—waiting for this example to come true. I do not think the Prime Minister is in a right-thinking frame of mind in putting Australia under the thrall of this free trade agreement. But he just loves it. It does his heart good to be promoting trade in this way, at the expense of all the other values that are being sold out at the same time. Unfortunately, the Labor Party is going to support it.

This is a critical amendment. It would protect our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme 100 per cent—we would not have to trust somebody's word or work out whether somebody was of sound or right mind by putting the PBS into this threatened zone. Unfortunately, we will have to wait to find out and, if the Prime Minister is shown not to have been in his right mind when he did this, it will be too late. We will not be able to back out. The question is: is the Labor Party in its right mind or will it vote down the amendment from the Democrats and the Greens? We are about to see.