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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 92
Senator ELLISON (Western Australia —Minister for Justice and Customs) [3:47 PM] —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill proposes a number of amendments to the National Health Act 1953 relating to the arrangements for approving pharmacists to supply pharmaceutical benefits subsidised by the Commonwealth.

These amendments are the result of the Fourth Community Pharmacy Agreement between the Government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, and are aimed at ensuring that all Australians, particularly those located in rural and remote areas, have reasonable access to the supply of pharmaceutical benefits.

Significantly, this bill will extend the operation of pharmacy location rules and their administration by the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority (the Authority). These rules prescribe location-based criteria that must be satisfied in order for a pharmacist to obtain approval to supply pharmaceutical benefits at particular premises. Once approved, a pharmacist is entitled to be paid by the Commonwealth for the supply of pharmaceutical benefits. The extension of these rules and of their administration by the Authority until 30 June 2010 will provide stability in the pharmacy sector and help to ensure that an accessible network of pharmacies exists to dispense pharmaceutical benefits to the Australian public.

On some occasions however, the location rules are unable to take into account the unique circumstances of a community and can result in that community being left without reasonable access to the supply of pharmaceutical benefits. This bill will provide the Minister with a discretionary power to address, on an individual and timely basis, any unintended consequences of the application of the location rules. It enables the Minister to substitute for a decision by the Secretary not to approve a pharmacist, a decision to approve a pharmacist. The Minister is able to exercise this discretion if satisfied that the application of the pharmacy location rules will result in a community being left without reasonable access to the supply of pharmaceutical benefits by a pharmacist and approval of the pharmacist is in the public interest.

The bill will also make improvements to the administration processes governing the approval of pharmacists to supply PBS medicines.

A small yet important amendment seeks to clarify the Secretary’s ability to approve more than one pharmacist to supply pharmaceutical benefits in respect of particular premises. Such approvals become important when a pharmacist has ceased trading but has not yet vacated the premises. The approval of a second pharmacist in these instances will allow for a greater continuity of the supply of pharmaceutical benefits to those communities affected by the closure or relocation of a pharmacy business. This is because the incoming pharmacist will be able to begin the supply of pharmaceutical benefits as soon as the original pharmacist ceases to trade from the premises.

The bill also proposes to simplify the approval process for pharmacists wishing to expand or contract their premises. Under existing arrangements, these types of applications must be referred to the Authority, and can only be approved by the Secretary if the Authority has recommended approval. This amendment means that it will no longer be necessary for such applications to be referred to the Authority unless the Secretary considers it appropriate. This amendment will reduce unnecessary administration for both the Government and pharmacists alike, and promote greater efficiency in the pharmacy approval process.

Finally, the bill makes several minor amendments. One amendment will increase the membership of the Authority to include a consumer representative, and the others are technical amendments to correct some references regarding the ACPA.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ellison) adjourned.