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Tuesday, 6 August 1946

Mr.HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports-

Minister for Labour and National Service). - by leave - Recently the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) asked questions in regard to the supply and price of penicillin.

Penicillin is producedin Australia at t he Commonwealth Serum Laboratories at Royal Park. Sufficient supplies are in stock, and in course of production, to meet allpresent human and veterinary, needs in Australia. Improvements in the method of production, effected from time to time, and a close examination of costs, have enabled the serum laboratories to effect a reduction in prices as from the 24th July last. The new prices are as follows: -


These prices represent a very substantial reduction. They permit a modest profit to be made and enable the product to compete with imported penicillin. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories are proceeding with the establishment of new plant that will enable penicillin to be produced on a large scale in accordance with the latest methods adopted in the United States of America and Great Britain. Until recently penicillin had not been imported into this country, but some supplies are now being imported from Great Britain. The arrival of these supplies raised the question as to whether customs duty, which is imposed generally on all medicinal importations, should be imposed under tariff item 281 (j) as a chemical, not elsewhere included,or under tariff item 285 (a), as a medicine. Tariff decision number 46/133 of the 15th July, 1946 did no more than decide that imported penicillin when imported in powder form in ampoules of a certain dosage should be deemed to be included under tariff item 285 (a). The duties applicable to the article in question, under tariff item 285 (a), when of United Kingdom origin are : - 30 per cent, plus 5 per cent, primage plus a special war duty at the rate of 10 per cent. of the total of the foregoing, that is a total duty of 38.5 per cent. Exchange adjustment operates in favour of the importer.

Considerable research work has been done in various parts of the world on the use of penicillin for the treatment of mastitis and other cattle diseases. The results have 'been promising. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, in conjunction with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, have also carried out investigations in a limited way with satisfying results. In the manufacture of penicillin there is produced a quantity of second-grade product, which has an extremely limited use for human treatment but which is particularly valuable for veterinary use. The Commonwealth Government approved of the free issue from the laboratories of 300,000,000 units of this second-grade product for veterinary research. An Advisory Committee of Commonwealth and State veterinary officers was called together by the Commonwealth Department of Health to consider the best use of penicillin for veterinary work. The committee recommended lines of investigation that should be carried out into forms of mastitis research and made recommendations for the issue of penicillin, free of charge, to a number of research institutions in' Australia where proper and full investigations can be carried out. These institutions have submitted their programme of research and have been -granted free penicillin. They have undertaken to keep the department fully advised of their results. This research, which will be extremely useful to animal health and food production, is being continued. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have on hand a very large quantity of second-grade penicillin which will be available for release for veterinary use. The Australian Veterinary Association has recommended that this penicillin should be made immediately available to veterinary officers of the Departments of Agriculture for use in those dairying districts which would benefit most by its use for the treatment of mastitis in cows. The laboratories are at present preparing a pamphlet concerning the use of penicillin for veterinary use, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is working on plans for a suitable apparatus for the administration of the drug to cows. At the present time the Australian Veterinary Association does not recommend the issue of .penicillin to stock owners except for injection by a veterinary surgeon. Indiscriminate use of penicillin may at this stage do more harm than good. More over, steps need to be taken to ensure that a black market shall not be created in second-grade penicillin' for use by humans. Plans for controlled distribution are being developed; It is expected that the use of penicillin for veterinary purposes' will have been completely demonstrated in the near future.

There are at present sufficient supplies of penicillin on hand for all legitimate purposes for many months. With the developments now in contemplation penicillin will in the reasonably near future be produced at lower cost, and it is hoped, in quantities that will permit Australia to engage extensively in the export trade. The Government would, if it were possible, provide all medicines including penicillin, to the people of Australia free of charge. The Government in fact passed legislation through this Parliament to enable this to be done, and but. for an adverse decision of the High Court as to the Commonwealth's powers in the matter, penicillin, which was included in the formulary set out in a schedule to that act, would be supplied to-day to the people entirely free of cost. However, it is hoped that if the social services question is answered in the affirmative at the ' referendum" to be held on the 28th September, the Federal Government may be in a position to proceed with its original scheme.

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