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Thursday, 14 May 1970

Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Health) - The honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) out of his own mouth gave a very good reason why it is undesirable for Ministers to give reasons. The honourable member picked upon and used a case where, I presume, a predecessor of mine who had perhaps not been told the reasons by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, in a spirit of helpfulness ventured a reason for a decision. That can lead to the sort of interpretations put by the honourable gentleman. This is a very difficult field, as the honourable member knows. Quite often there are as many opinions as there are medical practitioners or people who believe they know about it. That is not the main reason why the Government rejects the amendment. In view of the functions and responsibilities of the Advisory Committee it is essential that the members appointed by the Minister have appropriate academic qualifications, wide experience, and be of high standing in their profession.

The honourable member for Capricornia said that the clinical knowledge of the members of the Advisory Committee was suspect. I am not in a position to tell him who the members are but I can say to him that at least 3 of the most eminent consultant physicians in Australia are on the Committee. These are the people whose clinical knowledge the honourable member says is suspect. The present members so appointed are men cf great distinction and reputation in their respective fields. They serve on the Committee at considerable inconvenience and financial sacrifice. The recommendations of the Committee can involve very serious financial and other implications to persons and companies. If the members* names were published it could be expected that they would be subjected to all the pressures that could be brought to bear by interested parties, including attacks generated in the mass media by professionals in the public relations field.

The honourable gentleman said that all medical practitioners are subjected to the attentions of the drug companies and detailers. That is so. But that would bc nothing compared to the attention which would be directed to the people on the Advisory Committee who the drug companies know only too well are the people who really make the decisions which affect their bread and butter in a big way. The amendment could result in a situation in which men in the medical, pharmacological and pharmaceutical fields with the necessary attainments and professional standing would not be willing to serve on the Committee. For that reason the Government does not propose to accept the amendment.

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