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Thursday, 14 May 1970


Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) - I remain unconvinced by the remarks of the Minister for Health. After all, there are many other people in public life who are subjected to a good deal of pressure, not the least being the parliamentarians. If people are in a position to make decisions affecting the whole populace, as is the case here, those people should be publicly responsible for the decisions they make. It is common knowledge in the profession that many of the pharmaceutical companies are well aware of some of the personnel on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. Let us look first of all at the kind of people who are on this yet another secret society attached to he health scheme. They are the people who recommend proposals to the Minister for his ultimate decision. The matter does not come before the Parliament; it is solely in the hands of the Minister. The members decide what kind of drugs will be on the pharmaceutical benefits list, which ones stay on, which ones are removed, or which new ones may be admitted from time to time. This is a matter that affects the health of not thousands but literally millions of people in our community. It is a pretty important business.

The personnel of the Committee comprises a pharmacist from the Commonwealth Department of Health appointed by the Director-General, 6 medical practitioners appointed by the Minister from among 10 medical practictioners nominated by the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association, and a pharmaceutical chemist appointed by the Minister from among 3 pharmaceutical chemists nominated by the Federal Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia. These are the sorts of people that make up that body. I have not heard of any suggestion by the medical organisation that the names of these people should not become known. As a matter of fact I have received a lot of complaints, not only from patients but also from the medical fraternity, concerning the decisions made by this eminent body. Many of us have been aware of doctors in our own community prescribing a particular drug of obvious benefit to a patient and knowing that that drug was not on the benefit list. 1. can recall instances where that has gone on for months and even a year or more.

We have often been asked to respect the professional status of the doctor. We are reminded of the kind of qualifications the doctor has. What kind of recognition is there for a doctor who is convinced out of his own experience over a period of time dealing with many cases that a particular drug is the one that will give relief to and maybe even restore the health of his patient. From time to time we are reminded that people are not just all of a kind. There are probably as many different kinds of people as there are people. Yet in the long run we are confronted with standardised decisions, which are meant to apply to the large bulk of people rather than allowing the practitioner who knows and studies his patient and who has had his patient under his or her care for a long time to make his own diagnosis and prescription. He can be vetoed by decisions of this kind. If we are to have public advisory bodies such as this the Opposition suggests they should be known to people other than just the pharmaceutical industry. No doubt it brings its pressures on these people for the inclusion of drugs manufactured by its organisations. lt should be appropriate that the doctors, the patients and the millions of people in the community who are affected by these decisions should have the opportunity of making their submissions to a public inquiry. We do this with many other things. We do not seem to have any quibble about public inquiries when we are dealing with public mental health or education. But in this field we have this problem. One other aspect I would like to mention while 1 am on my feet is the apparent infrequency of meetings of a body such as this. I would like the Minister to correct me if I am wrong but, as I understand it, it meets about twice a year. One of my colleagues has just assured me that it is 3 times. Many doctors have complained to me that many people undergo a great deal of inconvenience, to say nothing of pain and suffering, while the advice of a body of this kind is awaited, despite the testimony there might be from many doctors that a certain drug seems eminently suitable for a patient under their care. I finalise my remarks now. Quite frankly I have been vetoed out of this debate on 3 occasions already when I have had amendments to move and have not been allowed to move them.

The honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan), who is interjecting, need not worry. I will not let the opportunity go by without making my protest against the farcical situation in the deliberations on this Bill. One arm of the Government, the Country Party, has not had one speaker for the duration of the Committee stage of this important Bill. The Liberal Party has had 2 speakers. One was the honourable member for McMillan who, I understand, walked out of the House in utter frustration and the other was the Minister for Health. What kind of a way is this to conduct the business of a national parliament when it is deciding and discussing a matter of momentous importance to the whole community? It is all very well for the Government to spend months consulting with doctors. How about consulting with the representatives of the mass of the people who come to this Parliament? Are we not entitled to be heard? We are in contact with and hear from our constituents. We know their grievances with the national health scheme but no opportunity of any consequence is given for us to debate this matter. We have had far more discussion outside the Parliament in our own Party rooms than we ever looked like having in this Parliament. It is an absolute disgrace. This Bill has not been considered. The amendments that we intended to propose have not even been moved. There are many questions which arise out of this Bill, even basic definitions. Yet they cannot be entertained because we have 6 hours in which to debate the whole of the Bill. I lodge my firm protest against this farcical situation.







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