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Acting Prime Minister discusses US Free Trade Agreement and cost of prescriptions; expresses sympathy for those affected by bushfires.

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Tuesday 3 January 2006

Acting Prime Minister discusses US Free Trade Agreement and cost of prescriptions; expresses sympathy for those affected by bushfires


TONY EASTLEY: One of the most hard fought provisions in Australia's Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which was signed just 12 months ago, was over conditions which affect the cost of prescription drugs. 


Australia's deal with the US is up for review in March, and there's pressure from the big American pharmaceutical companies for some changes to be made. 


They want to dump what's called an evergreening amendment forced on the Federal Government by the Labor Opposition in return for its support. 


Evergreening relates to drug companies regularly extending patents on medicines in order to prevent cheaper generic brands entering the Australian market. 


It was a measure the Trade Minister and now Acting Prime Minister Mark Vaile never agreed was necessary, and he's been telling AM 's Peta Donald it could now be revisited. 


MARK VAILE: All I've said is that of course, in reviewing an agreement, all aspects of it are on the table for discussion.  


Now, I'm sure that the American side, particularly industry in America, will like to have a discussion about the way those amendments and the provisions of those amendments are operating. But the point needs to be made that they would have to prove that those amendments are being commercially detrimental, which we don't believe they are. 


PETA DONALD: It would be easy to argue, wouldn't it, that it would be commercially detrimental to a drug company if they were no longer able to stop a competitor from introducing a cheaper generic version of their drug? That would be commercially detrimental, wouldn't it? 


MARK VAILE: Under the Australian system, innovative drug companies get a very liberal dose of protection under the patent arrangements. They do have opportunities for patent extensions, if there is a significant improvement in the benefits that flow from that drug.  


But through our process of certification in the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) we don't allow the abuse of the system, for example, changing the colour of a medication or changing some aspect of the labelling that is the subject of so-called evergreening. We don't allow those sorts of things to take place in Australia.  


So the reality is that it didn't need this measure in the first place by the Labor Party.  


We don't believe that patent drug companies are being detrimentally affected. They have the protection of the patent system in Australia, they do get remunerated for innovation. And of course, when patents expire, then generic drugs have the ability to come on the market. 


PETA DONALD: So can you guarantee then, if this evergreening provision is dropped, that it won't lead to more expensive medicines for Australians? 


MARK VAILE: The one thing, Peta, that we are not going to do is to undermine the ability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to provide affordable medicines to all Australians into the future. 


PETA DONALD: Now, Mr Vaile, as Acting Prime Minister, if I could just ask you about the bushfires.  


Fire fighters are bracing for another day of high temperatures again today. We've already seen some terrible damage. What are you looking at doing on that front? 


MARK VAILE: All the emergency support and assistance that is normally made available by the Commonwealth will be made available.  


We should also spare a thought and express our sympathies to those that have lost property, those that have loved ones that've been injured, and certainly I understand there's been one fatality, and to the family of the St John Ambulance officer, the volunteer officer, that did lose his life, we certainly hold his family in our thoughts and prayers. 


TONY EASTLEY: Trade Minister and Acting Prime Minister Mark Vaile, speaking to Peta Donald.