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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6224

Mr MELHAM (6:52 PM) —I am happy to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Royal Flying Doctor Service) Bill 2010. The explanatory memorandum points out what this bill is about. It amends section 85W of the Crimes Act 1914 to insert an exception to the offence of causing narcotic substances to be carried by post for Australia Post and the Royal Flying Doctor Service Australia and their officers, employees, agents and contractors. The exception will allow those organisations to arrange for the carriage of medicines by Australia Post for the purposes of enabling the RFDSA to administer its medical chest program.

Section 85W provides for an offence of intentionally causing to carry by post an article that consists of, encloses or contains a prescribed narcotic substance within the meaning of the Customs Act 1901. The definition of ‘prescribed narcotic substance’ in the Customs Act was repealed by the Customs and Excise Legislation Amendment Act 1990. Due to an oversight, the effect of that repeal on the operation of section 85W was not taken into account and the reference in section 85W was not updated. The bill amends section 85W to give effect, as closely as possible, to the original policy intention behind the offence in section 85W, when it was introduced, by referring to ‘controlled drugs’ and ‘controlled plants’ within the meaning of part 9.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. Because ‘carried by post’ is defined in section 85E to mean ‘carried by or through Australia Post’, the offence in section 85W applies uniquely to persons, including employees of Australia Post, who arrange for the delivery of certain pharmaceuticals through Australia Post.

The RFDSA administers the RFDSA medical chest program, which provides a range of pharmaceutical items, including pain relief drugs such as pethidine and morphine, which enable emergency treatment to be given to people in rural and remote areas. The RFDSA and its agents supply and maintain approximately 2,600 medical chests across Australia, including those located in national parks, remote homesteads, pastoral stations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, outback schools, mines and mining exploration sites. The RFDSA regularly reviews the contents of the chests to ensure relevance and currency of pharmaceuticals.

Until recently, medical chests were distributed utilising Australia Post. However, section 85W makes it an offence for Australia Post or the RFDSA to arrange for the distribution of pharmaceuticals containing prescribed narcotic substances. Delivery services in relation to certain pharmaceuticals ceased following the discovery in early 2010 that this practice contravenes section 85W of the Crimes Act. The government understands that there are no viable alternatives to Australia Post for supplying medicines for the RFDS medicine chest program. Australia Post is the only delivery provider servicing many remote locations; consequently, a number of medical chests in remote areas are depleted or carrying out-of-date stock. That is why the amendment is required. It will address the risk of emergency medicines not being available to treat serious illness or injury in rural and remote areas of Australia. The explanatory memorandum sufficiently outlines the purpose of this amendment bill.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides a wonderful service. It currently operates in my electorate out of Bankstown Airport, although after the next election I will lose Bankstown Airport as it goes into the seat of Blaxland. I have visited the airport and the facilities that the Royal Flying Doctor Service uses. What people do not see at times is the cooperation on both sides of the House in relation to technical amendments and so on. Both sides come together and amendments are facilitated. Too often we are labelled with the vision of question time, which is worse than kids mucking up in the school playground, and both sides are guilty of that. This is an important amendment, because it is not a situation—

Mr Pyne interjecting

Mr MELHAM —I want to make Mr Pyne suffer! I had to wait till he came; now he can listen to me for at least a while. I understand this is something that the opposition support. It is not contentious. It is a technical amendment. Whoever is in government, these things are discovered and they need to be rectified. It is nothing for the general public to be worried about. I commend the bill to the House.