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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6225

Mr SNOWDON (Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Service Delivery) (6:58 PM) —I thank my colleague the member for Banks for his sterling contribution to this discussion. I also thank the member for Stirling for his indication that the opposition supports the Crimes Amendment (Royal Flying Doctor Service) Bill 2010, and I thank all those people who contributed to the debate.

Honourable members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—It is good to see some joviality in the Main Committee, but the minister has the call.

Mr SNOWDON —This bit of legislation is quite important. It was a discussion between my office, Minister Conroy’s office and Minister O’Connor’s office that led to this piece of legislation. I thank Minister O’Connor for putting it into the parliament.

The Medical Chest Program to which the bill referred initially enables Royal Flying Doctor Service medical practitioners to provide people in rural and remote communities with vital medication, including pain relief for those requiring emergency evacuation. The program has operated since the 1930s and provides great comfort to those living in the outback. The amendments in this bill will enable Australia Post to resume its services in delivering the vital medicines contained in these medical chests by ensuring that these services do not fall within the scope of the offence of ‘causing narcotic substances to be carried by post’. The bill also makes a necessary amendment to the offence itself. The amendment will provide that the offence applies to the ‘controlled drugs’ and ‘controlled plants’ listed in part 9.1 of the Criminal Code rather than to ‘prescribed narcotic substances, within the meaning of the Customs Act 1901’. This amendment will correct an oversight that meant that the offence provision continued to refer to a definition that was repealed in 1990. It is designed to give effect, as closely as possible, to the original policy intention behind the offence in section 85W.

I will move amendments to the bill which I will outline more comprehensively during the consideration in detail stage. These amendments will insert a further exception to the offence in section 85W for conduct engaged in by a prescribed person or body for the purposes of the prescribed program for the supply of medicines to remote communities. The amendments are necessary as other organisations were identified after the introduction of the bill—to wit, the Northern Territory government—that may also require an exception to the offence. The measures in the current bill and as amended will remove impediments to the lawful supply of vital medications to rural and remote Australia. I thank members once again and commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.