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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26377

Senator HARRIS (5:01 PM) —I want to ask for clarification from the minister. But, before doing that, I will make it very clear that at the commencement of this committee stage the question was put to this chamber: is it the wish of the committee to take the bill as a whole? The answer was yes. So the inference that we keep on getting from Senator Hill that our questions are not related to specific amendments does not stand because it is the right of any senator to raise questions on the complete bill. My questions are in context because we are speaking about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

I just want to draw your attention to something I find somewhat amusing. We have sections in the bill that refer to ROOs, the rules of origin. We have sections that have the alphabetical suffix of BAD. I am just wondering whether there is any link with the Prime Minister having his press conference in the blue room today. According to a document from the Prime Minister's own web site, during that press conference the Prime Minister stated:

Can I start by reiterating that the Free Trade Agreement does not in any way weaken the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The Free Trade Agreement will not in any way lead to increases in the price of medicines or pharmaceuticals in Australia. ... I would never and Mr Vaile would never have agreed to the FTA if that had been the case.

I put this question to Senator Hill again: how do you reconcile the Prime Minister's statement today with the commitment made by Minister Vaile in the exchange of letters between himself and the US Trade Representative, Mr Robert Zoellick, in paragraph 4, which says, `Australia shall provide opportunities to provide for an adjustment to the price of a pharmaceutical under the PBS'? If there was no intention of providing that legal avenue to apply for increases, why did Australia ever agree to that section being in the side letters?