Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26380

Senator RIDGEWAY (5:21 PM) —It is a very curious comment that the minister makes in respect of transparency. He would be aware of the confidentiality provisions in the National Health Act, which effectively prevent the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee from being able to defend itself, particularly if there is a review. In terms of the review mechanism that the government are now agreeing can be put in place, the government have made no effort, from what I can see, to make suitable amendments to the National Health Act that would protect the integrity of the committee. Under that act, they essentially have no capacity to defend themselves because of commercial-in-confidence arrangements. I ask the minister, again, why he thinks the review mechanism needs to be put in place.

I also draw the minister's attention to the behaviour of US pharmaceutical companies in relation to the US administration. Is he aware of the US Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act, which essentially commits the US federal government to purchasing some $US600 billion in pharmaceuticals over the next decade but, at the same time, prohibits the government from using its purchasing power to negotiate better prices for drugs? That is the attitude, practice and behaviour of US pharmaceutical companies as they currently exist, and in this context the government are agreeing on what they see as a very benign inclusion of a review mechanism in the free trade agreement—in parallel, I might add, to a very good system that works in the interests of Australians and is already in place in Australia.

Why have we allowed the door to be slightly opened for US corporations to seek those sorts of reviews? Isn't it about the price of medicines or at least reviewing things in such a way that the size, power and influence of US pharmaceutical corporations will far outweigh what we would expect under our system? This is particularly pertinent given my mention of the National Health Act. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee cannot defend themselves under commercial-in-confidence arrangements. It is one thing for the minister to talk about transparency, but the reality is that that can be done by those who seek a review. The PBAC will simply not be able to defend themselves, and nor have the government taken steps to ensure that that occurs.