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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1444

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (12:33 PM) —Reforming the PBS to ensure that government is getting the best value for money is a very important issue. We have an ageing population in Australia, and this means that there is going to be even more spent on the PBS and it is going to increase going forward every year. I am mindful of the reforms that were negotiated back in 2007 under the Howard government, and I do believe that there are compelling arguments to suggest that we can do even more in reforming the PBS. The MOU negotiated between the government and Medicines Australia does go some way towards doing this.

Under the measures set out in the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) Bill 2010 there is a projected significant cost saving of $1.9 billion for the taxpayers. That is a good thing. It does not make sense for taxpayers to be paying for medicines at a price which is well above what the pharmacies are paying for them in the first place. There are a number of drugs where the government is paying to the pharmacies a premium of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent above the actual purchase price. This is a waste of taxpayers’ money. It is being forked out, going directly into the pockets of those in the supply chain with no direct benefit to the consumer. It makes sense for the government to try to address this discrepancy, and I support the thrust of what the government is trying to achieve with this bill.

The problem is that the MOU signed between the government and Medicines Australia is by no means perfect. The government are trying to save money and are tackling one part of the supply chain. They have largely focused on the F2 medicines category without, I think, really looking hard enough at the F1 category. Doing this may—and the word to note here is ‘may’—have a serious economic effect on the generic medicines industry. Generic medicines play an important role in making medicines affordable for Australians. They also play a very important role in manufacturing and jobs in Australia. We need to continue to ensure that that industry can continue to thrive and grow. I notice that the government has done this with the car industry.

I am little a concerned that maybe the generic manufacturing industry in Australia is at risk. I am all for the government paying less for drugs on the PBS, but at the same time I believe in supporting manufacturing jobs in Australia and having a vibrant industry on our shores. There is concern that the reforms in this bill have not fully taken into account the concerns surrounding jobs in Australia and the viability of manufacturing. That is where my concerns lie. I have raised the issue of jobs with the Minister for Health and Ageing. I will not put words into the minister’s mouth, but my conclusion is that I do not think those concerns are being taken seriously enough.

I see some merit in what the coalition’s second reading amendment is trying to do. From what I understand from talking to another senator in this place, there could be the idea of putting the vote on the second reading of this bill off until another time to try and work out how we can look at the concerns about jobs in manufacturing of generics in Australia. I will leave it there. I hope that common sense will prevail and that there will be further discussions with the generic medicines industry and a further focus on jobs and the concerns I have in that regard.