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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1725

Mr WELLS(12.31) —I do not intend to take more than a minute or two of the time of the Committee, nor do I think the Committee would wish me to do so. I refer to some remarks made much earlier in this debate by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) who referred to the removal from the national health free list of two milk substitutes, pregestimil and glucose nutramigen. The honourable member for Mackellar suggested that the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) was ill advised when he took this action. I would like to set the record straight on that matter. Bristol Myers Co. Pty Ltd, the company responsible for producing the two milk substitutes pregestimil and glucose nutramigen, which milk substitutes are for babies allergic to ordinary milk, increased the cost of those two products by 59 per cent and 54.7 per cent respectively. This company expected that cost increase to be met by the Australian taxpayers by a direct subsidy through the national health scheme.

The Minister was placed in a rather invidious situation. Either he had to accept the situation and allow the Australian taxpayers to subsidise this extra amount or he had to make a stand at that point and say that that was not going to happen. No Australian Minister for Health could reasonably stand back and allow every multinational pharmaceutical corporation which wished, without any notice, to increase the prices of its products by 59 per cent or 54 per cent to do so. If every pharmaceutical company did that, the cost to the Australian taxpayer would be an extra $200m a year. The Australian Government cannot stand back and allow itself to be blackmailed by multinational pharmaceutical corporations.

Many people have come to my office to complain about what has happened, and I have explained the situation to them. Many people in my electorate have been affected by this situation. I have suggested to those people that they contact the pharmaceutical corporation directly, and it would be surprising if that company were not prepared to make some allowances for people in genuine need who have suffered as a result of its cost increases. I have been told that the Minister is perfectly happy to talk about any reasonable proposal if the company wishes to talk with the Minister. It just has to come back with a reasonable proposal. What it cannot do to the Australian taxpayers is increase the cost of its products by 59 per cent or 54 per cent and expect the Australian taxpayers simply to cop it. What we need is some indication of its cost of production, for example, that the cost of manufacture has gone up.

Mr Carlton —The Government has had it for three years. The company has been giving it for three years. You are talking nonsense.

Mr WELLS —The honourable member for Mackellar suggests that the company has been giving that sort of information for three years. The latest information I have received is that the cost of manufacture has gone down. I am willing to be corrected on that subject. If the honourable member for Mackellar would like to produce some statistics, that would be useful. But my information is that they are making this increase at a time their production costs have actually declined . We are saying that any reasonable proposal the company wishes to come back with will be looked at. In the meantime, while we realise that many Australians are being seriously inconvenienced by this action, the action was forced by the company, and it is up to the company to come back with a reasonable proposal.