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Tuesday, 26 August 1980
Page: 683

Dr BLEWETT (BONYTHON, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I refer the Minister for Health to the Government's decision to abandon the proposal to permit pharmacists to discount prices for drugs covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme some 48 hours after the proposal was introduced. Why did the Minister not recognise before he made the decision that the proposal might 'dramatically alter the structure of the pharmaceutical industry'? Why did the Minister not recognise before he made the decision that it was inappropriate to make the proposal at a time when three major reviews are being conducted into the industry's operations? Are not the ministerial explanations simply a confession of ministerial incompetence?

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) (Minister for Health) Mr MacKELLARThe Government, of course, has under consideration the results of the Ralph Committee of Inquiry into the Pharmaceutical Industry. The Committee came up with about 26 recommendations. Those who have read the report of the Committee will know that some of those recommendations, particularly those relating to chapter 1 7, are extremely complex and could result in very great changes not only to the services provided by pharmacists but also to the structure of the pharmaceutical industry and the services offered to the general public.

As the honourable gentleman knows, the Government, in reviewing the Ralph Committee's report, decided to introduce a 20c across the board payment in relation to pharmaceuticals going to chemists. In relation to another matter - recommendation No. 7 - the Government looked at the report of an interdepartmental committee and at the representations that had been received from industry organisations and individuals. In the event, following the announcement of the decision, there was a very widespread reaction throughout Australia, and I took into consideration the nature of the representations made to me. The basis of those representations was that, given the fact that a major company had engaged very rapidly in a price cutting or discounting situation, the rapidity of the structural change in the industry could be such as would not provide the sort of service that we would like to see provided for the general public. Therefore, the Government has set aside the decision to allow time for industry representatives, interested groups and individuals to make their point to the Government in relation not only to this recommendation but also to other recommendations contained in the report of the Ralph Committee of Inquiry. It seems to me to be utterly sensible that when good points are made in representations the Government should be in a position to review them. That is exactly what has happened.

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