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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1216


The PRESIDENT - Senator Georges,as you. have returned from distant parts, I call on you to ask the next question.

Senator GEORGES (QUEENSLAND) - Thank you, Mr President, for your welcome. I must say that, during my absence, the acoustics of the chamber have improved, but the performance of the Government has not. I ask a question of the Minister for Health. Is it correct, as reported, that the name of a drug which may be linked with deformities in babies is to be withheld by the Commonwealth Department of Health? Can the Minister justify the right of his Department to withhold such knowledge from a woman who may have used the drug? Is it not the right of such a woman to have this information so that she may take what action she thinks fit? Is there not a danger that such a woman may continue to take the drug and risk the consequences?


The honourable senator has returned from a foreign land and therefore he will not be aware of the circumstances with which we were confronted possibly a month or 6 weeks ago.

Senator Willesee - It was not a foreign land; it was London.

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - I am informed that the honourable senator was in London. During his absence, a matter arose in relation to a drug which was suspect as a cause of deformity in children. That drug was referred to the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee. At that time I took the initiative as the Minister for Health and directed that approximately 18,600 telegrams be sent to members of the medical profession in Australia and that subsequently letters be written to them in relation to the judgment of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee on that drug. These are matters on which judgments must be made.

Let me refer to what happened yesterday. My understanding is that Dr McBride, who is a world figure and who was the doctor involved with the reference to imipramine which was the drug considered previously, informed the Secretary of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee of the birth in Sydney at the weekend of a child with a reduction deformity of one limb. The Secretary of the Committee acquainted the Committee with the details of Dr McBride's report. The matter is being considered in the normal way by that Committee, as is its function. At this time, no judgment can be made. No announcement has been made by me about the name of the drug; nor do 1 intend to announce its name. But I know that the Committee will treat this matter as of the same importance and with the same urgency with which it dealt with the other matter. Until this matter is resolved - and it will be resolved quickly - we would not wish to cause tremendous concern, upset, anxiety and worry to the many, many people who may be using the drug.

Dr McBride has not said this is the result of the use of a certain drug. He has had the matter referred to the special committee against the background of what happened previously in relation to another drug, when the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee did not confirm the judgments that Dr McBride had made. In fairness to Dr McBride, I should say that he did not make judgments even in relation to that other drug but had it referred to the Committee because it might have had implications. We must always remember - and 1 am sure Senator Turnbull would agree with this if he were here - that hundreds and hundreds of years before we had drugs of this nature there were certain deformities in kiddies. So, for goodness sake, let us not blow this matter up in the way that one of the media blew it up this morning. Let us handle it properly. The media this morning, with one exception, showed excellent restraint. I ask honourable senators opposite to give us the chance to do the things that in all humanity we want to do. For God's sake, do not start to create fear and fright in the hearts and minds of thousands of womenfolk and parents.

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