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Friday, 1 September 1989
Page: 776

Senator COULTER(9.07) —I move:

That this Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The purposes of this Bill are two:

1. To disallow the determination of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Remuneration Tribunal so that it shall have no force or effect and

2. To provide that in future such determinations are disallowable instruments.

The present determination, if implemented, will be a severe penalty to pharmacists. It will cause 20 per cent plus real reduction in PBS income. This is in addition to the 12 per cent real reduction in income suffered by pharmacists over the last twelve months.

It appears the Government has cast about for areas of reduction in expenditure on health and has settled on the poor hapless pharmacists. This, at a time when pharmacists have already been squeezed as a result of Federal Government moves.

The result of this determination of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Remuneration Tribunal is that many pharmacists will just close their doors. Unfortunately, many closing will be those providing the most needed services such as those in small towns or isolated suburban areas. Those that receive specific assistance in these circumstances will be and remain precariously dependent on this and may yet decide not to continue in a country pharmacy.

Those pharmacies which survive will do so by cutting costs. The only way they can do that is to reduce staff. That will result in a drastic cut in service to the public and the lowering of standards of pharmacy practice in Australia.

Pharmacists who have recently graduated are already finding difficulty obtaining employment. Some sackings have already occurred.

The tribunal acknowledged that pharmacies would be placed in jeopardy but did not consider the wider costs to the community of pharmacy closures. They did not consider the increase in transport costs to the consumer who would have to travel further to have his prescriptions dispensed. Thus the total cost to the community may rise even while Government expenditure falls. Unfortunately, this Government rarely does total social costing.

It is a matter of concern that the costs of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are ``blowing out'' with an anticipated increase from $1000m to $1200m in just one year. But this piecemeal approach of taking $92m over two years from the pockets of pharmacists is not good enough. A complete review of the PBS is required, and I duly moved a motion to that effect last September in the Senate.

It is evident that the Tribunal's decisions have been based on flawed information. It is a matter of concern that no-one on the Tribunal had specific knowledge of the pharmaceutical profession.

This Bill includes provisions such that further determinations will be subject to disallowance by Parliament. Had these determinations been in the form of regulations I could have simply moved for disallowance rather than introduce a private member's Bill. If the Government sets up a Tribunal and sets the terms of reference, it is only appropriate that Parliament be able to disallow the determinations.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Robert Ray) adjourned.