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Wednesday, 27 February 1980
Page: 465

Dr KLUGMAN (Prospect) -Before starting the debate on the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Amendment Bill I think it is appropriate to point out why the Opposition opposed the motion to negative the adjournment tonight. The Government brought in a frivolous motion this afternoon, spent a lot of time on it and then tried to avoid an adjournment debate when private members have a chance to raise issues. As long as the Government does that we will oppose the motion which negatives the adjournment. The Government introduced this legislation in about October last year. The Opposition supports the amendments contained in the legislation. It may be appropriate to remind the House that the basic aim of the Bill is to bring about amendments which were recommended by an inquiry which was called the Reid-Nossal inquiry into the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. The report of the inquiry was tabled in this House in May 1978 and, basically, the Government has accepted the recommendations in this report.

For those of us who have followed the question of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories it has been an issue for some time, as to just what the Laboratories could do, what functions they could perform and how they could improve their function. The principal amendments to the Act have the effect of expanding the role of CSL to enable it to produce non-biological as well as biological pharmaceutical products. I suppose that has been the main issue. The Bill clearly distinguishes between the commercial activities of CSL and the so-called national interest activities, that is those carried out at the direction of the Minister with the Commonwealth meeting the costs of these national interest functions. Until now the profit which CSL made in its commercial activities had to be used to cover the national interest activities and there was never any money left for expansion. It allows an increase in the number of commissioners and makes a number of machinery amendments.

Ever since I have been in this House other people have made the point that there ought to be a removal of the biological restrictions on CSL and the Reid-Nossal report recommended along those lines. There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is the lack of scientific precision in classifying certain products as biological and non-biological. There are substances such as hormones and so on which do not easily fit into one or the other category. Just as importantly there are many biological and non-biological products which have very similar therapeutic goals and CSL should have the freedom to produce the most effective product. It does not have this freedom at the present time.

The new legislation certainly helps CSL. It does, of course, mean that CSL could, in theory, go into the production of any therapeutic goods and therapeutic products. The legislation provides that CSL can engage only in commercial activities in relation to pharmaceutical products on the basis that a regulation must be tabled in Parliament and Parliament could disallow that particular regulation. One of the reasons why the previous Minister has looked kindly on CSL is because of the production of the publication called Inside CSL. The last issue that I have seen is the September/October issue. It is a four page collection of photographs of the Minister. Only five of them are in this particular issue. But 1.2 photographs per page is not a bad average. It certainly helped CSL in its success in persuading the Government to take the appropriate course. I congratulate CSL on this. I suppose CSL will now have to have five photographs of the present Minister in the next issue of Inside CSL.

One of the points that ought to be made is the related question of the Fawnmac group of companies which was purchased by the then Whitlam Government when the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) was the Minister for Health. The Fawnmac group of companies is now up for tender. The Government has said that it will sell it. I understand that one of the tenderers for Fawnmac is in fact CSL. I hope that the Government will look at the tender from CSL and look at the basic advantages, if any, of acquiring Fawnmac and keeping it under government control.

Mr Burns - What did the Whitlam Government pay for it?

Dr KLUGMAN -One of the important points about the position -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order!The honourable member for Isaacs is not entitled to keep interjecting.

Mr Burns - I am asking a question. What did you pay for Fawnmac?

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Isaacs has been warned before. Interjections are disorderly. He repeats his offence. If he does it again he will be named.

Dr KLUGMAN -One of the reasons for -

Mr Burns - Mr Deputy Speaker,I raise a point of order. I have asked a question of the honourable member for Prospect -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Isaacs knows that that is not a point of order. I warn the honourable member for Isaacs.

Dr KLUGMAN - If the honourable member for Isaacs asks at Question Time tomorrow, I will be pleased to answer. One of the reasons for the purchase of Fawnmac by the Government was to produce some competition in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Australia and to enable the Government to have access to certain figures and information which was previously available only to the private pharmaceutical companies. The question of pharmaceutical manufacturing is an important one. Those who have taken some interest- I am sure that the honourable member for Isaacs has not- will be aware of the so-called Ralph report which was tabled in this House about three or four months ago. It followed an inquiry which was set up by the Department of Health or the Minister for Health and the Ministry for Industry and Commerce. It made some very valuable observations and it made a lot of recommendations which would significantly alter the method of selling pharmaceutical products in Australia. I hope the Government will come back with some recommendations or some reply or response to the Ralph report very soon so that we will be able to see just what we can look forward to- if this Government were returned to office- in regard to pharmaceutical manufacturing and the distribution of pharmaceutical products.

I think it is fair to say that in the last few years, whilst the pharmaceutical manufacturing companies have made a lot of money- they made huge profits in the 1950s and 1960s- those profits have gone down. The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is a very important industry as far as Australia is concerned. Even now, having been run down, it employs a significant number of people- something approaching 10,000 people. About 13,000 to 15,000 people were employed in the industry before. We are ideally situated with technology and the technical know how which is available in Australia- a large number of people have gone through universities and so on- to be pharmaceutical manufacturers for a large area in South East Asia and in the Pacific area. We have not been able to take up the challenge, so to speak, to provide these pharmaceuticals for those areas. There are a number of reasons for that. I do not want to go into them at this time tonight but I do think that the Government ought to be looking sympathetically at expanding the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Australia. As I said a few moments ago, it is an important industry. There was a lot of prejudice against it, and I think some of that prejudice is still justified in relation to some of the pharmaceutical manufacturers. However, I do not think their profits now are anywhere near the excessive levels that existed in the 1960s. If we want the industry to continue, if we want to employ people in Australia, and we are always looking for industries which will absorb our school leavers and so on, we ought to be looking at this sort of industry which requires highly skilled technical people. I commend the Bill to the House as a step towards ensuring the continuation of CSL as a commercially viable institution.

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