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Wednesday, 5 March 1980
Page: 597

Senator GRIMES (Tasmania) -In view of the liveliness of the previous debate and the sensitivity of some people in this place, I am sorry that on this Bill I will not be able to cause any fireworks because the Opposition supports this belated legislation to amend the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Act by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Amendment Bill of 1 980. I would have thought that any problems with this legislation would have come from the other side of the House because the Bill does increase the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories ' role so that they may produce non-biological products and enter the commercial pharmaceutical field in a greater way than they have in the past. The Bill enlarges the commission, increases the number and broadens scope of people who will be on the commission, and will enable, we believe, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to take their proper place in the pharmaceutical manufacturing area in this country.

Therefore, with the Government introducing legislation to strengthen and to widen the ability of a statutory authority to carry out its job, I thought that some difficulties may have arisen from the members and supporters of the Government, in view of their interest in such statutory authorities- qangos and other things that are causing interest in this House particularly. I will be interested to see, therefore, whether the reason for the number of Government speakers listed is that they have some qualms about this, because the Opposition has no doubts that this sort of thing should be done for the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. I think it gives us an unusual opportunity in this chamber to pay some respect to the work of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in its 65-odd years of existence in this country. Although it became a statutory authority only in 1961, it has, in fact, in its various forms, performed a very important role in the health of both humans and animals in this country and in fact, of people in many parts of the world. During the time of its existence it has produced high quality vaccines, insulin, blood fraction products, veterinary and laboratory supplies and it has acted as a reference source and a research centre for therapeutic and biological research which has been of great importance to all citizens in this country. As far back as 1916 it was producing antisera, antitoxins and vaccines. It continued during the 1920s and the 1930s to produce allergens for people who suffered allergies in this country. It produced the first influenza vaccines; it did pioneering work in the production of insulin; it did world class and world pioneering work in the manufacture of human blood products; it produced diptheria antitoxin; and it produced antivenoms and antivenenes for snakes and other animals. It has done important work also in the production of similar sorts of vaccines for animals to improve their health and, therefore, food production in this country. In 1938 formalised tetanus toxoid was produced providing active immunisation against tetanus. It is worthwhile, therefore, remembering, as is stated in the annual report of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission, that this had the effect of protecting Australian soldiers in World War II from tetanus to the extent that no Australian servicemen contracted tetanus during that conflict. When one remembers that during the Vietnam war more people were in hospital in Vietnam suffering from tetanus than have ever been reported to have been suffering from tetanus since the time the disease became reportable in this country, one realises what a considerable achievement that was. A similar situation applies to the production of penicillin and the eventual availability of penicillin to the civilian population of this country. Australia was the first country able to do so. The production of poliomyelitis vaccine wiped out that disease.

Senator Lewis - Can you explain why there are no Labor senators in the chamber?

Senator GRIMES - Labor Party senators happen to agree with the legislation. I am waiting to hear what the honourable senator has to say about the extension of power to this statutory authority. I hope he will explain to us why he is not complaining. Mr President, I am attempting to be non-provocative but some of your colleagues on the other side of the chamber have difficulties whenever I speak. They have just been to a meeting of the Adolf Hitler Memorial Society or wherever they have been. Since the 1950s the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have, in fact, played an important role in the production of viral products and in the control of production in this country. This is an important organisation. It has been important to all of us and to our children. It is a pity that honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber think that it is such a joke that we, in this chamber, should agree that this organisation should be improved and protected because it is for the good of us all. Of course the honourable senators who interjected have no idea of the seriousness of the work of this orgainistion.

This organisation has also been important to other countries, particularly in the production of insulin and vaccines and in providing a means whereby technicians and specialists from Asia, the Pacific, Africa and European countries could be trained and could learn research. The organisation has also helped to establish laboratories in Asian countries in co-operation with the World Health Organisation. It played no small part in the wiping out of the disease of smallpox throughout the world. Its importance in the field of production control and bacteriological and envirological control is becoming of increasing importance in a world where distance and difficulty of travel are no longer barriers to the spread of some of mankind's worst scourges. Therefore we should all be grateful that it has done the work that it has and that it has been allowed to do the work it has done in spite of criticism from various elements in the pharmaceutical industry.

These elements have as their philosophy the idea that anything that is profitable should be in the private sector and anything that is nonprofitable should be in the public sector. Our national security in fact depends on our having a viable and effective pharmaceutical industry. It should be a viable and effective organisation which can produce the antivenenes, the vaccines and the other products which are so necessary for the protection of our public health. It is for this reason that we should congratulate consecutive governments over the years for maintaining this publicly owned and publicly supervised institution. In the face of opposition and propaganda it is not always easy to maintain such an organisation. But we must because the pharmaceutical industry, in fact, is controlled almost completely by foreign and multinational companies, which have attempted in the past and which will continue to attempt in the future- despite the provisions of this legislation- to hamstring and inhibit the efforts of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.

The drug companies have played an important part in the development of pharmaceuticals and research generally into therapeutics. But their philosophy being what it is, they need the sort of competition and the sorts of controls that CSL and the Government in this country have put on them. We must also remember that they take part in activities of price manipulation to maintain profits. The classic example, for those who are interested, was the manipulation of the price of valium throughout the world, but many other substances have been involved. Many of them were convicted during the war in Vietnam in the 1960s for paying bribes to ensure that their products were used on the wounded and sick. So we must- balance the good that they have undoubtedly done with the bad that comes from an Untrammelled, free market. We must remember the unwise promotion in Africa of substances like lomotil, and the unwise promotion of artificial feeding as against breast feeding which contributed to the deaths of many people in the search of these companies for profits. As I said there needs to be this balance between the need for profit and the public good. Public corporations with a social conscience such as CSL are just one means of protecting the public.

Senator Lewis - Senator McLarenhas just come back into the chamber.

Senator GRIMES -Therefore, I will urge all honourable senators on both sides of the chamber, but particularly Senator Lewis, who as usual is very noisy at this time of night, to look with a jaundiced eye when the private drug industry descends on us to lobby against giving CSL the right to produce various products or to market one drug or another. This will inevitably happen. All of us, in our responsibility to the health of this community, must protect CSL against this lobbying. The ban against CSL producing non-biological products has been a burden on the organisation for a long time. There have often been pleas for extensions of the charter of CSL to enable it to compete more easily in what is a difficult and a cut-throat market.

We were all pleased, I believe, when the inquiry established under Sir Gustav Nossal and Mr John Reid, recommended the changes which will be made in this Bill. It is interesting also to remember that they recommended that the Government retain the Fawnmac group of companies which, incidentally, was originally formed in Tasmania. Fawnmac was a successful group of companies and those companies were purchased by the Labor Government. I am afraid that that recommendation has gone by the board because of ideological prejudice and pressure from various drug companies to ensure that the Government in fact puts Fawnmac on the market. I hope that CSL will be successful in its tender to take over this important group of companies.

In the past the division between the so-called non-biological products and the biological products has been a difficult one and has caused some confusion. I hope that the new provisions of this legislation will cut out the difficulty that has occurred in the past and that the division of CSL's activities between functions performed in the past in what is called the national interest and those performed for commercial purposes will enable it to compete and not be concerned about balancing one side against the other. We need a strong pharmaceutical industry; we need a pharmaceutical industry which is not dictated to by the whims or machinations of any organisation or any government other than our own. As a small market in potentially a very isolated country we need to have a greater say in what we shall produce and what we shall not, and in what needs to be produced and what does not need to be produced in this country. It does not take much of a war or disturbance to create shortages of drugs in various parts of the world. Many of us will remember the shortage of certain antimalarials which arose because of the particular type of malaria which became rife in Vietnam.

I, and other members of the Opposition, would hope that the freeing of CSL from some of its previous constraints and the increase in the size and the variety of the composition of the management of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission will improve our ability to control our destiny in this regard. For reasons of security and for the common good of this country we need to be in firm control of the pharmaceutical industry. I am glad and somewhat surprised that the Government has accepted that. I hope that those on the Government side who are always so keen to get rid of public utilities and successful organisations which come under the gamut of statutory authorities or publicly-owned or controlled organisations, such as Trans-Australia Airlines, keep their hands away from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. I hope that they will allow that organisations to go from strength to strength and to continue the good work it has done for the people of Australia, for the people of this region and for the people of the world. I have no reason to delay the passage of this legislation, nor does the Opposition. The Australian Labor Party supports the legislation.

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