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Tuesday, 15 April 1980
Page: 1439

Senator TOWNLEY (TASMANIA) -Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health briefly explain to the Senate how the Government managed to overpay chemists some hundreds of millions of dollars over the past years?

Senator McLaren - How much?

Senator TOWNLEY -Just wait. I will get to you in a minute. Is the Minister aware that some chemists, including myself, are more than willing to repay any money that can be shown to have been overpaid? Will the Minister ask the Minister for Health to investigate the possibility of retrieving all the overpaid money?

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle (VICTORIA) - Senator Townley will be aware that the Minister for Health made a statement with regard to this matter a week or two ago. In that statement he referred to the circumstances whereby the arrangements with chemists had been subject to an error in the computation of the original amount agreed, I think in 1974, and he referred to other matters that had occurred with regard to increases made on that inaccurate base. I have nothing to add to the statement, as to how the overpayment occurred, made by the Minister for Health. But I shall refer to him the matter of an investigation regarding retrieval of funds that has been raised by Senator Townley. I think I should say, however, that the payments that were made were legally made and I do not know that all pharmacists would share the attitude of

Senator Townleyinasmuch as he claims he would be willing to refund any overpayments that have been made to him. I think that most pharmacists would argue that they were indeed not overpayments, that whilst there may have been some error in the calculation of the agreed amount, it could not be termed an overpayment in the sense that it is recoverable.

Senator Cavanagh - I raise a point of order. Does Senator Townley, in asking for an inquiry into this matter of overpayment to pharmacists, refer to a matter in which he has a pecuniary interest? Is it correct that the Minister should now proceed to seek an inquiry in relation to Senator Townley 's possible debt to the Government while he remains a member of the Senate?

The PRESIDENT -Order! There is no point of order.

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