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Tuesday, 13 May 1980
Page: 2147

Senator McLAREN (South Australia) - I wish to confine my remarks to the Bounty (Penicillin) Bill 1980. I find myself in some difficulty in following Senator Puplick who apparently is very learned on the drug penicillin.

As he was speaking I thought to myself that perhaps he ought to use penicillin. If he did so he may not have to wear dark glasses. The pencillin might cure him of any affliction he has. I feel very sorry for him. I enter this debate because I want to say something about the people who are allergic to treatment by penicillin. Prior to the week's recess I obtained from the Parliamentary Library the latest information I could get on people who are allergic to penicillin. It was contained in a document published by the Oxford University Press of New York and Toronto in Canada in 1 977. For some time, I have had some concern about people who are allergic to penicillin being treated with it. At the time of giving treatment the doctors are not aware that these people are allergic. There have been some very adverse consequences when such patients have been treated with penicillin. I would have hoped that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle) who represents the Minister for Health (Mr MacKellar) and who is in charge of this Bill this evening would have been able to tell the Senate that the Government was prepared to do something so that such accidents do not happen and people who are allergic to penicillin are not treated with it.

A very good friend of mine who is in the Parliament this evening was a patient recently in an Adelaide hospital. Unfortunately, he was mistakenly given an injection of penicillin. He was very ill at the time. After the nurse had given him the injection she realised her mistake. It was fortunate for the hospital, the nurse concerned and my friend who was the patient that he was not allergic to penicillin; otherwise there may have been some very serious consequences. He was one of the lucky ones, but many other patients have not been so lucky. I have read from time to time of cases when people have received injections of penicillin which, in some cases, have been fatal.

Senator Puplick - Why doesn't he carry a MedicAlert badge or one of the bracelets or pendants that are made for that specific purpose?

Senator McLAREN - That might be a good idea. I do not know whether I am allergic to penicillin. The medical profession should be guided by the Government. Some regulations should be introduced requiring tests to be made on every patient, particularly inmates of hospitals, before penicillin injections are given. Perhaps in times of emergency such tests cannot be carried out. I am not aware whether that is the case. When a patient is in hospital the medical profession and hospital authorities ought to conduct tests to ascertain whether a patient is allergic to penicillin.

It is hard to follow Senator Puplick who seems to have such a wealth of knowledge of the drug penicillin. I refer to the document which I got from the Library. I point out some of the conclusions that are contained in it. They should be taken as a warning to the medical profession and the Minister for Health in particular. He should see whether he can do something about the present position. Page 401 of the document states:

1   . Skin tests as carried out by a specialist are not very reliable. They are even less reliable in the hands of the nonspecialist who has no access to proper test material. The desirable range of testing material may not be available even to the specialist. It is also important to mention that potential anaphylaxis may not be detected by cutaneous testing, even when appropriate antigen and proper techniques are employed.

2.   Skin and other test injections are risky, and fatal anaphylactic reaction in the allergic subject may follow these procedures.

I will not continue to read from the document. The facts are there in documentated form for anyone who has an interest in the people who may be allergic to penicillin injections if he cares to go to the Parliamentary Library.

The Government has introduced this legislation. We in the Opposition support it. While we are introducing legislation which supports the production of penicillin in Australia we ought also to be looking at some measure of protection for the patients who will be the recipients of this drug. Senator Puplick said that the Government had decided not to agree to the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission and that in introducing this legislation it is making funds available for two drug companies to produce penicillin. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission is one of those companies. I am not sure which is the private company.

Senator Puplick - It is Abbott.

Senator McLAREN - Senator Puplicksays that it is Abbott. I would be very much happier if the whole of the subsidy was to be paid to CSL. It is a government-operated body. It has a very high standard in producing vaccines of all sorts apart from all the other work it does. I cannot see why we should be subsidising a private concern in competition with CSL.

Senator Puplick - CSL does not have the capacity to produce the other type of penicillin.

Senator McLAREN -Senator Puplick says that CSL does not have the capacity. If the Government had the goodwill it would ensure that CSL had the capacity to produce all the penicillin that is required in Australia. Senator Puplick referred to Glaxo Australia Pty Ltd. When I was a boy living at Koroit in Victoria it operated as a milk factory at Port Fairy. I well remember it. We know too that Glaxo, through its enterprise, a few months ago intended to close up its operation in South Australia to the detriment of the 100 employees of that company. It was only through great agitation by many South Australian citizens that that enterprise has been retained in South Australia, thus ensuring the continued employment of 100 people. Private enterprise in any shape or form is not concerned about the welfare of the employees it engages; all it is concerned about is profit.

That is one of the reasons that Glaxo was going to leave South Australia and concentrate all its efforts in Victoria. As I said, the attitude of many people in South Australia forced it to change its mind at that time, but who is to say that in the not too distant future Glaxo might transfer all its activities from South Australia to Victoria? If it does so it will be to the detriment of its 100 employees in South Australia. That will be a loss to South Australia. We will have to fight that move all the way. The Senate is a States House although at times a person could be misled into thinking that it is not. I like to believe at times we can put the States' point of view in the Senate. I am putting that point of view now. Senator Puplick referred to Glaxo at great length. That company was on the brink of leaving South Australia and transferring its activities to Victoria. I would be much more satisfied if the whole of the subsidy which we are granting in this legislation was to go to our own facility, CSL. Nobody can say that it is not a very successful enterprise even though it is a socialist venture. Socialism and socialist ventures are always criticised by people opposite. Despite the fact that CSL is a socialist enterprise it has a very good record as a business enterprise and in the service it is rendering to the Australian community.

Senator Puplick - That is because it is run by a good capitalist at the moment.

Senator McLAREN - Senator Puplicksaid that it is now being run by a good capitalist. No doubt he is referring to the Chairman of the Commission who, I think, is Dr Forbes, an exmember of Parliament. He is not a doctor of medicine. I do not know whether he is a horse doctor.

Senator O'Byrne - He is a witch doctor.

Senator McLAREN - My good friend Senator O'Byrne says that Dr Forbes is a witch doctor. I think we in the Parliament all know of Dr Forbes ' disability. He suffers from a bad back. I wonder why the Government saw fit to include him in its job for the boys. He ought to be pensioned off as an invalid. If what he said when he was a member of the Parliament was correct he suffered continually from a bad back. Mr Clyde Cameron would be able to enlarge on that affliction for Senator Puplick if the honourable senator would care to have a conversation with him.

I wish to raise another matter with the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) who is in the chamber. It relates to clause 10 of the Bill which, according to the explanatory notes, provides that bounty is not payable unless the bountiable penicillin is of good and merchantable quality. I ask the Minister: Where and by whom are tests to be carried out to ascertain when the bounty will not be payable because the penicillin is not of good and merchantable quality? Perhaps he can answer me in his reply to the second reading debate; otherwise I will raise it in the Committee stage. I have no doubt that the penicillin produced by CSL will conform to every high standard that the Government can lay down. But I have my doubts about private enterprise because we all know that in every issue private enterprise is concerned only with making a dollar. It is not backward in taking short cuts in any enterprise in which it is engaged, whether they be by lowering the working conditions of the employees, marketing, or any other avenue so long as the profit margin is there. It is fortunate for the people who live in this country that CSL is not concerned solely with making profits. Its primary concern is to manufacture products which are of the highest standard and which will give the best service to the people who use them, whether they be the penicillin products, about which we are now talking, or fowl pox vaccine for the poultry industry. Its products are always of the highest standard.

I will not delay the Senate any longer but I would like the Minister to answer the two questions that I have put tonight. Has the Government any means in mind to ensure that no patient will be given penicillin if it is detrimental to his health? There should be regulations ensuring that a patient who is allergic to penicillin will not be administered it. The other question deals with clause 10. Where and by whom are the tests to be carried out to ensure that the bountiable penicillin is of good and merchantable quality?

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