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Stakeholders briefing on complementary medicines, Parliament House, Canberra, Tuesday 2 February, 1999

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Stakeholders Briefing on Complementary medicines Parliament House Canberra Tuesday 2 February 1999

Andrew Podger, Secretary, 

Department of Health and Aged Care

May I firstly apologise for Senator Tambling whose travel arrangements were thrown into disa rray when his plane lost pressure over Katherine and he was forced to return to Darwin.

Senator Tambling has asked me to step into the breach and to open open this very important consultation on the development of a reform package for complementary healthcare products.

As you know Senator Tambling has taken a close interest in the regulation of the complementary healthcare industry and I know that he is anxious to hear the outcomes of today's consultation.

On his behalf I would like to welcome you and to invite you to ask questions during the panel discussion which has been scheduled for later this morning.

This consultation brings together:

  • complementary healthcare industry representatives;
  • complementary practitioners;
  • western orthodox medicine repre sentatives;
  • the pharmaceutical industry;
  • regulatory affairs consultants;
  • health policy managers;
  • academics; and
  • other health experts

Brief History

In 1996, the Government promised to improve access to complementary medicines.

At the Alternative Medicines Summit in October 1996, which some of you attended, Dr Wooldridge said:

"This is the very first time (we have) not only acknowledged the existence of so-called alternative health practice, (we have) also acknowledged that such practice has an integr al role to play in providing a full range of health care options to Australians".

Much has happened since that time, including a review of the TGA and much debate has been had on the level and appropriateness of regulation for complementary healthcare prod ucts.

Just 2 months ago, on 2 December 1998, a government/industry/ consumer Working Party was established under Senator Tambling's chairmanship.

The Working Party comprised representatives from:

  • the (now) Complementary Healthcare Council (CHC),
  • the Pr oprietary Medicines Association of Australia (PMAA),
  • the Consumers Health Forum (CHF); and
  • the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

I know Senator Tambling wanted to take this opportunity to publicly recognise the commitment and hard work of the membe rs of this Working Party.

After many formal and informal meetings, numerous discussion papers, briefings and negotiations, the Working Party agreed on the package which is before us today.


The last couple of months has set in place a number of “firsts”:

  • the first time a real partnership has been forged between Government, industry, consumers and regulation in the area of complementary medicine.
  • for the first time there exists a genuine air of cooperation and a willingness to put aside the tu rf battles and to work constructively to resolve difficult issues.
  • for the first time, there is a way forward for the various interest groups (including the consuming public).

But I have to say, there has been plenty of debate - vigorous debate - along th e way. I am pleased with that; the debate encourages stronger and more robust positions. These positions will be lasting and will now be more widely accepted and acknowledged.


Behind the reform measures sit a number of “not negotiables”. They are:

  • a continued emphasis on public health and safety;
  • the use of good manufacturing practices in the industry; and
  • accuracy in labelling in the market place.

Taken together, the “not negotiables” provide a firm basis for industry an d consumers. I’m happy to say all interest groups support this approach.

The Complementary Medicines Evaluation Committee and the new Office of Complementary Medicines in the TGA will play a critical role in this area.

CMEC sits at the centre of the reforms.

it is the eminent expert advisory body which plays the key role in evaluation and safety assessments.

it brings together a variety of experts who will set the standards to ensure public health and safety stay at the forefront.

The Office of Complementary Medicines in TGA is the decision maker and it will continue to work closely with all affected groups and the scientific and medical community where ever possible or needed.

The success of the reform measures will weigh heavily on the shoulders of CMEC and the Office of Complementary Medicines. Both are well equipped to meet the challenge.


As you will hear through this morning’s discussions, the key issues for these reforms from the industry's perspective include better understanding, better administration and advertising controls that are not heavy-handed.

The key issue for Government is to maintain Australia's international reputation for high standards in terms of the safety and quality of therapeutic goods

This reform package marries these expectations.

The word "reform" inevitably conjures up different things for different people.

I believe there is considerable room here for a win-win. The Government is concerned to foster a strong and competitive industry, and the industry’s future is highly dependent upon the quality and safety of its products.

I know Senator Tambling sees some parallel here with the directions proposed in the Wills Review into health and medical research, including a strengthening of both Government and industry investment to improve the capacity and international competitiveness of the Australian health industry in the broad.

A co-operative approach will help ensure that we produce best outcomes for consumers and all sectors of industry.

Countries throughout the world are struggling within a rapidly changing healthcare environment. I would like to think that, with your goodwill, we can produce a model worthy of emulation.

This reform package will in time become an important part of a number of reform initiatives the Government will be pursuing in the context of health industry development. The TGA has commenced, in consultation with interested parties, to take a number of steps forward in a variety of areas. I know that Senator Tambling has a particular interest and he, like I, would like to see broadly-based consultation as a key feature of the development and implementation of future reform measures.


It is therefore with great pleasure that I officially open this complementary medicines consultation and hand over to the TGA National Manager, Terry Slater.

Terry was a member of Senator Tambling's Working Party and has worked closely with many of the interest groups in recent months on these matters. He will walk us through the key features of the reform package and these will include:

  • amendments to the legislation;
  • streamlining administrative arrangements setting up better; and
  • more structured consultative arrangements .

Taken together these measures represent a significant way forward. There may, as there inevitably is, room for improvement and I look forward to your helpful and constructive contribution to today's discussions.

I would like to introduce Terry Slater …. it looks like you are first wicket down in the batting order Terry … over to you.