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FOR – Bills — National Health Amendment (Supporting Patient Access to Cheaper Medicines and Other Measures) Bill 2024; Second Reading

Bob Katter

I return to what I was saying previously. The minister is saying, 'We'll cut the costs.' You want to know what you're doing in this place. On the face of it, you say that, instead of having to go to the pharmacy twice in 60 days, now you just go in once. So this halves the income for a pharmacist. As I said previously—there's no doubt in my mind. I say: hold on a minute; if you halve the income for pharmacists, a lot of them are going to go broke. Where are you going with this? I don't notice any pharmacists in my area running around in Mercedes-Benz motor cars and going on trips overseas. What are you going to do—just wipe them out?

I've always said: in politics, follow the money trail if you see something that you don't understand, and say, 'What's going on here?' So, if you're going to halve the income for pharmacists—some of the most highly respected people in our society—who's going to benefit from that? Is the consumer going to benefit? To some degree, yes. But it's a very small degree to which the consumer is going to benefit. Who benefits? Well, if there are a whole lot of the owner-operator pharmacies going broke then of course it's the big two who benefit—here we go again! It's Woolworths and Coles. And now we've got the two giants, Terry White and—the second company is eluding me at the present moment. Those two companies are on 42 per cent of the market now.

There is no doubt that this move will give them another 12 or 14 per cent, and that's what's speculated inside the industry. Their percentage will now go into the mid-50s; from there, it will pay them to pay big money and go to over 60 per cent; and from there it's like Woolworths and Coles and they can charge anything they like. They've got no competition. So what appears, on the face of it, to be moronic stupidity that will wipe out one in four pharmacists in Australia—of course, in the small towns, forget about your pharmacy, it'll be gone!

The thing that always intrigues me about politicians in Australia today that is so fundamentally different from the politicians 40 years ago—40 years ago they cared about people. I remember saying to the much maligned Bjelke-Petersen, 'I have a portfolio that is manned by whitefellas, and it's a blackfella portfolio.' He said, 'What do you want to do?' I said, 'Obviously, I want to change it over to blackfellas, of course.' He said, 'Bob, we don't sack.' I said: 'No, it's a policy of nonreplacement. Within three years, we'll just about achieve that goal.' He again said, 'But, Bob, we don't sack.' We cared about people; we didn't want to go around sacking people.

We lost government in 1990, and within five years the ALP had sacked 12,000 railwaymen and 2½ thousand electricity workers. We had to go to computerisation, so there should have been a reduction in employment. We employed 22,000 in 1979, and 10 years later we were employing 21,000 in 1989. When the ALP came in, they were employing 7,000. So here we have it again. Don't you care about people, and don't you understand that these pharmacists are going to be destroyed?

I just want to say a few words on what a great group of people pharmacists are. Trent Twomey, head of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, was head of Advance Cairns. He and I were instrumental in getting the Gordonvale CBD road made into a two-lane divided highway, which is very safe and very quick for people to get to work or move out of Cairns. He played a very real role in getting the alternative route, and I must say the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, played a very key role as well in the alternative route that cuts the round trip from the huge fruit and vegetable growing area of Far North Queensland to Melbourne by 1,800 kilometres. It's a wonderful breakthrough in saving our fruit and vegetable growers both for tropical fruit and vegetables coming out of Far North Queensland and for temperate fruit and vegetables coming out of Victoria. Trent Twomey played a key role in that. He's the head of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, but in that case he was with Advance Cairns.

Michael Collins, in my own hometown of Charters Towers, put in a lot of money—I can't divulge how much, but it was an awful lot of money—to get the North Queensland Cowboys rugby league team going, which has been a great and exciting thing for the people of North Queensland.

Madam Deputy Speaker Chesters, I don't mind people ignoring me, but I do object when they're talking to each other across the chamber, which I think is exceptionally rude and bad mannered. My parents brought me up to not speak while other people are speaking, but obviously their parents didn't bring them up that way. So I'd ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to please stop them from talking across the chamber while I'm trying to talk. Thank you.

I used the case of Michael Collins, who is so typical of pharmacists. He put real money in to get the Cowboys going, which is a wonderful thing for North Queensland. He got rugby league going in Charters Towers. He was one of five or six of us that met and got rugby league going in our own town, where three or four teams are now playing. He did a hell of a lot to rescue the schools in Charters Towers when they got into trouble—the huge boarding schools that provide a wonderful service to people of the outback, where they can go away to boarding school. He was the commentator for the country music festival and the race club. These people contribute to our community. Why would you hit these people? Why would you halve their incomes? What's the benefit to the Australian people? Infinitesimal. But what is the value to the two giants in the pharmacy industry? Colossal.

I will repeat what I said earlier today. The spokesman, the assistant minister for health in the Senate, let the cat out of the bag. As I said: follow the money trail. She said—and I must say it was quite a stupid comment and quite damaging to her party, for those that picked it up—'We haven't been able to speak to the Pharmacy Guild, but we have spoken to Chemist Warehouse.' Yeah, I bet you did! You spoke to Chemist Warehouse because this will enable them and their other competitor to move into a Woolworths-Coles position in the Australian economy. For some reason, the governments of Australia and the politicians in this place have no understanding of economics. Obviously, if you have a free market system, you'll say, 'Oh, a free and open market system will deliver you cheaper prices.' No, it won't; it will deliver you an oligopoly. This is what it's done in almost every area of concern that we have in Australia.

I will again refer to Woolworths and Coles. We have a potato grower that ploughs the field. Then he has to till the field. Then he has to plant the potato. Then he has to irrigate the potato. Then he has to fertilise the potato and keep the pests and diseases out—a lot of work. Then he has to pull it out of the ground, put it on a truck and take it to town. In the town, Woolworths and Coles take the potato out and put it on the shelf. He gets 45c per kilogram, and they get $4.20 per kilogram! And that's what's going to happen here. There's not the slightest doubt in my mind that once they get what the ALP is delivering to them, an oligopolistic marketplace, they will charge what they like. So, in the short term, you can say, 'Competition will reduce the price' Yeah. But in the long term you will have an oligopoly and you'll know what pricing is about.

I want to say one other thing about pharmacists. They are the first line. I myself had an interesting case. I had a little pimple thing on the side of my face that was itchy, and I raced down to the pharmacy, which was still open at nearly 10 o'clock at night, and I said: 'I just want something because it's a bit itchy. It's just a little pimple.' And the pharmacist said: 'No, I think that's shingles. That's very serious indeed.' At five to 10, the doctor was still in, so I raced down to the doctor, and she said: 'It's shingles. In 24 hours you might die.' (Time expired)

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 5:16 PM on 2024-06-25
Allegra Spender's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 58
Total number of "no" votes: 82
Total number of abstentions: 11
Related bill: National Health Amendment (Supporting Patient Access to Cheaper Medicines and Other Measures) Bill 2024

Adapted from information made available by

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