Health and inequity

In the third of our series of profiles of pharmacists standing for Parliament, we speak to NSW pharmacist and Greens candidate, Carmel McCallum

Candidate profile: Carmel McCallum
Party: Greens
Seat: Gilmore, NSW

In her career in pharmacy, Carmel McCallum has worked in nearly 60 pharmacies—from the store she owned for several years in Nowra, on NSW’s South Coast, to the many pharmacies where she has done relief and casual work.

Now, Ms McCallum—who is also the vice-president of the employee pharmacists’ union, Professional Pharmacists Australia—is again running for the federal seat of Gilmore, in NSW.

Ms McCallum says she joined the Greens just before Australia went into the 2003 war against Iraq, with her opposition to the war, and her stance on climate change, the key reasons why she was drawn to the party.

“When [independent member for Denison] Andrew Wilkie came out and said there were no weapons of mass destruction, before we went to Iraq, he announced he was going to run for the Greens. And I said, ‘I’ll run for the Greens’,” she told the AJP.

“That was a Cabinet decision, which should have been discussed across Parliament. We were led to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it turned out to be a lie.

“I supported his campaign in Bennelong, against John Howard, and joined the Greens. They have the best and most passionate policies about the future, caring for people, peace and non-violence—and we don’t take political donations, especially from fossil fuel companies. We have to start to change the laws on that, and have publicly funded elections.”

Health and the climate

And a Greens candidate wouldn’t be a Greens candidate without significant concern about climate change. Ms McCallum cited the Greens’ action plan on the issue, Renew Australia 2030, which aims to help Australia transition away from coal power by 2030 and towards zero carbon emissions by 2040.

“We can have much better health, better life opportunities for people, if we look after the environment,” she told the AJP.

She says that pharmacists are likely to have observed the impact of growing inequality on the health of the Australian public—and experienced it themselves, as pharmacy pay rates have stagnated and conditions worsened.

“In 2006, I thought, ‘something’s going to happen here’, she said, saying that she observed at the time that the then-new Fair Work Commission, and the establishment of a minimum wage, would be “the beginning of a real slide in pharmacist wages”.

“The industry has been casualised,” Ms McCallum said. “Penalty rates have been undermined, twice now by the ruling of the Fair Work Commission, with the support of the Liberal and National Parties and other conservative cross-bench groups.

“But these are professionals. They do four years at university, and one gruelling intern year, and they are so skilful and adept and have such high knowledge of their profession—and they should be used in a much more valuable way, contributing to the future of pharmacy and to the medical system overall.

“There are too many pharmacists working really hard, under really hard conditions, for long hours,” she said, adding that many pharmacists in single-pharmacist stores are so “flat out” that they don’t get lunch breaks—which impacts their health.

“People are living with fear and anxiety and that’s often generated by what governments are saying,” Ms McCallum said.

She said that pharmacists who are keen to involve themselves with politics are “possibly seeing the frustration, the growing inequality in our society”.

“It’s been 70 years since we’ve had such inequality. Maybe they’re seeing that it needs to be more fair.”

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