Guild attempts to clear mystery surrounding political influence

The Guild has emphasised its “non-partisan” approach in preparation for upcoming elections, but some quarters of the organisation are not happy with government processes

In his latest Forefront editorial, Guild executive director David Quilty has highlighted that the organisation is focused on aligning the mutual interests of its community pharmacy members with those of the government, which he says is “tasked with representing the interests of consumers”.

He says the Guild’s “preferred method” of across-the-board “non-partisan” political support provides greater certainty and stability, enabling community pharmacies to enjoy a reduced level of political risk.

With regard to paid political events, Mr Quilty says the Guild is “diligent” in ensuring it meets regulatory requirements and declares all paid political participation.

“However, any contention that participation in paid political events is the reason behind the Guild’s political influence could not be further from the truth,” said Mr Quilty.

“Any political influence that the Guild might have is overwhelmingly a result of the fact that pharmacies are held in such high public regard.”

It is true that the Guild, and indeed community pharmacy, has enjoyed bipartisan political support, and the organisation has provided hefty financial donations to both of the large political parties.

For example, in 2016-17 the Pharmacy Guild of Australia donated over $200,000 to political parties.

While the lion’s share of this went to Labor at $108,800, $75,135 was donated to the Liberal Party and $29,000 to the Nationals.

Prior to this in 2015-16, the Guild provided $140,000 to Labor, $71,600 to the Liberals and $26,000 to the National Party.

Regarding the Guild’s donations, a spokesperson told AJP that: “Like many industry bodies, the Guild contributes to political parties through attending paid political events. At no time has the Guild linked such contributions and engagement to specific issues or policy decisions.

“Like many other organisations we regard this as legitimate support for our democratic political processes.”

Despite Mr Quilty taking pains to highlight the Guild’s efforts to build political relationships that are “genuine, respectful and based on trust”, there is unhappiness and discontent with political groups among some quarters of the organisation.

Just this month, President of the Guild (NSW Branch) David Heffernan shared his outrage in the wake of the codeine “fiasco”, warning members to bolster efforts within community pharmacy to achieve political outcomes on behalf of their patients.

“Using the codeine debate as a litmus test for the years ahead, what is clear is that we need your help maintaining engagement with the public and our politicians.

“There appears a deep seeded contempt and/or wilful ignorance of the role of the community pharmacist within some government departments and their ancillary ‘stakeholder’ groups,” said Mr Heffernan in his latest ‘President’s Desk’ message.

“Despite logical, rational policy that would lead to positive patient outcomes and fiscally sound government policy, the codeine fiasco has sent pain management in Australia backwards while increasing cost to the taxpayer.

“If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, every unintended consequence predicted by the Guild in its submission against the upscheduling is materialising before us. Yet they did not want to listen.

“As voters we elect officials to govern. If bureaucracy is not achieving the outcomes required, the public deserve to know why and have the right to vote in governments they trust to keep the ship on course.”

Read David Quilty’s full editorial here

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