Guild under fire over One Nation donations

A state Guild Councillor says it’s “unfair and spurious” to link the Pharmacy Guild’s 2018 engagement with One Nation to recent revelations about the right-wing party

Last week, news broke that the Pharmacy Guild’s Queensland branch had made two $7,500 donations to One Nation’s Queensland division, in June and July 2018.

At the time, a Guild spokesperson told the AJP that these donations were in fact payment to attend One Nation events, highlighting that the AEC does not distinguish between such payments and “straight-out donations”.

Over the weekend The Guardian’s Melissa Davey picked up the story, asking pharmacists on Twitter to “share their thoughts” about how they feel about the donations.

This thread, as well as numerous others including those begun by the Pharmacy Guild itself on unrelated matters, attracted significant criticism of the Guild’s donations to the party, from pharmacists, other health professionals and the wider public.

PPA said that its members “demanded” that the Guild make no more donations to One Nation.

A number of Australians unaffiliated with pharmacy called for boycotts of Guild member stores, while others expressed concern and an intent to ask their pharmacists whether they knew about the donations.

And the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia said that pharmacists around the country were facing backlash, whether they were affiliated with the Guild or not.

Several pharmacists also either expressed concern, or stated that they did not support One Nation’s policies.

Others said that after the Guild had clarified to the media that the donations were for events, their concerns were allayed.

Caroline Diamantis, vice president of the Guild’s NSW Branch, wrote on Facebook that attendance at such events does not denote endorsements of any policies of the host party.

“The Pharmacy Guild attends paid political events and functions across the political spectrum, with all such payments to attend events reported and declared to electoral regulators, and published by them,” she wrote.

“At the time, a Queensland Parliamentary Committee was conducting an inquiry into the need for a Pharmacy Council in Queensland, and whether pharmacists should be able to provide services to their full scope of practice.

“This was a matter on which the Guild engaged with all sides of politics represented in the Queensland Parliament, on behalf of our members and strictly on the pharmacy issues being considered.”

She wrote that this engagement with One Nation “obviously occurred well before the recent revelations about One Nation and the National Rifle Association in the USA, and the Al Jazeera documentary”.

“It is unfair and spurious to link our engagement with One Nation on pharmacy issues in 2018 with subsequent events and revelations in the media.

“The Pharmacy Guild is an employer organisation which speaks for its members on pharmacy issues. We do not express political views beyond those related to pharmacy and we certainly do not speak for our members in relation to their democratic right to assess political Parties and candidates and vote for whomever they support.”

She later told the AJP that it was almost “comical” that the public were calling the Guild racist or anti-vaccination.

“We have fought and lobbied really hard to get immunisation [by accredited pharmacists] up and running, including in NSW in the last 12 months,” she said. “We’re now able to do MMR and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis in NSW and that is thanks to the hard work of the Guild.

“And the majority of the NSW branch, and across every state has a large proportion of second and first generation migrants.”

Ms Diamantis said that the Guild attends such events as an information-gathering exercise, “to understand how this political party will share its thoughts, or how it will lean towards the larger parties; it’s gathering information and taking home information, and using it for the greater good of what the members have entrusted us to do”.

“It’s engaging with other people in a networking environment that might one day assist us in our lobbying.

“There’s something I learned a long time ago, and it is to know your enemy – it’s not to run away from them. I’m not going to say we attend everything that One Nation put on, but in that particular case there was a lot of heat going on in Queensland with the Pharmacy Council investigation.

“You seek to understand, whether it’s about the good or the bad stuff coming out of a party – you can’t bury your head in the sand.”

Ms Diamantis said that a number of commentators had queried the expenditure of $7,500 on a single event.

“Often to go to a function, we’re required to buy a table – so a ticket might be worth $700. It sounds like a lot, but it is a donation – nobody’s hiding from that, you certainly don’t eat $700 worth of food.

“It’s a donation that allows you to network.”

Typically such a function would be attended by some Guild officials, some “other passionate pharmacists” and some students suggested by NAPSA, who can use such events to learn about the lobbying process.

She also told the AJP that speaking personally rather than as a representative of the Guild, she has “no support” for One Nation or its policies; the Guild does not express political opinions beyond those related to pharmacy, she said.

Meanwhile, the Guild has continued to advertise community pharmacy to politicians, this time by taking out the back page of the Sunday Herald Sun.

A spokesperson for the Guild told the AJP that this was “just part of our advocacy as we approach the federal election, reminding all sides of politics of the importance of community pharmacy and the PBS”.

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