Libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm yesterday compared the pharmacy location rules to Communism, during Senate debates regarding the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill.
The Bill was passed unchanged.
“The rules mean that a new pharmacy cannot be opened within a certain distance of an existing pharmacy, usually either 1.5 kilometres or 10 kilometres, depending on the area,” said Senator Leyonhjelm, Liberal Democratic Party, NSW.
“They also ban pharmacies being placed either within, or in a position directly accessible to, a supermarket.
“They mandate a complex application process to allow would-be pharmacists to go into business.
“In what universe is it legitimate to tell people that they may not go into business? That kind of injustice is worthy of the old Soviet bloc: ‘Dear Mr General Secretary of the Communist Party, please may I open a shop?’
“And not just any shop—a perfectly legal, well-regarded sort of shop—a pharmacy, for crying out loud.”
The Senator proposed several amendments to the Bill, including the removal of the location rules and the removal of the requirement for the secretary to comply with recommendations of the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority regarding applications for new pharmacies.
“They allow the minister to override a rejection by the secretary of an application for a new pharmacy,” he said. “The intention here is to remove the possibility that the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority, making recommendations on a whim rather than on the basis of location rules, would continue to prevent new pharmacy approvals.”
He said his proposed amendments would allow people to open a pharmacy wherever they liked, including in a supermarket.
He said the Bill contained good elements, such as price disclosure, but “as the bill currently stands, it leaves untouched the worst rort of all—the Community Pharmacy Authority’s location rules”.
Repealing the pharmacy location rules would mean more competition, cheaper medicines and better services, he said.
Shadow Minister for Mental Health Jan McLucas said that pharmacies are “not a simple shopfront” but “a service that is provided by a service provider, a very well trained person who has an understanding of how medicines work”.
“I suggest that we should not be making decisions about the location of pharmacies based simply on market economics,” she said. “We have to include in that consideration another value, and that is the value of medical advice—and that is what pharmacists bring to this equation.”
Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash said the pharmacy location rules have been important in the supply of medicines to all Australians, in particular in rural and remote regions.
“The location rules represent a balance between access for consumers, competition for the sector and viability for individual businesses,” she said.
Under the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement, which as part of the Bill is now set to be implemented from 1 July, a review of the location rules will take place.
For the duration of the 6CPA, no changes can be made to the location rules without the express agreement of both the Pharmacy Guild and the Government.