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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 1946..


MR CORBELL (continuing):

amendment bill which I have tabled today gives effect to an intention that has long existed.

Friendly societies are long-established benefit organisations and friendly society pharmacies have been providing their members with pharmaceutical benefits since the 1840s. In Australia's older states, such as Victoria and New South Wales, friendly society pharmacies have long been recognised as reputable pharmacy providers. In these jurisdictions, friendly society pharmacies have been serving the community dating back to times when pharmaceutical products were not subsidised by the government. While friendly society pharmacies are no longer a major growth area, they continue to provide a viable alternative source of pharmacy service and their members benefit from cooperative buying power and reduced medicine costs.

In recent years, reviews undertaken on a national scale, such as the Wilkinson review, the Council of Australian Governments' response to the Wilkinson review, assessments by the ACCC, and investigations by Walter and Turnbull and the Allen Consulting Group, have been unanimous in their view that friendly society pharmacies provide safe, quality and competitively priced pharmacy products and services. Additionally, friendly society pharmacies have been conclusively and unanimously held not to have any competitive advantage over pharmacist-owned pharmacies.

Currently, one kind of pharmacy operates in the ACT, that is, the pharmacist-owned pharmacy. By restricting pharmacy ownership to registered pharmacists, there have been many significant benefits, such as quality assurance, safety and competent service and practice. However, the deliberate exclusion of friendly society pharmacies from participating in the ACT pharmacy sector is quite uncompetitive and unfair.

Members of the Assembly will be aware that the National Competition Council has recognised that the ACT has no existing provision that enables friendly society pharmacies to participate in the ACT market and has required that we amend our legislation in this regard. Failure to comply with the NCC's requirements will result in the territory incurring a penalty, to be taken out of the allocated competition payment for 2003-04. This penalty may become recurrent.

Whilst the ACT does not have a history of friendly society pharmacy operations, we are anticipating that through our proposal friendly societies may identify the ACT as a place where they may establish in time. There are currently 126 friendly society pharmacies operating across Australia and they are providing their members with discounted pharmaceutical services and products in a safe, competent and quality-assured manner.

The 2001 pharmacy amendment had the intention of excluding corporate entities which have little or nothing to do with pharmacy. The government remains committed to this principle. In developing this bill we have required that any friendly society seeking registration as a pharmacist should satisfy certain criteria to ensure that its only interest in establishing a pharmacy is, in fact, in the provision of pharmacy and related services. We have ensured this by requiring that companies which are deemed to be friendly societies under the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001 must have a constitution that states that their only object is the provision of pharmacy and related business.


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