Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 11 August 2023


SUBJECTS: Cheaper medicines.

NATALIE BARR: Millions of Australians will soon have access to cheaper medicines after a Coalition threat to block the government’s 60‑day pharmacy script policy failed. The opposition refused to put its own disallowance motion to the Senate despite only announcing the plan a day prior.

Now, Opposition health spokesperson, Anne Ruston, warns that amendments are needed to avoid community pharmacies from closing down. Let’s bring in Education Minister, Jason Clare, and deputy opposition leader, Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you.


BARR: Sussan, why delay the motion, if you’re still worried about the impact it’s going to have on pharmacies?

SUSSAN LEY: There’s lots of manoeuvring in the Senate and motions here and there, but my one message to Australians, Nat, is Anthony Albanese thinks this is a good idea, your local pharmacist says, “It’s not going to work.” You can’t get medicines from a pharmacy that’s closed. Who do you trust?

I ask Australian people: do you trust your local pharmacist, or do you trust Anthony Albanese? Because this is about cheaper medicines, but it’s about doing it the right way, not a way that is going to actually punish our rural and regional vulnerable patients who actually may not have access to a pharmacy at all.

So, stepping aside from, as I said, the shenanigans in this building, let’s look at who do you trust to deliver cheaper medicines, and I would trust my local pharmacist every day of the week, not this Prime Minister.

BARR: Yeah. Jason, it’s really hard if you’re sitting back here, because you guys are saying this will give cheaper medicines to people because they can get their prescriptions for 60 days instead of going back to the pharmacy after 30. But the pharmacists are saying, “Well, we’re going to go out of business.” So, lots of small businesses are going to go broke over this.

CLARE: I think it’s pretty telling that in the three or four months since we announced this, there’s been double the number of applications by pharmacists to open pharmacies right across the country than there were last year. Just think about that. Pharmacists think it’s a good idea to open pharmacies, we think it’s a good idea that Aussies pay less for their medicine, and this is good news.

What’s happened in the Parliament now, despite the Libs voting six times to try to stop this, is that we’re going to cut the cost of medicine in half, for millions of Aussies. It also means less trips to the doctor to get those scripts.

Sussan and the Liberal Party tried to stop it, they voted six times to stop Australians from getting cheaper medicine, but despite them lining up with Pauline Hanson, we’ve been able to get this through and say this is good news for Australians.

BARR: Sussan, that’s interesting because if pharmacists thought that you couldn’t make any money out of this, and this was, you know, about to come in, why would so many people be applying to take on chemists?

LEY: I’m out in the real world, Nat, and I can tell you pharmacies are closing, particularly in regional areas. Now, Jason’s just said a bunch of stuff about cost‑of‑living getting cheaper. Really, your cost‑of‑living is getting cheaper? You were supposed to have a $275 cut to your electricity, you were supposed to have cheaper childcare, you were supposed to have mortgages that were actually affordable, and look at where we are; no one is feeling better off, and I do know that pharmacies are closing, and people do care about their local pharmacist and care that they deliver, particularly to vulnerable patients; people in aged care, people on disability, people that need that wrap‑around service, people in towns where there’s no doctor, but there is a pharmacist, and that pharmacist is just so important for the healthcare of that community.

BARR: Jason, can you guarantee that pharmacies won’t close over this policy?

CLARE: As I said before, we’ve got pharmacies that are opening, double the number of applications in the last few months.

BARR: And let’s put that aside for a second, but what about the people who are saying, you know, we’ve had the Pharmacy Guild guy on a lot, and can you guarantee that the ones who are out there who know the business model, who are saying “This will break us,” can you guarantee that they won’t close because of this?

CLARE: Pharmacies will make their own decisions, Nat, they’re individual businesses. But the money we’re saving here for Australians, we’re reinvesting back into pharmacies. In particular the small regional pharmacies. We’ve done that with Jacqui Lambie, somebody who knows regional Australia better than most.

BARR: And will that keep them open?

CLARE: Sorry, Nat, I didn’t hear that.

BARR: Will that keep them open? Will that stop the ones that say they’ll close from closing?

CLARE: It’s an important part of making sure that they’re strong, reinvesting there, but here’s another point for you, Nat. Over the course of the last four years, we’ve seen the revenue that pharmacies make in Australia increase by 30 per cent, so that shows you that these pharmacies are strong, more pharmacists want to open pharmacies. We want Aussies to pay less for their medicine.

Sussan talked about cost‑of‑living. We talk about this on the show all the time, and it’s important, because this is a massive issue. But you can’t just talk about it, you’ve got to vote to make it happen, and the problem here is Sussan talks about cost‑of‑living, but she won’t help Aussies with cost‑of‑living. She’s just one big stop sign, like Peter Dutton, when we try and provide $500 to help people with their electricity bills, when we want to use money to build houses for women fleeing domestic violence, or when we want to cut the cost of medicine in half, all Sussan does is talk about it and votes against it.

BARR: Okay. I think we’ve both ‑‑

LEY: I’ve got a challenge, Jason; I’ve got a challenge, Jason.

BARR: Just quickly, Sussan.

LEY: Every pharmacy you walk past, every pharmacy you and your Labor colleagues walk past, walk in. Walk in, introduce yourself and ask the pharmacy what is happening because of this measure, and how it will affect their treatment of vulnerable patients in their community, because you’re not walking in those doors, and you’re not asking those questions.

CLARE: And my challenge back to you, Sussan, is talk to every Aussie and pensioner who walks in and tell them that you voted for them to pay twice as much for their medicine as they should.

LEY: Very happy to support people on low incomes with their cost‑of‑living.

CLARE: Well, you didn’t yesterday. You voted six times against them.

BARR: I think we’ve both had our say. It’s an interesting topic, and it affects everyone in this country. Thank you both, see you next week.