TRANSCRIPT - DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS BOWEN MP - 27 OCTOBER 2020

27 October 2020

CHRIS BOWEN MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON
 
PETA MURPHY
MEMBER FOR DUNKLEY
 

 
E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INSTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 27 OCTOBER 2020

SUBJECTS: Government’s cruel medicines sham; COVIDSafe app; vaccines; Health department FOIs.
 
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: We know the Morrison Government is addicted to spin. We know the Morrison Government is all about announcements and not about delivery. But the revelations in Estimates last night, in relation to the Government’s so-called Medicines Funding Guarantee, take this Government’s record to a new low. Minister Hunt said on Budget night ‘The Budget creates a landmark PBS New Medicines Funding Guarantee, this Guarantee provides new funding for the listing of new medicines’. That is not true. At Senate Estimates last night we heard from the Department that there is no guarantee of funding in the Budget. The money is not in the Budget. Either the Budget is a lie, or the guarantee is a lie. Both things can’t be true. The government announced a guarantee with no funding. But worse, the cuts to the PBS that were announced in the Budget are actually in the Budget. $250 million dollars’ worth of cuts to the PBS, but no new funding at all. Now the medicines industry has called for ‘urgent clarification’ overnight, PharmaInFocus the trade magazine, has called the evidence ‘astonishing’, and it is astonishing. This Government addicted to spin, lied to the Australian people on Budget night about the PBS. Now, the Government likes to pat itself on the back about the PBS. Just two days ago on Twitter, Scott Morrison said, ‘when the experts recommend a new drug be listed, we list it’. That’s not true. Sufferers around Australia know it’s not true. Sufferers of migraine, I know that 15 months ago, the drug Emgality was recommended to be listed, as of today it has not been listed. Sufferers of eczema know that the drug Dupixen has been recommended to be listed, it has not been listed. And more recently, sufferers of breast cancer know that the drug Faslodex, which has been recommended to be listed, has not been listed. Now this was only recommended three months ago, I do give the Government time to make these listings, but the company has announced they are walking away from negotiations on the listing because it is not viable. Now I understand and we’ve always recognised that these negotiations occur, and it’s the Government’s job to ensure good value for money for taxpayers, but it’s also the Government’s job to list these drugs. The government says they list every drug recommended, it’s a lie. The Funding Guarantee announced in the Budget was a lie, and remains a lie today, it is not real, it does not exist. If the Funding Guarantee was real, the money would be in the Budget, and last night we saw the confirmation that the money does not exist, and this has real implications for sufferers of disease around the country. I mentioned breast cancer and Faslodex. I’m going to ask my friend Peta Murphy just to add a few comments about what this means for sufferers of breast cancer around Australia, that have been given hope that the drug Faslodex might be coming soon on the PBS, that hope has disappeared, and Peta will talk about some of the real-life implications when the Government doesn’t deliver on their spin and their rhetoric.
 
PETA MURPHY, MEMBER FOR DUNKLEY: Thank you Chris. For many women, and a smaller number of men living with terminal metastatic breast cancer, a few extra months with their family and their friends with their children can mean the world. And for many of those women, when the other drugs have stopped working to hold their breast cancer at bay, Faslodex can give them that extra time. And the Breast Cancer Network of Australia has been calling for Faslodex to be available at a reasonable cost for those women. And sadly, although Faslodex was approved by PBAC in July, it is still not listed on the PBS. And that means that some 500 women who need Faslodex for those precious extra days, months and hopefully years with their family are looking at paying 1600 dollars a month instead of as low as $6.60 a month for that treatment. Now I know that drug companies aren’t always the heroes of the story and they can be difficult. But the Minister has said that every PBAC approved drug would be listed. And for many, many women who are facing the need for Faslodex or know someone who needs a drug like Faslodex, and most people around Australia know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a neighbour or work colleague. The announcement that Faslodex had been approved by PBAC gave them hope that they would be able to afford to access it and then can focus on those precious extra days, weeks and months with their families instead of working out how to find that money to be able to pay for it. So, my call last week, this week, every week, until it is listed, is for the Minister to deliver on his promise. It's not just about numbers, it's about people, and list every drug that’s approved. No ifs, no buts. And do this for people who are facing the end of their lives.
Thankyou.
 
BOWEN: Thank you very much, Peta. Questions?
 
JOURNALIST: Just on the Funding Guarantee. What’s the, what are you saying about ~inaudible~ are we going to be seeing people paying exorbitant amounts of money for drugs when that money runs out?
 
BOWEN: Well if those drugs aren’t listed, when you say runs out, the guarantee doesn't exist. It's not a matter of running out. It is not real. The Treasurer, the Prime Minister, the Health Minister said, we have a new measure, we're going to guarantee more than $2 billion worth of funding for new drugs. It's not there, it’s not in the budget. So what's going to happen is the government will either list those drugs or they won't. And what happens is that people who are suffering those diseases suffer longer.
 
I’ve met people whose lives have been changed by the drug Emgality and Ajovy which are not on the PBS, which have been recommended by the PBAC. Who've had migraines for 25 years, and one day the migraine disappeared and has not been back. Well, this is the power of these drugs. Now they're expensive. A lot of people, most people, can’t afford them. They're on the PBS they can afford them. This is what's at stake. Now the Government talks a big game. Pats itself on the back with every listing and says this is due to our good economic management, it’s all a lie. The PBS isn't growing, the Funding Guarantee was meant to ensure an available pool of funds for the listing, it's not in the budget. The evidence as PharmaInFocus called it last night, was astonishing, it is astounding. It's dishonest. And it's dishonest to sufferers of disease, whether it be migraine or eczema, breast cancer, or the 40% of drugs, we know that 40% of drugs that have been recommended by the PBAC, have not been listed. Whatever condition they apply to, it’s the sufferers of those conditions that have been let down by Greg hunt and this Government.
 
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen we heard yesterday the COVIDSafe app has now found a whopping 17 close contacts since its inception. There have been calls at Senate Estimates this morning about how Victoria shut it down effectively during it’s second wave. Has it been value for money, have you still got it?
 
BOWEN: I’ve still, I downloaded it on the day it was released. And I've kept it and I've had it running the whole time. And that's what the Government asks us to do as Australians. And that's what 7 million Australians have done. And it’s found 17 people. And the government thinks that's a good outcome. Government crows about it on the on the occasions that they feel they’re obliged to talk about it. Now, you mentioned Johnno, Victoria. Now, this is a remarkable achievement by the people of Victoria, and the contact tracers of Victoria. I mean, countries and jurisdictions that were having similar levels of daily cases as Victoria a few months ago, are going through humanitarian tragedies today, with thousands of diagnoses, and deaths. The people of Victoria, led yes by the government of Victoria, have managed to get that down to zero, two days in a row. It's a remarkable achievement. And what role has the Federal Government's contact tracing app COVIDSafe played in that achievement? None. No role. Zero.
 
JOURNALIST: The city was in lockdown.
 
BOWEN: Well, you know, there were cases, there were hundreds of cases at various points, and the contact tracing app found no contacts in Victoria. 17 in total, all those or the vast majority of those were in NSW. Now the app has been a failure. We've supported the concept of the app, the government asked us to support it, we all went out and said yep we’ll download it. We provide more support to it than say the National Party did. But I'm not going to pretend it worked when it didn’t, at $4 million a contact the government thinks that’s good value for money, I've seen better value land deals at Badgery’s Creek Airport than this contract tracing app. So, the government should acknowledge that it's failed and fix it.
 
JOURNALIST: Well if it’s failed why have you still got it, why not delete it if you think it’s a failure?
 
BOWEN: Well, I'm not going to delete it because the Government asked us to keep it running and it’s not doing any harm, but it's not working either. It's not working. That's the point.
 
JOURNALIST: So does the Government need to ditch it now and look at other options?
 
BOWEN: The first thing the government should do is acknowledge that it hasn’t worked. Unless you acknowledge that you've got a problem, you can't fix the problem. If you don't acknowledge that there is something going wrong, they’ve got zero chance of fixing it. Now there's all sorts of experts who’ve pointed out what’s wrong with it, and what might be done. Again, we’ve given the Government slack it had to move quickly. We asked him early on, why don't you go for the Apple Google app? And they said ‘oh we don’t have time to wait for that’. Well, they rushed to failure. We've got an app that doesn't work. Now whether the Google/Apple app is the answer, they've got the experts who can advise them on that. But if they don't acknowledge that there’s an issue, a problem, they have zero chance of fixing that problem.
 
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the vaccine. Are you encouraged by the reports this morning that AstraZeneca could have a vaccine by Christmas? And are you encouraged by the reports that it's provided a good immune response in adults?
 
BOWEN: Oh, look, I've been encouraged by the progress on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Oxford vaccine, all the way through. We’ve supported the government entering into the supply arrangement with AstraZeneca and that's encouraging.  Again, there’s some way to go, we need to be cautious, but there is right there is a case for some optimism, whether it's the AstraZeneca vaccine or the Pfizer vaccine, there’s a case for optimism there. I know the TGA has said that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are the two with the best potential. I know we have no deal with Pfizer, we've got a deal with AstraZeneca and a deal in relation to the University of Queensland vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine, which is showing great potential Australians do not currently have access to or would not have access to if it is successful. Now the Government again, talks a big talk pat’s themselves on the back about their two deals. Best practice is five or six deals around the world. Look at Government's who've really been ahead of the game, they've got five or six access deals, including in many cases, with Pfizer. This Government was behind the starting blocks all the way through, they were late to get any deal. The first deals were entered into around the world in March, this Government pretended it had a deal, didn’t actually have a deal, until many months later. We welcome the AstraZeneca deal and the University of Queensland deal, we've been encouraging for a long time the Government to enter into deals with Pfizer and others. And those deals just don't exist, and Australian’s may be left behind.
 
JOURNALIST: Chris we don’t actually have the capability to make the Pfizer one at this stage do we? Minister Andrews said that we don’t have the capability to make mRNA ones, should we be investing in some capability to start producing those sorts of vaccines the ones that CSL can’t currently produce?
 
BOWEN: Well you’re right Josh, we have some kind capability in Australia through CSL, but it’s not, the Government has at various points said it doesn't matter what sort of vaccine it is, CSL can make it, That’s not true. It’s just not true, objectively false. Now, again, we don’t expect the unreasonable or the impossible, we recognise that some vaccine would have to be made overseas, and perhaps some could be made in Australia. Distribution is a challenge. And the Pfizer vaccine in particular may have to be distributed through a very cold arrangement, which is a challenge in Australia. The government is to be upfront with those challenges and dealing with them now. I do feel that they're not dealing with them, and certainly not being upfront about it.
 
JOURNALIST: One more on the vaccine, the Department of Health is knocking back FOI requests for the details of the facts of the letter of intent and other things. Would you think there should be some way the top rate can give more transparency around the vaccine while also I guess wandering things around commercial in confidence and those sorts of arrangements?
 
BOWEN: Well look Josh to be fair, I do understand that government does have commercial in confidence obligations, they should be as transparent as they possibly can be. I would trust and expect that they are being as transparent as they can be, they should be releasing as much information as they can and if they can’t, they should be explaining why.
 
All right, all done? Thanks, guys.
 
ENDS
 
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Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.