Home' Australian Pharmacist : July 2011 Contents Vol. 30 -- July #07
A Green balance
By Mark Thornton
From 1 July 2011 the Australian
Greens will hold the sole balance of
power in the Senate, heralding a new
era in federal politics.
Not bad going for a party that only
formed federally in 1992.
Love them or loathe them, the Greens'
political behaviour in all the jurisdictions
they have represented so far suggests
they are a party of the people and are
unlikely to have much truck with big
business or representative groups that
do not have the public good at heart.
That said, they don't appear
hidebound. They have already sided
with the pharmaceutical industry in
its questioning of the government's
decisions to hold up PBS listing of
some drugs, but more of that anon.
If you look at the Greens Senators
already in place, as well as those
taking their seats in July, all represent
the party's traditionally wide base in
the public sector.
Such a diverse range of candidates
has been able to win election to
the Senate thanks to its different
electoral system, that of proportional
representation that roughly allocates
seats in proportion to vote share, and
with a minimum hurdle of about 14%
as opposed to 50% for a House seat.
In last year's federal election the
Greens received a 4% swing to finish
with 13% of the vote (more than 1.6
million votes) in the Senate, a first for
any Australian minor party. The Senate
vote across the states was between
10% and 20%. They won a seat in
each of the six states at the election,
again a first for any Australian minor
party, bringing the party to the total of
nine Senators from July.
But it was their House of
Representatives seat, that of
Melbourne, which helped Labor form
Mark Thornton is a Canberra-based
journalist and was a member of the Federal
Parliamentary Press Gallery for many years.
Any opinions expressed are not necessarily
those of PSA, its Board or staff.
a minority government after last
year's hung parliament by agreeing to
support Julia Gillard on confidence and
supply votes, which first inserted a
green tinge into the balance of power.
But the Greens have produced some
policy aberrations that have stopped
greater numbers of disaffected Labor
and Coalition voters joining them,
such as refusing to support the
Rudd Government's Carbon Pollution
Reduction Scheme -- which otherwise
would have passed when two Liberal
Senators crossed the floor.
The Greens believed Labor's generous
subsidies promised to key carbon
polluting industries during the period
of transition to a greener economy
were too generous. Perhaps. But at
least Labor as it was then was trying
to do something about the issue.
How will the Greens change the
political process from July? Well,
considerably you would imagine.
They claim their influence on the
government has already paid dividends
with one of their main items, mental
health, receiving significant funding
in this year's Budget. Their preventive
health care approach is also broadly
aligned with Labor's. Then there's
their grander desire to plan now for
changing disease patterns arising from
climate change, which makes great
sense in principle but so far amounts
to little more than a philosophy.
However, other policies, such as
getting dental care on Medicare and
restoring public health care over
private, will be harder to realise.
The Greens also have their eye on
pharmacy. Last November Greens
health spokesperson Senator Rachel
Siewert presented the report of
the Community Affairs References
Committee on consumer access
to pharmaceutical benefits, which
raised concerns about consultation,
interchangeability of medicines,
exemption from payments of
therapeutic group premiums, and
the need for Cabinet to consider the
threshold for higher cost medicines.
Following up this point, last May
Sen. Siewert used an address to
the Future of the Pharmaceutical
Benefits Scheme conference to
put the case for reform of the PBS
system, highlighting Cabinet's
deferred listing of a number of new
medicines on the PBS, despite the
recommendations of PBAC, as a
Whatever you think of the Greens:
as 'watermelons, green on the
outside but red on the inside' -- as
Catholic Archbishop George Pell
has said -- or as saviours of the
planet by standing against corporate
greed and the increasing pillaging
of finite resources -- as increasing
numbers of voters, disaffected with
Labor's drift to the right, believe,
they are undoubtedly now a real and
strengthening force in Australian life.
Parliament will become a much more
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