JAYNIE SEAL, HOST: Joining me live in Canberra is Emma McBride, Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health. Thank you so much for joining us. We'll start with the RBA. No real surprises that the interest rates were not lifted yesterday.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: I think this is a third moment of reprieve for Australians who are really feeling the pressure. To see the interest rates on hold for the third month in a row I think for many Australians is a relief. The number one priority for our government is cost of living relief that continues to take the edge off inflation. And as the Treasurer said, the RBA Governor goes with our respect and our gratitude, and the number one priority for our government is cost of living relief and rolling that out for millions of Australians who are under pressure including those coming off fixed term mortgages.
SEAL: Let's switch topics and the Albanese Government and Seafood Industry Australia. they've joined forces in support of the mental health of people employed by commercial fisheries and seafood industries and their loved ones. Tell us about the Stay Afloat program.
MCBRIDE: The Stay Afloat program is a really important industry led initiative. Studies have shown that people that work in the fishing industry are much more likely to experience mental health challenges because the type of work they do. The isolation the longer time away at sea than other Australians. But we know also that less than a third of them currently seek help. So this is an initiative, that is industry led, where peers within that industry, then become advocates and are trained in mental health first aid and can better identify those symptoms and signs early in their colleagues and can then link them in with the right kind of support and care to make sure that those that work within our fishing industry, which is such an important industry, for our economy and for our country, are kept well, and we've seen from three pilots that were rolled out across Australia that more than 8,000 people have already had conversations about mental health and well being and more than 200 sought help. And we know that from people in crisis that it has saved lives. So we're very pleased to be rolling this out to 50 communities right around Australia where there will be Stay afloat hubs, they might be located in the local fish co-op, or other places where people within the fishing industry work to make sure that every person within that industry, themselves, their family members or the broader community, get the right support and care.
SEAL: So two main issues that we're focused on, cost of living and also the mental health and well being of many Australians. Let's talk about the pharmacy announcements and the rallies that took place this week outside of Parliament House, I believe around 2,000 community pharmacists are concerned about the 60 day dispensing policy. It's quite divisive, isn't it? So what's your take on this because we've got both sides, you know, giving their fair arguments with it?
MCBRIDE: Well, what the government has done is accepted the advice of the independent expert, the Pharmacy Benefits Advisory Committee. This was advice that was given to the former government, but they didn't take it up. So millions of Australians have paid more for their medicine than they should have. What the government has done is adopted the recommendation of the independent expert for 60 day prescribing. the clinical decision will still sit with the general practitioner. So if someone is stable, and it's safe for them to have 60 days of their medicine, they'll now get two months for what they've previously paid for one. And we know with the cost of living crisis, I know as a pharmacist myself, people were avoiding or delaying filling prescriptions, which isn't good for their health and not good for our economy. So this is an important public health decision and we know that from this first tranche of drugs that were available from the first of September, that up to 4 million Australians will be able to access cheaper medicines and from comparable countries around the world, we've seen that that's increased patient compliance, which is good for their health and good for their hip pocket.
SEAL: Do you know anything Assistant Minister about to products from overseas, including diabetes medication that is finding it hard to get into the country. I spoke to a GP yesterday and they said that they were having issues getting products from overseas for her patients.
MCBRIDE: One of the things that the government has done, it's been quite important in in maintaining supply chains and we saw the pharmaceutical industry like other industries through COVID, supply chains in the global economy were tested. So to make that more robust, the government has made sure that for most essential medicines that there is three or more months supply on shore in Australia to make sure that people's medication supply isn't disrupted and that people can get the essential medicines that they need.
SEAL: But there's nothing at the moment there, they're still waiting on that particular medicine. I know apparently vitamin B injections, which perhaps are not as crucial, some would say.
MCBRIDE: So this is really important in terms of global supply chains, and it's something that the government takes very seriously so that we've made sure that manufacturers have to keep much more supply on shore in Australia, so that there is less risk of these shortages occurring and to maintain good continuity of supply and for patients.
SEAL: All right, a report into the electricity grid in New South Wales has recommended the state government enter in negotiations with origin energy to extend the life of Australia's largest coal fired power station beyond 2025. A big announcement this week, however, the state's Energy Minister Penny Sharpe mentioned yesterday that she can't really say how much it's going to cost at this stage and when a potential deal at all, if at all, could be reached. What more can you tell us?
MCBRIDE: Well, we saw that the New South Wales premier Chris Minns sought this report, it was received by the New South Wales Government and I saw comments from the Energy Minister Penny Sharpe yesterday, and like the Commonwealth, the New South Wales Government is determined to make sure that this coal fired power station doesn't close a day earlier or a day later than it should, making sure that Australians have reliable energy whilst were shielding them from cost of living pressures. So the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth will continue to work closely together to make sure that Australians have reliable energy and affordable energy. And a big part of that is renewable energy. Just recently in my community, the Hunter Renewable Offshore Wind Zone was approved striking the right balance between the community's environmental concerns and renewable energy for our country. We've seen strong investment across the Commonwealth to make sure that the states and territories, working closely with them, can provide reliable energy to consumers at affordable prices.
SEAL: So would you say you're comfortable that the lights are not going to go out especially as we head into a higher than average predicted summer, and that people listening right now are not going to have to fork out any more money for electricity?
MCBRIDE: This is a top priority for our government, balancing cost of living pressures and reliable energy. We've seen strong investment in rewiring the nation in renewable energy, and the Commonwealth working very closely with the states and territories to make sure that Australians are shielded from the price increases, and that we have reliable energy. The former government couldn't land a single energy policy and our government is now working seriously to make sure that Australians have reliable energy at affordable prices.
SEAL: We do have to wrap it up, but I just wanted to quickly ask you your thoughts on the live sheep exports situation. As you will know the WA people from the sheep industry basically they're lobbying politicians in Canberra and they are talking about the phase out. I've spoken to quite a few of them. They're don’t want to actually ban it all together, they want to phase it out slowly. But what is going to happen there because they are really concerned about their livelihoods.
MCBRIDE: I was with the Minister yesterday and Labor has committed going into two elections that we would phase out live sheep exports by sea. It is something that we are determined to do in a safe way working with industry. We have appointed an independent expert panel to advise us in this phase out and we have also been clear that this won’t happen in this term of government balancing the welfare of animals and the viability of the industry and it is something that we are doing in a very serious and well thought way while respecting animal welfare and the viability of an industry that is very important in Australia.
SEAL: A lot to get through, we really appreciate your time Emma McBride, Assistant Minister for Rural and regional health.
MCBRIDE: Good to talk to you again.