Date published: 
28 September 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

RAY HADLEY:

I mentioned in the first hour of the program this troubling story about critical medicine shipments unable to reach Australia, sparking drug shortages and delays because unions are holding the country to ransom over a wharfie pay dispute.

I wanted to talk to Greg Hunt, the Federal Health Minister. He's made himself available on line. Minister, good morning.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning, Ray.

RAY HADLEY:

Is it something that we should all be concerned about? Because obviously older Australians rely on these shipments, these medical shipments for cancer medication, cholesterol medication, and other, I guess, cardiovascular diseases and the like.

Is it serious that they should be concerned about it at the moment?

GREG HUNT:

Well it is a matter of deep concern. We're not at immediate risk of medicine shortages through the pandemic, despite global disruptions we were able to maintain the flow.

It's ironic that now there is a risk. There are good suppliers in Australia, but these medicines which come in on ship - and the vast majority of medicines do arrive by sea and they do come through Port Botany - will in some weeks, in some cases, start to see shortfalls.

So the companies are trying to work around it, we're trying to work with them, but oncology, arthritis, cardiovascular, diabetes, all of these medicines are potentially at risk.

And it's not just a delay, if they have to be transferred from ship to plane or other things, there's a risk that you would have a temperature breach if they’re cold-controlled and therefore the medicines could be ruined.

So we really need to make sure that critical medicines are able to arrive and that Australians have the security that, whether it's cardiovascular, oncology, diabetes, arthritis or other medicines, they know that medicine will be coming.

RAY HADLEY:

Is it a blue between the employers and the Maritime Unions Association, and you're caught in the middle of it? Is that what it's all about?

GREG HUNT:

I think it’s the Australian public that’s caught in the middle of it because it's medicine.

It's the area for which I have responsibility, so we work very hard to identify any potential shortages and take action early.

The- but whether it's hardware, whether it's foodstuffs, whether it's medicines - all of these things are held up at the wharf, and Australians will be the ones that suffer as a result of the actions being taken at the moment.

RAY HADLEY:

Well the point I'm trying to make is who solves the problem? I mean, if it's a blue between the union and employers, how does a government in some time, in some way facilitate a settlement to it?

GREG HUNT:

Well, I know Christian Porter is always happy to help, but strike action of shop- stopping critical goods, I think is, well, it’s something that they ought to rethink.

I'm not the expert of the dispute, I am the person who's responsible for making sure that the medicines arrive, and my concern is to make sure that Australians get their medicines.

And if this were to continue then we know that that would be at risk.

At the moment, we're covered because we have a really strong system of early notification and we have supplies, but if it went on for any extended period then those sorts of critical medicines would be put at risk and that's something we want to avoid.

And we just want to make sure that Australians have continued supply of critical medicines.

RAY HADLEY:

I think most people would not be aware of this - they're seeking a 6 per cent annual salary increase for wharfies over four years.

A Patrick Turnbull spokesman – that’s the employer - said the company was bewildered by the industrial action as the average permanent employee, as a wharfie, receives $155,000 a year.

GREG HUNT:

Well, I guess 50- close to a $50,000 rise over four years.

I'll let others make their judgment - I'm not the expert on this dispute.

What I do say is that obviously we need them to be able to unload the critical medicine supplies that will be helping millions and millions of Australians with common conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, and absolutely critical conditions such as cardiovascular and oncology medicine needs.

RAY HADLEY:

Okay. All right, thanks for your time. I appreciate you talking to us. Greg Hunt there.

GREG HUNT:

Take care, Ray. Bye-bye.

RAY HADLEY:

Thank you. All the best. Greg Hunt, Federal Health Minister.

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