Mr HAMILTON (Groom) (16:56): I think the previous speaker, the member for Gilmore, laid out much of why this has become such a contentious issue. We hear the concerns raised by local pharmacists described as a ‘vicious scare campaign’. There are two sides of that: dismissing these concerns out of hand as a vicious scare campaign, and hectoring the guild to come back into the consultation process. You can’t do both of those two things.
Let’s be very clear: I have no doubt that the government has the intention of reducing costs of living by taking these steps. I’m not going to pretend they’re out there trying to cause harm to family businesses. I think their intentions are to do good. The issue is that, with politicians, intentions aren’t really what matter; it’s consequences. One of the ways we tried to assuage the issues that came through was through that consultation process. What came up time and time again when I spoke to my local pharmacies, trying to understand what their issues were with this policy, was that there had been no consultation getting all the way through.
An opposition member interjecting—
Mr HAMILTON: I hear, ‘That’s rubbish.’ Once again we’re getting dismissal from a government that, on one hand, wants to dismiss these concerns but, on the other hand, says, ‘Come back to the table with us.’ We had no consultation, and what that produced was a very poor policy.
I don’t think it’s right to catastrophise these things. I have raised consistently that one of the issues I hear from my small regional and rural pharmacies—these are people who are the only medical professionals after hours. If you are hurt or need attention, people have been going to the pharmacies for exactly that in places like Goombungee, Oakey and Pittsworth for years. They are established parts of the community. That’s the role they play within our health service. I’m not saying it’s the right role—I think there’s a lot of work to be done there—but that is the role that they play. They have raised genuine concerns around what a change to their cash flow would look like and how it would impact their business.
Since this issue has bubbled into life and we’ve had all the conversations we’ve had—some quite angry—the consultation process has been for the government to talk to Chemist Warehouse. Now, I have nothing against Chemist Warehouse—good on them; they’re a big player—but they’re a big fish in this pool. They represent between eight and 10 per cent of the pharmacies in Australia. There is no way the impact on one of their businesses will be in any way similar to that on the Oakey Pharmacy. When I speak to Nathan Jervis, an example of many small pharmacies, a family-owned company, the impact is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is a pharmacy that operates in that hub-and-spoke model. They are a small town. They play a significant role, but they are already having to look at what the consequences of this will be. It looks like questions on staffing. It looks like questions on opening hours. And we look at the services that they may have to cut back on. At the moment they provide free delivery throughout their community. At the moment they provide cheap Webster-paks. They’ve got a great relationship with the aged-care facility out at Oakey. They also provide free delivery, particularly to the Indigenous community in our area. They support sports clubs and community events.
I’m not talking about a business. I’m not concerned about a particular business. This isn’t about someone who has a financial or economic issue only. I’m talking about a family-run business that is a crucial part of the community. If you take away that business, it’s not the business that fails; it’s the family that fails and it’s that little bit of community that falls down further. And these small regional towns have witnessed this constant drain over generations, away and out of these towns, and they have seen how hard it can be to get projects off the, generate employment and keep these places going ground in these towns.
The impact of reducing those services in that town will be felt. It’s not going to be a landslide or calamitous. It’s going to be town by town getting a little bit worse and a little bit worse. I think that’s the issue at play here. Whatever their intentions are—I say again that I don’t think the government is trying to hurt these small businesses—they’ve not listened. They’ve not gone out and spoken to them. The impacts on these small businesses will be considerably different to the impacts on giant national companies like Chemist Warehouse. To pretend otherwise is absolutely ridiculous. To demonise the guild—if you don’t want to talk to the guild, talk to the Pharmaceutical Society. If there’s an opportunity to talk, these people will absolutely do it. I think you’ll get a very different answer from what we’ve been getting.