Complimentary Medicines in Australia

Complementary medicines, as the House knows well, include Chinese medicines. It would be remiss of me to speak on this matter in this week without taking the opportunity to wish all of those within the Chinese Australian community throughout my electorate and throughout the country and indeed those of Chinese heritage within this House a very happy Lunar New Year. I understand that it is the year of the goat, and that does bode very well for many in this place.

Chinese influence on Australian history and culture and our community is something I also want to acknowledge. We are all the richer for it. Of course, Chinese medicine is only one small way in which Chinese Australians have made a contribution to our society. For many Australians Chinese medicine is something that they remain unfamiliar with—and perhaps this debate in the House today will help in some way to address that—and for others it is a tool for them in their quest for general health and wellbeing. Medical and scientific knowledge has evolved over thousands of years, nurtured by both culture and the environment. People for eons have looked to their local ecosystems to find relief from pain and to assist in their health and wellbeing. In its crudest forms of experiment observed over histories the human and animal responses to certain plants and minerals were the first forms of medicine.

Medical practice of course continues to evolve along cultural traditions and for many Australians complementary medicines and traditional practices sit alongside modern medical practices. Indeed, there is a greater community awareness of complementary medicines today than there was in the recent past. It is why Australian regulators have had a greater interest in this space. Since 2003, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has made recommendations that were moved to reform the system and regulation of complementary medicines. I think that is an entirely healthy development.

The Australian National Audit Office made similar recommendations back then for us to strengthen the regulation to improve community confidence in what was a growing sector of the economy and of the health system. It was an important milestone. It followed the mass recall by Pan Pharmaceuticals of over 1,600 items. It was and remains important for Australians to have confidence in all of the medicines that they take. Closer attention to the regulation of complementary medicines was the surest way to ensure consumer confidence in this important sector.

Today, the TGA regulates complementary medicines on a risk basis. It means that lower risk medicines can apply to be listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, the ARTG, but are not required to do so, while higher risk medicines must be registered on the ARTG, involving all the scrutiny that goes with it. That is important, because Australians are entitled to know that if they choose to use a complementary medicine there is a level of scrutiny applied to it and that it is safe. Moreover, they are entitled to know that the therapeutic claims that are made for a particular medicine have been tested by a reputable authority—that is to say, that the product they are using for a purpose actually does what it says it will do. I think all Australians would think that that was nothing more than reasonable.

Of course, the regulatory system is perhaps a little more complicated to go through than time permits me here, but it is important for me to say that we need to have a system of confidence in all of the products that are sold with a therapeutic blandishment in this country. Australia has been one of the world leaders in this area, which is something we can be proud of.

The National Institute of Complementary Medicine at the University of Western Sydney is a very healthy development. The academic rigour that this will help to bring to the sector is very much welcomed by all on this side of the House. I thank the member for Macarthur and the other Labor members who have lined up to speak on this motion, showing the importance that they attach to the sector.