Question Time chaos as dozens of pharmacists dressed in white storm out of Parliament and heckle the government as ‘liars’
Pharmacists and their allies have stormed out of Parliament and heckled the government as ‘liars’ during chaotic scenes to kick off the new sitting week.
Health Minister Mark Butler was spruiking the government’s cheaper medicine policy in the House of Representatives Question Time on Monday when he drew the ire of dozens of protesters – all dressed in white – in the viewing gallery.
Seconds after Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley accused the government of ‘ripping out thousands of dollars from community pharmacy’, all the white coats rose to their feet in unison and stormed out of the chamber.
The group booed and jeered at the government, with some lifting their middle finger in the air while others gave a ‘thumbs down’ sign.
Calls of ‘liar’ echoed through the chamber from the protesters, as Speaker Milton Dick tried in vain to get the House in order.
The protesters were joined by the Opposition who also began shouting at the government, pointing fingers and directing attention up to the gallery.
It was the second outburst from the gallery and prompted swift action from security guards, who helped to direct protesters out of the viewing area and proceeded to stand in the stairway.
Leader of the House Tony Burke later claimed parliamentary staff had been ‘subjected to verbal abuse by members of the public galleries’ – a situation which will now be reviewed.
Mr Dick said: ‘I warned those in the gallery early in Question Time today that they were not to participate and were not to interject during Question Time.
‘As a result of their behaviour, they have left the chamber. I want to say this going forward – there will be no interjections from the gallery.
‘For the rest of this week – and for the rest of the time that I’m Speaker – that will not happen again.’
These protesters had earlier gathered out the front of Parliament House to protest the government’s new prescription dispensing policy.
The policy will see patients get PBS prescriptions for 60 days for the same price as their current 30-day scripts, a move pharmacists fear will force them to let staff go and even shut up shop.
But it is expected to benefit four million Australians living with chronic health conditions.
Mr Butler said the program would deliver much needed cost relief for people to get the care they need.
‘People with a Medicare card buying just one of these medicines will save up to $180 every year. Concession card holders will save $43.80 a year for each eligible medicine,’ he said.
The Pharmacy Guild has consistently opposed the dispensing framework, claiming that it will force local pharmacies in regional areas to close down.
Earlier, Nationals Leader David Littleproud had met with these protesters, thanking them for being ‘the heroes of the pandemic’.
He said: ‘The men and women who stayed our communities and now are being discarded by this government because it’s politically expedient and saves them money.
‘What sort of government does that to the health professionals that got us through one of the biggest challenges this country has ever faced since the Second World War. But for The Nationals, let me say this is deeply personal.’
Mr Littleproud is concerned about the viability of up to 400 pharmacies which are the ‘last line of primary healthcare defence’ in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia.
The Pharmacy Guild – which strongly opposes the policy – issued a statement immediately after the chaos distancing itself from the protesters.
‘The Pharmacy Guild of Australia is not and has never been involved with the organisation of events in Canberra today,’ the statement read.