Date: 21 March 2018
It is with some trepidation that I write this article, which is about working with government and the broader political process.
Trepidation because there is a certain mythology around the political influence of the Guild and also because, no matter what you say, there is a possibility someone may use it against you.
However, it is a subject that the Guild should be willing to talk about and it is timely given recent examples of mainstream media highlighting the Guild’s engagement with the political process, including our attendances at party conferences and other paid political events.
The Guild is a member-based organisation. Our job first and foremost is to represent our members, who are the owners of community pharmacies around Australia.
Formally, the Guild is a union of employers with responsibility under the Registered Organisations Act with representing pharmacy employers in industrial relations matters. The Guild’s role as a member organisation is also highly relevant to the health policy objectives of the Federal Government, stemming from the fact that Australia’s 5,700 community pharmacies are tasked with the responsibility of delivering the PBS across our large and diverse nation.
The Federal Government and the Pharmacy Guild share a common interest in ensuring that all Australians, regardless of where they live, have timely and equitable access to PBS medicines supplied through the community pharmacy network.
This outcome has been enabled through six successive, five-year community pharmacy agreements, in what is an enduring example of a public-private partnership that enjoys bipartisan political support with an equal number of these agreements signed by Labor and Coalition Health Ministers.
The community pharmacy agreements provide certainty for government, community pharmacies and patients alike.
They have allowed successive governments to deliver reforms that enable the listing of new medicines and have made the PBS the most fiscally sustainable part of the entire health budget. At the same time, they enable pharmacy owners to continue investing in a privately capitalised, national health infrastructure that is the most accessible and frequently utilised part of the health system. Most importantly, this partnership delivers consistently high-quality health outcomes with consumer surveys regularly confirming community pharmacy satisfaction levels in excess of 90 per cent.
As the designated community pharmacy representative negotiating these agreements, it is important that the Guild is a professional and active participant in the political process and maintains positive, constructive relations across the political spectrum.
The Guild’s approach to politics is non-partisan and focused on aligning the mutual interests of its community pharmacy members with those of the government, which is tasked with representing the interests of consumers.
While individual political parties bring their own perspectives and areas of focus and priority, it is a credit to the broad body politic and the community pharmacy sector that policies relating to pharmacy are rarely politically contentious and more often than not enjoy across-the-board political support.
This is the Guild’s preferred method as it provides greater certainty and stability, enabling community pharmacies to invest with confidence and with a reduced level of political risk.
It requires active engagement from the grassroots electorate level to the highest levels of political leadership, building political relationships that are genuine, respectful and based on trust.
Paid political events are part of Australia’s political process, with parties required to raise large amounts of money to fund their election campaigns. Any paid political participation should be transparent, declared and publicly reported and the Guild is diligent in ensuring it meets its regulatory requirements. Wherever possible, we endeavour to have pharmacists representing the Guild at these events.
However, any contention that participation in paid political events is the reason behind the Guild’s political influence could not be further from the truth.
Like other representative organisations, the Guild works hard fostering political relationships, putting its case strongly on behalf of its members and, most importantly, coming up with solutions that are evidence-based, practically implementable and aligned with the public interest.
Any political influence that the Guild might have is overwhelmingly a result of the fact that pharmacies are held in such high public regard. So long as local community pharmacies continue to be trusted and valued by their patients, the Guild will remain an influential advocate for the sector.