CAPS reportedly defied the all-powerful Guild by staging a Canberra protest as negotiations on the next Community Pharmacy Agreement begin.
A rowdy group of pharmacists managed to draw the ire of Independent MP Zali Steggall and disrupt question time yesterday afternoon, following encouragement from Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley.
House of Representatives Speaker Milton Dick has since ordered a security review into the behaviour of the pharmacists toward Parliament House staff, as well as concerns that some MPs had personally signed pharmacists into the building.
Speaking to the crowd of protestors from NSW-based organisation Community and Pharmacy Support Group (CAPS) on Monday morning, Ms Ley reportedly told the group that their presence in the public gallery would make the government “uncomfortable” and encouraged them not to “take a backwards step”.
The rally was to raise awareness of the potential negative consequences of 60-day dispensing on pharmacy revenue.
CAPS told The Medical Republic that an estimated 2800 people attended the rally, and it’s understood that around 200 pharmacists subsequently entered the public gallery in Parliament House for question time.
Recordings of the session show rows of white-coated protestors in the gallery.
Members of the LNP repeatedly pointed to and acknowledged the crowd, who could be heard calling out and jeering while Health Minister Mark Butler responded to a question on 60-day dispensing and cheaper medicines.
Ms Steggall then raised a point of order, accusing both the pharmacists in the gallery and members of the opposition of disorderly conduct.
Climate protestors, she pointed out, have traditionally been removed from the public gallery.
“Mr Speaker, I simply say that it’s important that we are consistent in this place in how disorderly conduct is treated and that the encouragement from the opposition for this conduct shows a great disrespect for your position and the orderly conduct of this House,” she said.
“Also, they entered the chamber in a clearly intentional way, being dressed in white coats, to bring attention to what they are.”
Ms Ley was removed from the parliament.
Mr Dick said he had warned those in the gallery earlier on that they were not to participate or interject during question time.
“As a result of their behaviour, they have left the chamber,” he said.
“But I want to say this going forward: there will be no interjections from the gallery.
“There will be no movement noise from the gallery, out of respect for this parliament but also the other Australians that are in the gallery.”
According to Nine Newspapers, parliamentary staff were allegedly subject to verbal abuse as the group left the building.
CAPS members have rejected the idea that they were kicked out and that there was any disorderly conduct.
“After Sussan Ley was removed from Parliament, Minister Buter [sic] continued to misinform, and our group stood up and walked out,” CAPS spokesman Emil Demyane said.
“I didn’t hear any abusive language and certainly don’t condone that type of behaviour.”
It comes after the Pharmacy Guild confirmed that it had begun negotiations for the eighth Community Pharmacy Agreement last week and had suspended its anti-extended dispensing campaign for the time being as a show of good faith.
Mr Butler said the commitment to bring forward negotiations was contingent upon the Guild standing down its campaign and questioned whether the presence of the CAPS protestors was a sign that the Guild was not holding up its end of the bargain.
“A reasonable person in this building might question whether that commitment [from the Guild] is being delivered upon, but that is a commitment that we have made,” he said.
“We intend, if it’s reciprocated by the other side in negotiations, to deliver on it over the coming months.”
Mr Demyane told TMR that CAPS had delivered a letter to the Prime Minister’s office outlining several concerns and is now “giving him time to respond”.
It’s unclear what the group’s next move will be.
CAPS claims to be completely independent of the Pharmacy Guild, and even said that it had been approached by the Guild multiple times with requests to call off the Canberra rally lest it endanger 8CPA talks.
The CAPS group itself has existed on and off since the 1980s and now claims to be fully independent, but an account in the authorised history of the Pharmacy Guild reveals that it was – at least originally – “none other than the Sydney zones of the Guild … joined by [Wollongong and Newcastle”.
The Guild has not commented publicly on the Canberra protest or the conduct of individual pharmacists at Parliament House, but Victorian Branch President Anthony Tassone did see fit to make a jab at GPs over payroll tax.
“Payroll tax should be applied consistently for all,” he said.
“Why should one health profession receive an exemption and not others?
“If the Victorian government grants a payroll tax exemption to some GP practices, the government should do the same for all primary healthcare professionals.”
Special treatment of one profession, he said, “is not the answer”.
GPs are contractors, we are paid by patients and by Medicare and pay a service fee to use rooms, I don’t think pharmacies have the same structure https://t.co/mxcaUMzFke— Joe Garra (@joegarra61) September 4, 2023
His comments come as the RACGP and AMA are attempting to negotiate a payroll tax exemption for contractor GPs in Victoria.
TMR contacted the Pharmacy Guild and Ms Ley for comment, but did not hear back before deadline.