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Health on the Hill – briefs

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Dying with dignity

Laws legalising euthanasia in the ACT and the Northern Territory would be reinstated under a Bill introduced to the Senate with the support of a group of MPs drawn from across the major parties.

In a rare display of cross-party action, Labor MPs including Alannah Mactiernan, Katy Gallagher and Nova Peris have joined with Liberal MP Sharman Stone and Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale in backing legislation which would restore to the ACT and the NT the right to legislate around euthanasia.

The new laws would roll back a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews in 1996, that nullified NT euthanasia legislation and stripped the ACT of the power to legislate for euthanasia.

The issue is politically divisive, and the Labor caucus last month decided to allow ALP MPs a conscience vote on the matter.

The push to allow for euthanasia has gathered momentum in recent months and has the backing of several high-profile advocates including broadcaster Andrew Denton.

 But even if the legislation is passed by the Senate, there are doubts it will attract sufficient support in the Lower House to become law.

Indecent disclosure

Health care providers are set to come under scrutiny over the adequacy of their information disclosure as the consumer watchdog vows to crack down on confusing and misleading conduct.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chair Rod Sims said the agency had “important investigations underway” into the disclosure practices of health care providers amid concerns some were in breach of Australian Consumer Law.

Flushed with success after forcing Canberra’s Calvary Private Hospital to provide patients with more information about potential out-of-pocket costs, Mr Sims said the ACCC would focus on shortcomings in disclosure to consumers.

He said the Commission’s scathing report on the behaviour of the private health insurance industry, released last year, would provide a springboard for greater scrutiny regarding the provision of incomplete information that was not only confusing but potentially misleading.

Research boost

Research to develop an AIDS vaccine and reduce the incidence of over-diagnosis are among 96 projects sharing $130 million of funding in the latest round of grants from the nation’s peak medical research organisation.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said the money was part of $850 million that will be disbursed by the National Health and Medical Research Council to fund a wide range of projects.

There has been criticism that scientists starting their research career have often been unfairly overlooked in the race for funding, but NHMRC Chief Executive Officer Professor Anne Kelso said grants were awarded to a mix of both “outstanding new talent and experienced and internationally recognised researchers”.


Drug companies may effectively hold at least an eight-year monopoly on the supply of expensive biologic medicines under the terms of the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, activists have warned.

Trade watchers have seized on remarks made by Australia’s Special Trade Envoy, Andrew Robb, during a visit to Washington DC late last month to claim the Government was looking at using administrative delays and other bureaucratic processes to effectively extend monopoly protection for biologic medicine manufacturers to eight years – three years longer than stipulated under the treaty.

The Washing-based Politico news service reported assurances from Mr Robb, who was visiting the US capital to help rally US Congress support for the TPP, that the trade agreement would effectively provide at least eight years market protection for biologic makers, as possibly as long as 17 years.

During negotiations for the TPP, Australia and other countries resisted US demands for at least 12 years of data protection for biologic manufacturers, and there was eventual agreement on a “five-plus” approach guaranteeing makers a minimum of five years’ monopoly on supply.

Though Mr Robb told Politico Australia would not be “a party to anything that would imply that we’ve changed our position”, he emphasised the importance of providing drug companies similar protection to that they received in the US: “We’ve got a very burgeoning biologics sector in Australia, [and] if they weren’t getting the protection that they could get in the United States, they wouldn’t be setting up in Australia”.

Health advocates warn this would effectively mean at least eight years before cheaper generic versions of expensive biologic medicines – gene and cellular-based therapies that are being developed to treat diseases long-considered intractable, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hepatitis B and multiple sclerosis – would become available.

Get moving

Teenage girls are being urged to ‘make your move’ following findings that they are, on average, only half as physically active as their male counterparts.

Health Minister Sussan Ley has launched the #girlsmakeyourmove campaign to encourage young women to play sport and engage in other activities amid concerns many are heading for a life of poor health.

Ms Ley said research showed almost 60 per cent of girls aged between 15 and 17 years undertook little or no exercise, compared with a third of boys in the same age group.

The Minister said such sedentary habits, particularly during the formative teenage years, could lead to a lifetime of chronic disease.

“[This campaign] aims to tackle this sliding door moment in a young woman’s life when they actually are laying down the foundation for the rest of their lives,” Ms Ley said. “Physical activity in the teenage years lays down the muscle and bone you need for the rest of your life.”

Many girls get put off playing sport or engaging in physical activity because of a lack of confidence, fear of being judged or a bad experience, and the campaign uses television ads and social media to feature girls enjoying playing sport and being active.