COSBA Support for Pharmacists Owning Pharmacies

Peter Strong is the name of the chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, and he was invited to address the National Press Club recently about Australia’s economic health.
Given that political parties of all flavours acknowledge small business as being the driver of employment and innovation within Australia’s economy, it was interesting to hear his comments.
While politicians have espoused their support for small business, history has proven that support has either not materialised at all or came in a form that was difficult to utilise.

Peter Strong used his forum well and lashed out at the “duopoly” of Woolworths and Coles having control of Australia’s economic health as well as the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), Australia’s largest trade union.

“Simply put, our economic health is decided by these three organisations. If penalty rates stay high or increase with pay rises then many small businesses will close, at least on Sundays and public holidays,” he says in the speech.
“As a result, the duopoly will increase their share of the market place through attrition created by the actions of the SDA.”

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) has recently argued against the level of penalty rates contained in current awards for pharmacists and other pharmacy staff.
Given that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) has become commoditised with diminished contributions towards pharmacy profitability, i2P concedes that they may have a partial case.
But the PGA has never appropriately invested in clinical services, particularly in the area of infrastructure, and has therefore squandered many opportunities that have presented over the last decade.
To the extent that all of pharmacy now suffers for poor strategic decisions of the past, and much work has to be done to redress imbalances within the profession that were created from conflict of interest decisions, it would be nice if this could be amicably negotiated internally.

In his Press Club speech, Peter Strong said the deregulation of opening hours meant Coles and Woolworths could expand operations and the SDA could also boost its membership with corresponding small business closures.
A very cosy relationship indeed!

“This means that Coles and Woolworths will have increased their market share not by improved services or better, cheaper products, but by attrition and an ability to manage increased costs that competitors cannot handle”

Given also that recent consumer surveys involving consumer preferences for pharmacy service improvement nominated extended hours and after hours services improvement, the ability for community pharmacy to meet these expectations is hampered by penalty rates that are out of balance with the market place.

And further, if Roger Corbett is re-installed as chairman of Woolworths next August, as anticipated, Woolworths owned pharmacies in a Walmart format are expected to be lobbied for and one of the arguments for Woolworths would be their advantage in being able to deliver extended hours and weekend service.

In an unexpected message of support, Peter Strong elaborated on the theme of the “Duopoly” owning pharmacies and other strategic small businesses and he rejected suggestions the supermarkets should also be allowed to act as pharmacies or sell Lotto tickets as this would “destroy strip shopping and see the only place to shop is a large shopping mall full of franchises and large supermarkets”.

“I heard recently that the duopoly also want to have hairdressers in their shops. Please no. Also gymnasiums — please no — enough,” he said.

Peter Strong also dispersed comment to other sectors contributing to Australia’s economy, and you could almost imagine a chorus of pharmacy support in the background.
He said:

  • ECONOMISTS:“Men and women who believe the world should be run from a textbook and that the real world actually can’t exist because it makes no sense. These academics believe in tooth fairies, flying pigs, that Elvis lives and that if pharmacy goes into the duopoly that everything will be fine.”
  • BIG MINING:“But they are only part of the economy, a part that is notoriously slow in paying their suppliers, on average over 50 days and some at 120 days. That isn’t good corporate behaviour.”
  • LANDLORDS:“At their whim, they will organise streets to be made one-way, for car parks outside their malls to be moved under or next to their malls, and for bus stops to be moved closer to their entrances.
    Do they contribute to our society beyond that? No.”
  • FAIR WORK COMMISSIONERS:“The FWC is a very large group of commissioners who lord it over all and sundry. They are akin to the old House of Lords. They do not like to take reality into account.”

However, he has nothing but praise for “that once-in-a-lifetime” Small Business Minister Bruce Bilson.
“He has focused on competition policy, contract law, regulator behaviour, franchising, financial services and red tape reduction among many other actions.

“And he has presented a small business Budget the likes of which has never been seen before.

“There is much hope to be found with Bilson.”

So, one may conclude that if the PGA and the Professional Pharmacists Association (PPA) can find some common ground on penalty rates, they may find a solid supporter in the form of Bruce Bilson.
It should be explored.
These are issues that can attract a whole of pharmacy support.
As we have mentioned in i2P previously, pharmacy does think of itself as a family and external threats to the “family” can expect to be met with a united front.
Internal debates are a different matter.
Before full unity can be internally achieved, the PGA still has to mend fences and the PSA also needs to demonstrate leadership, particularly in the area involving consultant pharmacy (it is a shareholder in AACP) and policy development in evidence based medicine that is rational, and not in itself unprofessional.

And maybe PPA can trade off penalty rates against a restructure of the Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacy (AACP) whereby clinical pharmacists can be included democratically and be enabled to represent and vote on their own future.
They are likely candidates for PPA membership and do need support.

It is such a simple issue, but it holds back all of pharmacy until the breach is healed.

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