Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Shorter Tony Abbott: I lost the RU486 vote on the floor of the House - so I'll privately threaten to get my own way

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
LOCATION: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2006/s1652360.htm
Broadcast: 31/05/2006
Reporter: Margot O'Neill


MARGOT O'NEILL: It was one of the most intensely personal debates Parliament has seen, involving a unique push from a group of women across four parties to allow the abortion drug RU486 into Australia. In a rare conscience vote, the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, lost his veto over the drug. 

SENATOR LYN ALLISON, DEMOCRATS LEADER (16 FEBRUARY): We've demonstrated that it's possible for parliamentarians who are not ministers - not even members of the Coalition - to take an issue forward and to fix a problem. 

MARGOT O'NEILL: But while he lost his veto on the floor of parliament, a senior figure in the pharmaceutical industry has told Lateline that Tony Abbott and his staff sought to exercise a surreptitious veto by privately warning the industry not to market the drug. At his request, the man's appearance and voice have been disguised. Lateline has confirmed his senior role in the pharmaceutical industry. 

PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LEADER, ACTOR'S VOICE USED: The Minister approached me before the vote was taken in the Parliament. It was at a social function. His approach was quite a casual one, but his message was clear. He made it clear to me that he was not interested, or it was against our interests if we were to market RU486 in Australia. 

MARGOT O'NEILL: He says, at the time, he didn't take it as a threat, but then something happened that made him think again: he got a call from one of Mr Abbott's key staffers. 

PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LEADER: A couple of weeks later I did receive contact from his office. In fact, I had two connections, or communications, with his office and on both occasions the message was much clearer and the message really was that it was not in any company's interest to market RU486. 

MARGOT O'NEILL: So, what exactly was said on those two occasions? 

PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LEADER: I can't recall specifically what was said but the message was clear. It was one suggested or pointed out that there were a number of issues that were facing the broader industry and would impact and affect individual companies, and that if any company did consider marketing RU486 and making it available in Australia, that it wouldn't be in the company's or the industry's interest. 

MARGOT O'NEILL: Did you take it as a threat? 

PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LEADER: It wasn't a casual conversation; it was a clear message. So, I suppose, I have to accept that it was a threat. 

MARGOT O'NEILL: At the time, he says, there were a number of issues which could impact on the sustainability of the pharmaceutical industry and that were taxing the minds of all companies, so he passed on the warning. And what did you kind of mention to people in other companies? 

PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LEADER: Basically, that if they were considering it, they should think very seriously about it because it might not be in their interests. It could upset the Minister and it could impact on them and the broader drug industry. 

MARGOT O'NEILL: No company has applied to market RU486 as an abortion drug in Australia and Democrats Senator Lyn Allison, who co-sponsored the bill that led to the conscience vote, believes the minister is, at least, partly to blame. 

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