Over the counter prescription

The powerful Pharmacy Guild of Australia, despite its members’ record profits, and admitting Covid-19 did not harm their business one bit, has pocketed JobKeeper, Callum Foote reports on why they took it and how they won’t pay it back.

21 September 2021 | Callum Foote, Michael West Media (Image: APAC Digital)

The pandemic has been a bonanza for Australia’s chemists. One, their stores stayed open during lockdown and, two, Australia’s hypochondriacs had more time on their hands to spend at the chemist. Sales were up almost 40%, income from members remained in place, grants from governments remained in place.

In effect, this amounts to the Federal Government diverting money from ordinary Australians to groups of people whose role is to lobby them. They pay no tax either.

Like their lobbyist peers in the medical colleges such as the Royal Australian College of Physicians, which also did well during the pandemic, the various state and federal Pharmacy Guild operations not only helped themselves to JobKeeper subsidies they did not deserve but showed no remorse either or intention to pay the subsidies back.

An investigation of their financial statements and calls to their power-brokers at Pharmacy Guild of Australia, an advocacy group for the commercial interest of its pharmacist members, shows the Guild’s National Secretariat in Canberra and at least one of its state branches, collected JobKeeper.

Employees of the Guilds National Secretariat have confirmed with MWM that they were told their organisation was collecting Jobkeeper on their behalf from March 2020.

It is unknown how much JobKeeper the Pharmacy Guild’s National Secretariat received. Guild media advisor Russ Neal refused to answer any questions put to the Guild and also Guild Executive Director Suzanne Greenwood refused to be interviewed.

Looking at the Guild’s FY2020 Financial Report, the JobKeeper payments received were not identified explicitly. However, they may make up a portion of the $1.2 million in ‘other income’ the organisation recorded.

The Guild’s Victorian branch, however, recorded $219,000 in JobKeeper payments in its own financial report while the Queensland branch records that some of its $921,000 of other income also came from COVID-19 stimulus.

How did the Pharmacy Guild claim JobKeeper?

Pharmacies were one of the few businesses which remained open throughout the whole pandemic, with many seeing a surge of business due to health and transmissibility concerns. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the start of the JobKeeper program commencing in March 2020, Australian Pharmacies recorded record profits, with sales increasing by 37% compared to the same time the year before.

The Pharmacy Guild itself readily admits in its Financial Reports that the pandemic did not affect its revenue as “there have been no significant changes in the National Secretariat’s principal activities or financial affairs” during FY 2020.

What did affect the Guild’s revenue was “the cessation of the Guild’s contract with the Commonwealth of Australia to administer payments under the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement”.

Since 2016, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has been administering payments under the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreements. This five-year contract meant the Guild oversaw administering payments such as community pharmacy remuneration, dose administration payments, rural pharmacy allotments and various payments made under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

However, following a report by the auditor general into the inefficiency and secrecy of the Guild’s administration, the contract to administer the Agreement was put out for open tender for the first time in 2020 which the Guild lost.

The contract was worth roughly $7 million per year for the Guild and represented the only significant income lost in FY2019.

LNP Links

Alongside the Guilds highly effective lobbying which has resulted in the enshrining of anti-competitive restrictions on the opening of new pharmacies within radiuses of existing ones and restricting supermarkets from opening their own chemists, the Guild has strong links to the major parties.

In 2019, the Guild’s Queensland branch brought on Gerard Benedet, One of the founders of “anti-GetUp”, the conservative campaign group Advance Australia as its new director.

Benedet was also previously the chief of staff to the former Queensland Liberal-National leader Tim Nicholls and has also worked for the former federal Liberal party leader Brendan Nelson and the Howard-era minister Helen Coonan.

Callum Foote a journalist and Revolving Doors editor for Michael West Media. Callum has studied the impact of undue corporate influence over Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on popular interests. This article was first published at Michael West Media