Coalition refuses to condemn jeering pharmacy protesters despite Speaker’s rebuke

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The Coalition has declined to condemn a rowdy protest by pharmacists in the parliament despite a pointed rebuke from the speaker that the protesters’ jeers and swearing during question time was “very serious and concerning” and a reflection of the MPs who may have invited them.

A contingent of about 200 pharmacists yelled obscenities and heckled Prime Minister Anthony Albanese before storming out of the House of Representatives on Monday afternoon as part of their protest against the government’s 60-day dispensing rules.

Members of the opposition shouted and pointed to the pharmacists in the public gallery during question time.Credit: AAP

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Milton Dick, on Tuesday described the behaviour in parliament as “unacceptable” and issued a warning to MPs who might have invited them to the building.

“Groups of visitors disrupted proceedings early in question time [on Monday], which concerned me enough to issue a warning at the time. Just before 3 o’clock, those same visitors again disrupted proceedings as they left the galleries – shouting, jeering, and gesturing to members,” Dick said on Tuesday.

“They continued their loud and disruptive behaviour as they moved through the public areas of the building.”

He said the behaviour presented “significant risks to the working environment for parliamentary staff” as well as other visitors and MPs.

“If you invite a guest into the gallery, I consider their conduct to be a reflection on you,” Dick said in a pointed statement, given several Coalition MPs joined the pharmacists’ rally outside parliament earlier in the day and pointed to the group in the gallery throughout question time.

“I want to be clear, if this behaviour continues, that privilege may be revoked. Visitors in the public galleries are here as observers, not participants. This is the final warning. There will be no tolerance for any attempts to disrupt or interfere with proceedings of the House again.”

Shadow health spokeswoman Anne Ruston did not comment on the behaviour of the pharmacists or Coalition MPs when asked about the speaker’s report on Tuesday.

“We thank the speaker for his report back to the House and look forward to the issues he raised being applied consistently in how we maintain a safe and respectful environment in parliament,” she said.

Pharmacies have fiercely opposed the 60-day dispensing policy as they stand to lose income from government fees under the scheme, and their concerns have been championed by Coalition MPs who say the government’s decision will threaten pharmacy viability.

Coalition MPs gestured towards the pharmacists in the gallery during question time on Monday as they hammered the government on its 60-day dispensing policy, while Ruston, deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley and Nationals leader David Littleproud attended their rally outside parliament earlier in the day.

The protest by the Community and Pharmacy Support Group, which says it is independent of the Pharmacy Guild, came only three days after the guild struck a deal with the government to stand down its campaign in exchange for bringing forward negotiations over billions of dollars in compensation. 

The guild also distanced itself from the protest on Monday as Health Minister Mark Butler warned the expedited negotiations relied on the lobby group fulfilling its promise to stand down a public campaign.

Dick said it was unacceptable for people to enter parliament’s public galleries in an attempt to protest or disrupt proceedings.

“Members have been elected to this place by their own communities, and those communities should have a fair expectation that their representatives can carry out their work unimpeded. The behaviour we saw in the public galleries yesterday was unacceptable,” he said.

Question time has been suspended due to protests that have earned strong rebukes in the past.

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