A bill to guarantee public access to patented drugs, vaccines and genetic tests and to allow Australia to export cheap versions of lifesaving medications to developing countries passed the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday night.
The Coalition was expected to vote against the proposals, despite support for the changes from the pharmaceutical. The bill clarifies the ”Crown use” provisions of patent law, the circumstances in which federal, state or territory governments can use patented inventions without the permission of the patent owner.
The proposals would also allow Australia to export generic versions of patented drugs to developing countries to tackle outbreaks of diseases such as malaria, HIV and TB.
Coalition innovation spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella said it supported the intent of the bill, but the government had not consulted widely enough, and had rushed consideration of the bill.
Mrs Mirabella said the proposals were not consistent with Australia’s free trade agreement with the United States, and a World Trade Organisation decision that generic drugs could only be exported to countries which were WTO members.
The Labor proposal does not carry this requirement, allowing drugs to be exported to countries such as East Timor, which is not a member of the WTO.
But the parliamentary secretary for innovation, Yvette D’Ath, said Labor’s approach was consistent with that of other WTO members, including Canada, Norway and Switzerland.
”Arguably, non-WTO members are the countries that need our help most,” she said.
Liberal MP Dennis Jensen said countries such as East Timor could sell the drugs on to make a profit.
It would then proceed to the Senate, where it would likely pass with the support of the Greens.