Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:16):
My question is for the Minister for Agriculture and follows on a little bit from my good colleague Mr Quilty. The Victorian government has been growing cannabis since 2016, and it has also licensed the Cann Group to provide flower and resin to it also.
Given the relatively quick growth cycle of this plant, this means that there is quite a stash somewhere. I do not know where, but what I do know is that Ava, a young girl with epilepsy, is left desperate, and if her parents are to provide the life-saving medical cannabis it will cost them $90 000, because the government’s trial program is full.
Given we are halfway through the time period of the government’s medicinal cannabis industry development plan of 2018 to 2021, when will you have a product available to sick Victorians?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Resources) (12:17):
I thank Ms Patten for her question and do acknowledge that it is a similar question to Mr Quilty’s. In this space there is a lot of crossover between Minister Mikakos and me, so I will attempt to answer it as much in my space as I can, but I will probably dabble between the two because it is a little bit hard to avoid.
Following on from Minister Mikakos’s answer yesterday, of course we were the first jurisdiction to commit to legalise medicinal cannabis, and it has really led the way for groundbreaking reform. I know it has a lot of support, particularly in this place. Because of this leadership, the commonwealth came on board after the event and created new access pathways for imported and local medicinal cannabis products.
But their regulatory requirements have made the development of the product far more complex than we had originally envisaged, and it has led to increased costs and some delays. The only way that we can ensure affordable access for Victorians who need this medicine is to get the federal government to put these medicines on the PBS, and we continue to advocate for that.
Our commitment in 2014 was to provide access to the medicine for kids with severe epilepsy and to stimulate an industry around it, and we have delivered on both of those fronts. The local product is still in the process of production, but as you know, 60 kids are currently getting access to the medicine they need. The work of the former agriculture minister in developing the medicinal cannabis industry development plan has provided certainty and leadership in this regard.
AgVic do have a large collection of strains, and they are doing breeding programs and research is underway. It is not the intention that Agriculture Victoria will commercialise the product, but we work with companies that do want to commercialise—and the cannabis industry has gone from strength to strength because of those partnerships. We have got international companies committing millions of dollars of investment, particularly in regional Victoria.
We have got hundreds of jobs that look like they are coming to some areas, including Shepparton. We currently have an imported product that is available under the compassionate access scheme to treat 60 children. Obviously the government product is undergoing stringent safety testing, as required by the TGA.
As I understand, when pharmaceutical products are in development as a new product, it usually takes 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, so that is effectively what we are kind of dealing with. We are trying to speed it up. We are ahead of normal produce, but we do want to get it to kids like Ava. We will be keeping on going with those things. I hope that answers your question.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:20): Thank you, Minister, for your response. I did not get a date of when that product would be available. However, I appreciate the process.
I know it is difficult, but I also know that we are importing product with a far lower testing level than we are currently implementing for ourselves. The government bought a very expensive extraction machine in 2016, and I understand that they have extracted a substantial amount of resin.
The department is still using strict good manufacturing practice, which is great, but you seem to be going through a tortuously slow process. Given the desperation of a number of families, will the government consider a conditional release of medicine to meet these urgent needs?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Resources) (12:21):
I thank Ms Patten for her supplementary question. I will refer to my substantive answer.
I outlined that we are trying to work with the federal government and make medicine available to the sickest kids in need. In terms of access to the medicine, I have the plants; the Minister for Health has the medicine.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 15/8/19