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Forgive me, but I’m suspicious

I have never subscribed to the conspiracy theory when it comes to complementary and alternative medicine practice however the latest proposal from the TGA may yet be another nail in the coffin. The TGA has put forward a proposal to treat Naturopaths, Herbalists and Homeopaths as “general public” with the aim to regulate information produced for these healthcare professionals in order to “manage public health risks” (Remember Naturopathy and allied practices were once banned in the US and previous attempts to ban naturopaths in Australia was thwarted by my father Maurice Blackmore and his colleagues in Queensland in 1955).

Are we returning to the dim, dark ages of the past you may well ask?

Is there a link between the efforts of the so called ‘Friends of Science’ and the decision by Sydney’s Macquarie University to no longer teach Chiropractic, or for Southern Cross University to no longer teach a basic Naturopathic course, or the attempts by the Friends of Science to curtail NHMRC funding for complementary & alternative medicine? (or ‘pseudo-science’ as they call it!).

If you wanted to orchestrate a campaign to eliminate a profession, you would first eliminate their university education, you would make sure there was no research for the profession and then simply make it illegal for them to access their ‘tools of trade’… Too provocative, maybe not?

Maybe this is just a ‘proposal’ from the TGA but why contemplate such a draconian proposal for this profession when there is little or no data to show harm being done, quite the contrary.

The reality is that one in three of all medical consultations in Australia today is with an alternative health professional. I don’t wish to be alarmist but I dearly hope that common sense will prevail.

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The Next Generation of Business Leaders

I was honoured earlier this week to deliver the Occassional Address to graduating students of the School of Business, University of Western Sydney.

 Here are my words of advice to them:

 “It is a matter of great privilege for me to be here today to address the graduating students of the School of Business.

At the outset, let me say … life is a continuum of personal challenges marked by both achievement and by failure … to be awarded a university degree is surely one of life’s greatest achievements, and the wonderful thing is that it is yours for a lifetime.

 Unlike you, my own university experience was one of failure … I started a Science degree at Queensland Universityand failed in the first year.  I think I majored in playing cards, and the fact that I have not enjoyed the right, nor the privilege, of wearing the gown and the mortarboard has always been a source of great disappointment for me throughout my life.

In life we tend to confuse discipline and self-discipline … whilst I came from a disciplined family background, I lacked the self-discipline so essential to success in the university environment.

A year or two later, I was conscripted into the Australian Army … I certainly learnt a little more about discipline there.  I learnt that the highest form of discipline was in fact self-discipline.

Your graduation today is testimony, not just to your years of study and hard work, but to your self-discipline in achieving the success that you rightfully now enjoy.

It is therefore with some humility, that I offer my personal congratulations to the graduating students today.


Allow me to make some observations about Education and Knowledge.

Your desire for a university education has brought you together under the umbrella of this fine University, however the acquisition of knowledge is but a beginning.

What you have learnt is KNOWLEDGE.

How you have learnt is EDUCATION.

It is not so much what you have learnt but how you have learnt that will be important in later life.

The noted psychologist Professor B.F. Skinner said that “Education is what survives, when what has been learned has been forgotten”.

On one of my many trips to Harvard Business School,  I recall the Deputy Dean, Professor Len Schlesinger, saying to his students that “much of what you have learnt will be irrelevant in 10 years time” … therein lies the challenge for today’s graduates.

We live in a “KNOWLEDGE” society where today’s information architecture, as evidence by the internet, has diminished the role of knowledge acquisition … KNOWLEDGE is more freely available to individuals than ever before … Google gets billions of searches per day.  In fact, knowledge is infinite in its nature, there are NO limits to learning. KNOWLEDGE is the ultimate renewable resource.

In your life after university, it is your education or “how you have learnt” that will be your greater attribute.

The paradox of the institution from which you now graduate is that whilst the university upholds the traditional values of truth, of freedom and of tolerance, it has a responsibility to challenge the status quo.  Your university education has provided you with the basic skills to objectively challenge the status quo.

In that way, you will continue your knowledge journey and uphold the very motto of this university – Bringing Knowledge to Life.


 This is a week of graduations and celebration, and it is probably appropriate that Anzac Day takes place next week. Perhaps more than any other day in the year, Anzac Day is the day when we as a nation (in ever increasing numbers I’m pleased to say) reflect on our country’s history, we applaud the magnificent efforts of so many to preserve our democracy and our freedoms and we reflect on a time when our nation came of age.

 But today, your minds are no doubt being exercised more about the future than the past and it is fair to say that you are entering your world of tomorrow at an unbelievably exciting time in modern history.  Exciting on the one hand, perhaps threatening on the other.  You certainly don’t need me to make you aware of religious turmoil and its relevance to worldwide unrest.  You don’t need me to highlight the international financial crises that flow almost endlessly.

 If we are to create a better world for future generations, then idealistically it should not be the military might or religious fervour of nations that shape our future, but rather the collective tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for others exhibited by individuals of all nations, that will have the most profound effect in the future of the world.

 Of any discipline you may choose in life, I have little doubt that business has the greatest potential to create a better world for future generations.

 Business can create wealth and better living standards but it can also destroy it; business can create international goodwill and understanding, but it can also destroy it;  business can provide customers with value, a society with responsible behaviour, heaven forbid … the government with tax, and of course shareholders with returns.  Indeed this very university is a significant business of itself.  As the Business graduates of today, you are the future custodians of that wonderful part our society calls business.

 As you go forth from here today, you will actively participate in a business world that is becoming increasingly globalised, you will engage a market driven rationality that will invariably dictate your professional lives.  But I urge you not to neglect the need for human solidarity through tolerance and caring for those less fortunate.  You have a wonderful opportunity to fix what my generation almost broke.  Corporate social investment is not an option, it is an obligation.


 You know that life after university will be full of challenges, failures and even remorse, but what will stand you in good stead more than anything else is belief in yourself.

Don’t be afraid to dream.  As kids we were really good at it … I dreamed about being a ferry driver and ended up working for Hayles Cruises on the Brisbane River until I realised that ferry drivers don’t get paid much. But I don’t regret one minute of it, I was doing what I had dreamt about.

‘To Live Your Dream’ helps you conceptualise your goals in life and gives you a better understanding of your own limitations.  Remember that even if you don’t fulfil your dreams, you will have a hell of a good time on the way … and if you’re not quite sure where to start, type ‘Live Your Dreams’ in Google and you’ll get 27,600,000 options to think about.


The desire for wealth creation and prestige should not be the only drivers of what you do. Find work that you enjoy, after all, success in life is underpinned by commitment and hard work, then it is surely far more satisfying to be involved in something that you really enjoy doing.

 I urge you to be tolerant of those who hold different views to yours in your professional life.

 I urge you to strive for mutual understanding for those who may hold different belief systems to yours.

 I urge you to continually seek new knowledge and to challenge the status quo so that you are better equipped to help others.

 I urge you to accept an obligation to address not just the creation of wealth but to address corporate social investment.

 And finally…

There is nothing more important to the preservation of a society than the health of its educational institutions.  I urge you to stay connected to this fine university for there is little doubt that the alumni of this university provide a wonderful foundation of international goodwill, mutual respect, tolerance and understanding of our fellow man.

 In that way you can truly make a difference and realise your dreams.

 In 10 August 1989, Sir Ian Turbott, the Foundation Chancellor of this great institution from which you now graduate, made the following remarks in closing his inaugural speech.

 “It was Winston Churchill who said ‘Enterprises of great pith and moment rely for their execution on men and women of courage”.   Sir Ian went on to say “I salute those who established this University, I have no doubt that we have men and women of courage to develop it … and I salute the young people of today, and tomorrow who will make it live.  I feel certain that together we will succeed”.

 To the graduates today, I say, take courage from Sir Ian’s words … I too salute you!   Congratulations.


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The case for a National Health Policy…not a national disease policy

Complementary Medicines are a significant component of healthcare.

They are largely funded out of individuals own pockets.

However, the contribution of complementary medicines is rarely recognised by Government. Any economic benefit they could bring is not acknowledged in the current health budget.

There is a growing body of evidence that complementary medicines can reduce the incidence of chronic disease, such as age related eye disease, bone loss and osteoporosis and that they are a lower risk and a more cost effective option for government.

 This was recognised in 2004 by an Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines in the Australian Health System, established by Government following the Pan recall.

 The Committee concluded;

 “Compared with other medicines, some complementary medicines may offer lower risk and more cost effective options for the prevention and treatment of some diseases, conditions and disorders”.

 Blackmores is keen to contribute to the development of health policy as we are of the view that health policy needs to focus not just on the treatment of disease but on health optimisation.  It should ensure public access to affordable complementary medicines that are safe, efficacious and of high quality while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity.

•          Over 70% of Australians have embraced complementary medicines as part of an integrated strategy of preventative health by using supplements with vitamin, mineral and herbal, natural medicines.

 •          In the last twelve months, 90% of doctors and almost 100% of community pharmacists have recommended vitamins, minerals, fish oil and glucosamine.

 •          Over 50% of Australians would prefer to use a complementary medicine product rather than a pharmaceutical drug.

 •           In 2000, individuals using their own money spent nearly four times as much on complementary medicines and health practitioners as they did on pharmaceuticals.

 •           50% of all healthcare professional visits in 2010 were estimated to be with a complementary healthcare professional.

 •           In some regions of Australia, people visit a complementary healthcare specialist more often than a GP or medical specialist.

 •           Australians spend over $3.5b each year on complementary medicines and therapies, most commonly to assist in the management of chronic disease and improve health and wellbeing.

   •           92% of doctors say they want a better understanding of complementary medicine.

 The cost benefits of complementary medicine – some examples

In 2006 the USA Lewin Group report estimated that if people over the age of 65 increased their daily intake of Omega-3 fatty acids to 1800mg they would reduce the occurrence of heart disease. They also estimated that over a four year period, net savings in hospital expenditure and physician charges would be in the order of US$3.1 billion. The report suggested approximately 384,303 hospitalisations would be avoided.

 In 2010, an Access Economics report from The National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) on the cost effectiveness of complementary medicine reviewed five complementary medicine interventions that each had a reasonable body of evidence for safety and efficacy.  Overall, the review showed complementary medicine to be highly cost effective and highlighted the important role of these products in managing the health of all Australians.  For example, nearly 1.5 million Australians were prescribed antidepressants in 2007-08 at a cost to the government of about 57¢ a day. By comparison St John’s Wort cost consumers an estimated 17¢ a day. 

The health benefits of complementary medicines – some examples

There is a large amount of research now available that shows the use of dietary supplements is effective in preventing and/or treating diseases.

Scientists have found that folic acid supplementation can substantially reduce neural tube birth defects, and a regime of vitamins and zinc can slow the progression of the age-related eye disease, macular degeneration.

A large number of clinical trials have shown that calcium and vitamin D supplements have been found to be helpful in preventing and treating bone loss and osteoporosis and users of cod liver oil were significantly less likely to have depressive symptoms.

The total expenditure for osteoporosis in Australia in 2000-2001 was $221m with $32m contributing to hospital admission costs.

A total of $1.2b was spent on osteoarthritis in 2000-2001 with $567m being spent on hospital services. Procedures associated with osteoarthritis i.e. hip/knee replacements cost between $13,600 and $30,600 per person (and there were 42,000 such procedures carried out in 2003-2004). Scientific evidence has demonstrated that glucosamine sulphate plus chondroitin supplements are able to reduce pain and delay the progression of this condition.

The Government is to be commended for its commitment to refocusing the health system towards prevention. For too long the system has focused on treating people after they become unwell, and this has resulted in vast social and economic costs associated with chronic disease.

By June 2050, 23% of Australians will be aged 65 or more. As the population ages, the cost of healthcare will become the single largest impost on Government.

We applaud the work that has been done recently on the development of the National Preventative Health Strategy. We note its initial focus is on obesity, tobacco and excessive consumption of alcohol and we fully support the goal of Australia becoming the world’s healthiest nation by 2020.

However …

Despite development of the National Preventative Health Strategy and the goal of becoming the world’s healthiest nation by 2020, and despite the widespread and growing use of complementary medicines, there is currently no recognised role for complementary medicine in current health policy development.

Government already recognises and supports supplement use in the context of nutritional intake in food policy and the contribution this makes to the health of Australians and the economy (for example the mandatory fortification of food with vitamins). The government is also committed to research into the potential benefits of ‘nutraceuticals’ and ‘functional food’.

We now call on Government to recognise that complementary medicines provide effective and low-risk prevention/treatment options for healthcare institutions, practitioners and consumers and we welcome the opportunity to engage with Government to pursue true health policy reform.

What we would like Government to support us in achieving

•           CM representation on the Australian National Preventative Health Agency Advisory Council.

•           Greater training of doctors, pharmacists and healthcare professionals to better understand the benefits of complementary medicine and inclusion of developments in complementary medicine as a component in continuing professional development programs.

•           Establishment of an industry consultative committee to advise the Minister for Health and Ageing on the development of Complementary Health Policy.

•           Funding support by Government to continue ongoing research into complementary medicines particularly in relation to its clinical effectiveness and economic contribution.

•           Complementary medicines that have a demonstrable public health outcome and are shown to be cost effective should be made available on a subsidised basis.

•           Removal of GST on those complementary medicines which have a demonstrable public health benefit (such as fish oil, vitamin D and co-enzyme Q10) as has happened with folic acid through inclusion in the GST-free Supply (Health Care) Determination.

•           Inclusion of Blackmores products on the Electronic Health Record in community pharmacies.

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