David Marler

David Marler

Queensland reporter at No Fibs
David is a full time Queensland carer for his son and in quiet times contributes to NoFibs.
David Marler

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David Marler

Far North Queensland Liberal National Party operative Trent Twomey

When the federal government last week announced changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to allow two months’ worth of medicine for the price of a single prescription, a curious man in a pharmacist uniform stepped up to oppose it. He wasn’t the friendly, helpful neighbourhood chemist people might have been expecting.

The raging opponent to Labor’s changes foretold of great woe. In the same breath, the National Pharmacy Guild President Professor Trent Twomey went from accusing the government of not giving a shit, to welling tears, to an apology and an explanation that he was from North Queensland.

Supportive of the PBS changes, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) president Dr Nicole Higgins said, “At a time when the Pharmacy Guild has recorded the biggest profits in pharmacy, this is fearmongering.” Major PBS shake-up will allow Australians to purchase more medicine for less.

So who is this pharmacy guild firebrand?

The guild has always maintained interest in Australian politics and frequently lobbies governments on many issues. Since 2016, they’ve donated over $322,000 in political donations through Professor Twomey’s home state of Queensland gifting the parties of Labor, the Liberal National Party (LNP), Katter’s Australian Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Professor Twomey has appeared on national screens before, most notably with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the 2022 federal election campaign.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia President Trent Twomey.
April 30, 2022 – Prime Minister pledges cheaper prescriptions by lowering PBS co-payment as cost of living rises (9 News)

At James Cook University he had been the Young Liberal President while studying pharmacy and business bachelors. A number of awards and appointments throughout his career have followed.

In 2009, he was announced as Chair of the Leichhardt Federal Divisional Council of the LNP. In that same year, Warren Entsch announced he was coming out of retirement to challenge Labor for the seat at the 2010 federal election. In later elections, Twomey would become Entsch’s campaign manager.

In mid-2021, some questions arose in the media about his use of the professor title. James Cook University later bestowed the full academic honour in December the same year – Trent Twomey awarded full academic title of JCU Professor.

The Entsch Empire

Controversy around the pair arose in 2018 after Twomey had chaired a panel allocating federal grants as part of the Coalition government’s Regional Jobs and Investment Packages (RJIP) scheme. A company called QRX Group 1 was awarded $2.4 million toward a robotic style pharmaceutical and manufacturing centre for Cairns. It turned out later that wife Georgina Twomey was listed as a director. Another director, Leo Maltam, was a business partner to Mr Twomey. Also, Entsch’s son worked for the company – MP Warren Entsch to face queries over job funding for pharmaceutical plant.

A formal complaint was raised with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) but they found no criminal offences had been committed.

However, in 2019 the Australian National Audit Office mentioned the QRX Group 1 as part of its wider scrutiny of the RJIP program and advised that the relationships between Mr Twomey, his wife and business partner should have been disclosed up front.

“A company, whose director was the spouse of the committee chair, was approved for funding and another director of the same company was a business partner of the chair,” it said. “The applicant had not declared the conflict at the application stage. The chair had returned a blank declaration of consent by family members. The conflict was not declared once the committee was operational, even though the local planning committee terms of reference require that ‘the declaration of conflicts of interest must be a standing agenda item for all committee meetings.”

QRX Group 1 was disbanded, The Cairns Post reported in the same year. – Audit results identify conflict of interest concerns in federal grant.

Speculation has been growing in Queensland that Twomey would succeed the retiring Entsch as the LNP candidate for Leichhardt at the next general federal election. However, Entsch shut that down last week by suggesting Twomey look to the senate and challenge incumbent Senator Gerard Rennick for the third spot on the LNP’s senate ticket.

Renowned for his covid-19 conspiracy theories and most recent claims about climate change, Senator Rennick has been on a major recruiting drive in Queensland. The Guardian Australia reports that his speaking engagements have been accompanied by LNP membership forms but the party’s hierarchy has knocked back several public figure applications such as author Diane Demetre and outcast party member Bernard Gaynor.

The Cairns Post revealed today that Professor Twomey would not be pursuing a political career preferring to stay in his current role as guild president.

“As President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, my sole focus is to protect the interests of our patients, our members and the more than 6000 pharmacies the guild represents. Pharmacies are the lifeblood of our community and right now they are facing the biggest challenge and threat to both their patients and livelihoods in more than a generation.

“I am not interested in, nor am I running in any seat whether it be local, state or federal, at any upcoming election or beyond.”

The Entsch empire appears to be building in other directions. Recently, Warren Entsch’s wife Yolande was announced by the LNP Opposition Leader David Crisafulli as the candidate for the state seat of Cairns for the 2024 election. Cairns is currently held by Labor on a margin of 5.6 percent.

Controversy ensued with Mr Entsch suddenly updating his disclosure declaration to reveal Ms Entsch had been operating an Airbnb all this time.

In the meld of #auspol and #qldpol, the Entsch empire may be about to flourish or disintegrate.

Update May 10, 2023 – Qld LNP Style Campaign at Street View

The Pharmacy Guild has now entered full opposing campaign mode. Through the Priceline pharmacy chain, people have reported negative pamphlets being attached to completed scripts & campaign posters appearing outside stores. The ABC has also reported robocalls to homes – Pharmacy Guild unleashes robocalls, text messages and posters opposing PBS changes.

No small operation, Priceline is owned by Australian Pharmaceutical Industries Limited (API) which in turn is owned by Wesfarmers. The latter completed its acquisition in March 2022 as a way to begin its health industry ventures.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins reiterated her support for the PBS changes as granting ‘cheaper access to lifesaving medications’.

Posts of opposition at TerryWhite Chemmart stores have also been reported prompting calls for boycotts from consumers.

The Pharmacy Guild and Priceline have so far not responded to media inquiries.