The Turnbull Government says it won't back a bill to improve access to imported medicinal cannabis for the terminally ill, despite overwhelming support from Labor, the Greens and the crossbench in the Senate.
The bill proposed by Greens leader Richard Di Natale gives terminally ill patients quicker, easier access to doctor-prescribed medicinal cannabis under Category A of the Therapeutic Goods Administration's (TGA) Special Access Scheme (SAS).
It passed in the Senate today with support from Labor and the crossbench including Jacqui Lambie, One Nation, Derryn Hinch, and David Leyonhjelm.
Under current legislation, doctors must apply to the TGA for permission to treat a terminally ill patient with medicinal cannabis.
Advocates for medicinal cannabis argue this slows down access.
The changes mean doctors only need to notify the TGA of their intention to treat the terminally ill patients with the unregistered medication.
But for the bill to become law, it needs to pass the House of Representatives, where the Government controls the numbers. A spokesperson for Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government would oppose the bill in the House, and this policy was based on the advice of the Australian Medical Association and other medical bodies.
"The Turnbull Government stands by its commitment to provide access to medicinal cannabis in a safe and regulated way," he said.
"The approach of the Greens and Labor is to remove safeguards with oversight of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure patient safety."
He said the Turnbull Government has already allowed greater access to medicinal cannabis than ever before through facilitating importation and the development of a domestic manufacturing industry.
But despite these changes, medicinal cannabis is currently very difficult to obtain in Australia, because domestic suppliers have not yet begun producing the drug.
The first legal commercial shipments of medicinal cannabis to Australia arrived in May 2017.
Senate's second go at changing access
This is the Senate's second attempt to change the laws around access to medicinal cannabis for the terminally ill.
In June, the Senate passed a Greens motion (not a bill) overturning the TGA regulation placing medicinal cannabis under Category B.
But soon after, the Government told importers to ignore the decision.
Mr Di Natale said the bill passed today will ensure the Government cannot block importation under Category A again.
"It is simple cruelty from this Government," he said in a statement.
"These patients are dying and their doctors believe medicinal cannabis may alleviate their suffering."
Liberal Democrats Senator Leyonhjelm said the Government has "blood on its hands" for not supporting the legislation.
"They are responsible for terrible unnecessary suffering and a very likely number of premature deaths," he told the Senate.