Outrage over pharmacy decision

By Charmayne Allison

MATHOURA’S pharmacy saga ended in tears on Tuesday after Murray River Council approved a development application for a new pharmacy in Mathoura.

According to devastated residents, this decision could spell an end to Mathoura’s existing pharmacy depot, which has offered invaluable services to the tiny town for the past 32 years.

And it may sound the death knell for pharmacy services in Mathoura altogether.

Almost 40 residents swarmed council’s ordinary meeting in Barham on Tuesday to show their support as representatives begged council to deny the application.

However, in a tight result, council carried the motion 5-4, with Mayor Chris Bilkey’s vote the decider.

Council’s final decision sparked outrage in the gallery, with several people shouting and others dissolving into tears.

Mathoura Pharmacy Depot co-owner Con Kostoglou said his business would have no choice but to shut its doors if the proposed pharmacy opened.

“The town can open a depot only if there is no pharmacy within 25km, and we need a Schedule 2 licence to do that,” he said.

“But if a pharmacy opens even close to us, we lose that licence. And we’ve been told once we lose it, we can’t get it back, as depots are a thing of the past.”

Mathoura Pharmacy Depot manager Sandy Davies argued Mathoura didn’t have the population to sustain a full-blown pharmacy.

“When the depot opened 32 years ago, the population was higher than it is today – and even then it couldn’t sustain a pharmacy,” Ms Davies said.

“So once this new pharmacy closes down – and it will – Mathoura will be left with no pharmaceutical services at all.”

Ms Davies presented council with a petition signed by more than 200 Mathoura residents, asking councillors to deny the application.

“It’s not about competition, it’s not about emotion,” she said.

“Please consider the needs of your community, ratepayers and voters. This is not a step forward, it will be a deficit for the community.

“We don’t want it, we don’t need it, we won’t support it.”

Despite these concerns, director of environmental services Simon Arkinstall recommended the proposed development be granted, insisting council’s only role was to ensure it complied with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

“From a planning perspective, all we can do is check it accords with the act. And it does,” he said.

“Any alleged potential viability issues raised by existing businesses is not a planning consideration,” he added in his report.

“Whilst under planning legislation, council is unable to determine a development application based on commercial viability or potential competition with other businesses.”

Councillors were divided on the issue, with Cr Alan Mathers encouraging outraged residents to “embrace this as an opportunity”.

“If you want this to fail, you will make it fail,” he said.

“I challenge you as a community to embrace this. If you have a chemist, it will make your town more attractive and it will grow.

“You are locking yourself out of an opportunity for growth.”

However, Cr Tom Weyrich argued the pharmacy could only have a negative impact on the town.

“If you look to the north of Mathoura, Deniliquin has 8000 people and only two pharmacists,” he said.

“Echuca-Moama has 25,000 and seven pharmacies. That’s about 3500 people per pharmacist. And you’re proposing one pharmacist for 663 people?

‘‘Residents would love to have a pharmacist in town, but they’re not prepared to risk the closure of what they have, not after losing a café and a supermarket.

“It’s nigh on impossible to have a depot replaced and they’re just not prepared to take the risk.

“I know we as a council are not allowed to make decisions based on competition – but it’s not a matter of competition.”

Cr Tony Aquino echoed Cr Weyrich’s fears.

“These are people, not businesses, not dollar signs and they deserve to have pharmaceutical services guaranteed – but they could lose that,” he said.