Interview with David Speers - Sky News

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's inteview on Sky News with David Speers.

Page last updated: 08 February 2017

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7 February 2017

E&OE…

Topics: Long-term national health plan; cystic fibrosis drug; Medicare; Cory Bernardi

DAVID SPEERS:
Minister for Health and Sport, Greg Hunt, who is with me now. Thank you very much for joining us and congratulations.

GREG HUNT:
And good afternoon to you.

DAVID SPEERS:
We haven’t spoken since your appointment in that role. Let me ask you firstly on the portfolio before we get to some other matters. Will you stick with the Government’s announced budget savings in health, or as the new Minister are you going to be reviewing everything?

GREG HUNT:
My job now is to build a long-term national health plan. So, obviously no changes are in our pieces so far, but I am tasked with and I am committed to building a long-term national health plan over and beyond the next decade.

DAVID SPEERS:
But does that mean with the same equivalent savings?

GREG HUNT:
No changes at this point in any budget [inaudible] …

DAVID SPEERS:
Right, so the budget figures are correct?

GREG HUNT:
No changes at this point. So the real point here though is health touches every Australian. It’s arguably the only portfolio that applies to every single Australian.

And for me that means four pillars:

First, rock solid commitment to Medicare and universal access to doctors and to medicines, which is why we’ve listed today a new cystic fibrosis drug, Kalydeco, and that would ordinarily cost families of parents with kids aged two to five inclusive $300,000 a year. They’ll get it for $6.30 or $38.80, and for the next three months it’ll be free for them.

DAVID SPEERS:
Which is terrific. These things cost money though, and part of your government’s approach to pay for these things is doing things like increasing the pharmaceutical co-payment.

It’s been on the books now for a few years. Is that still your approach, to go, it’s still not got through the parliament.

GREG HUNT:
Sure. There’s been no change on major policy measures at this point, but what I’m doing is working on the long-term plan. So the first pillar is the rock-solid commitment to Medicare.

I’m committed to it as the son of a nurse, as the husband of a nurse, my wife is a nurse, and that’s both the pharmaceutical benefits, which allows us to deliver new drugs for ovarian cancer and lung cancer and cystic fibrosis to these beautiful little kids.

The second pillar is the hospitals, and the funding for hospitals is increasing every year by a billion dollars.

The third is mental health, which is a deep personal passion, and above all else perhaps on my watch I want to deliver more frontline services and work on preventive health.

And then the fourth is medical research, where only on the weekend we were able to deliver $125 million for new cancer research, Alzheimer’s research, Indigenous health research and mental health research. So that’s the framework…

DAVID SPEERS:
And again, they’re all good things …

GREG HUNT:
And you can understand I won’t be drawing on individual measures two weeks in.

DAVID SPEERS:
No, I appreciate that, but you can also understand you’ve got to pay for all these things …

GREG HUNT:
Absolutely.

DAVID SPEERS:
And when you say your first priority is a rock-solid commitment to Medicare, your opponents say the GP rebate freeze is hurting that, it’s eroding Medicare. Do you buy that argument at all?

GREG HUNT:
Look, I understand it is of importance to doctors. The very first call that I made, I think about 10 minutes after the Prime Minister’s announcement, was to Michael Gannon, the very capable leader of the AMA, and shortly after that to Bastian Seidel, who is the head of the Royal Australian College of GPs.

So I’m working constructively with them. But I would say this about Medicare, the funds go up every year from 22 to 23 to 24 to $25 billion – dramatically more than they were under Labor.

By the end of that period it’ll be more than a third above what Labor had.

The second thing is the bulk billing rates, which is the access to free medical consultations for GPs, are not only significantly above what they were when Labor was in, 82 per cent up to 85 per cent, they’re at all-time highs right now under the Turnbull Government.

So Medicare is going up, and access to free medicine is more widely available than ever before.

DAVID SPEERS:
And I want to come back to these issues once you have progressed exactly what you’re going to do on the GP freeze and so on.

GREG HUNT:
And that’s entirely reasonable to ask.

DAVID SPEERS:
Let me ask you about some politics of the day. Are you sorry to see Cory Bernardi go?

GREG HUNT:
Look, I am disappointed, particularly as he wasn’t just elected as a Liberal and went to the voters as a Liberal, he was elected on the basis of the platform which still stands today.

There have been no major or significant changes. The platform for the Liberal Party, which was in place at that time, is the platform of today.

DAVID SPEERS:
But he points to the erosion in support for the Government at the election, and arguably since according to the opinion polls, that there are conservatives not happy with the Turnbull Government.

GREG HUNT:
Well my view and my belief is very deep, and that is the Liberal Party is the greatest force for improving lives within the Australian parliamentary scene.

DAVID SPEERS:
But why aren’t Australians seeing that, and are you worried about the polls?

GREG HUNT:
Well I focus literally on trying to deliver new drugs, on increasing support for Medicare, on that work on bulk billing, and in particular mental health.

DAVID SPEERS:
As we would hope. You’re a politician too, with respect Minister. Do you worry about where the polls are right now?

GREG HUNT:
It’s not something that I focus on. Now it genuinely isn’t.

DAVID SPEERS:
I mean, your leader did as you know, Malcolm Turnbull cited this as one of the main reasons for removing Tony Abbott.

GREG HUNT:
Let’s keep everything in perspective. We’re, I think, seven months from the last election.

Governments, in the course of a cycle, have to do a lot of the difficult things early and then the benefits are achieved.

Right now as a government it’s all about putting downwards pressure on electricity prices as opposed to the Labor Party, which is going to hurt jobs and hurt families.

It’s about making the Budget sustainable, which allows us to list new drugs like Olaparib, which has just been made available for ovarian cancer.

That’s saving family a hundred thousand dollars a year. Incredible outcomes by being sensible.

DAVID SPEERS:
Okay. And these are all good things, I know. Let me ask you finally, because I know we’ve got to go, but you are a supporter of same-sex marriage.

There’s been some talk about where to now on this for the Government. What is your understanding of what your party’s position is now? Is a free vote allowed or not?

GREG HUNT:
Look, our position that we took to the election, and this is exactly an example of the sort of thing that I said, was to support a plebiscite, which was a national free vote.

And that is honouring both the issue and it’s honouring the philosophy of Australia, and it’s honouring our election commitment. And that was our position, and it is our position, and it’s something that I deeply support.

DAVID SPEERS:
And that holds for the rest of this term?

GREG HUNT:
That’s my belief.

DAVID SPEERS:
So, no one should be allowed a free vote?

GREG HUNT:
Look, I am simply setting out exactly what we took to the people, and that was our commitment to the public. And the Australian people voted for this government on that platform.

DAVID SPEERS:
Let me ask you too, the gold pass travel entitlement, the PM’s and the party room’s agreed today that is going to go soon as you can get that through the parliament, which presumably it will. And retrospectively that’ll apply as well. Is that fair on former MPs?

GREG HUNT:
Well it would apply to somebody such as myself, and I think it’s going. It should go. I support it going, and I think it’s long overdue.

DAVID SPEERS:
Minister for Health and Sport, Greg Hunt, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate that.

GREG HUNT:
Thanks a lot.

(ENDS)

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