PDF printable version of Interview on RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas (PDF 232 KB)
7 March 2017
Topics: Medicare; mental health; importance of vaccinations; ‘No Jab, No Pay’; One Nation; My Health Records
Greg Hunt is the Health Minister, welcome back to RN Drive.
And good afternoon Patricia.
Do you think Pauline Hanson should retract her comments on immunisation?
Look, I do think the comments were incorrect in fact, and in the sentiment that a Member of Parliament should be taking.
Vaccination, and I take a very clear, strong view of this, vaccination’s fundamental to protecting not just our own children, but everybody else’s children.
There are decades and decades of different sources of evidence and practise and simply reduced incidences of conditions such as mumps and measles, rubella, whooping cough. So the evidence is clear, overwhelming and very broadly accepted.
The AMA, the College of GPs, all of the different medical research organisation of credible standing in Australia.
Pauline Hanson called it a dictatorship. Do you accept there are some people who are unhappy with the No Jab, No Pay policy? That they see it as the state being too intrusive in their own choices?
Look, I understand that there may be individuals who have that view. I have to say there’s been no credible organisation that I have seen or heard have reject this policy.
It’s lead to 200,000 young kids being immunised since the introduction in just over a year of the policy. That means 200,000 kids who are dramatically safer.
But it also has a huge impact on every child they play with. So that’s why we vaccinate, because it saves lives and that’s why we’ll continue to vaccinate and this No Jab, No Pay policy is a strong policy.
Yes, some would say it’s a tough policy, but it’s one that I back 100 per cent and which the Prime Minister and the Treasurer back 100 per cent.
Given Pauline Hanson, and we had the Leader of One Nation in WA as well, and he backed the comments that people should be able to go do research, that they should consider taking a test, a test that medical practitioners say doesn’t exist to see how vaccinations might react in their children.
Given they’ve made these comments, and quite alarming comments is the way you’ve described them, the way the Prime Minister’s described them, do you think your preference deal with One Nation in WA is appropriate? To be doing deals with a political party that peddles misinformation?
Well look, frankly, we want people to vote for the Coalition. We want people to vote in Western Australia for the Liberal Party, and that’s because we think it’ll provide the best and most stable government.
We don’t actually advocate a vote for anybody else. That’s one of the mistakes here, by law preferences are you know are there.
That’s something which comes from the various state and federal electoral commissions, and so as the Prime Minister said today, parties will allocate preferences in a way which will maximise their chances of being able to govern because we believe that that is the fundamental task. I’ll leave the preference distributions for others, but…
But not really. I mean…
That’s [inaudible] of being able to govern, because I frankly think a Labor Government in WA would be a disaster, and a Labor Government at a federal level would be even worse.
But Labor believes that immunisation works, so do you, and Ron Boswell, who’s a former very, very influential Nationals MP, has spoken today and said by the kind of comments that people have said about One Nation from your party, including Arthur Sinodinos, he says, because all you are doing is legitimising people voting for her, making it safe for people to vote for her.
Is that what your side of politics is doing by talking about One Nation the way you are?
Well, I’ve come onto your program at your invitation to state clearly, categorically, unequivocally, that any case against vaccination in Australia, in my view, is fundamentally wrong.
I could not be clearer in dealing with the facts. And the reason why it is wrong is, A, the evidence is history, B, the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, and C, the response of groups such as the AMA and the Royal Australian College of GPs.
So my view is categorical, but much more importantly than my personal view, the evidence and the expert body of opinion is overwhelming. And so, where there are disagreements, clear, absolute, unequivocal response. That’s my approach.
If you’re just tuning into RN Drive, Greg Hunt is my guest. He’s the Federal Health Minister.
The Prime Minister is thought to be considering the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. Is that something you’d support?
That’s entirely a reasonable question for you to ask, and it’s entirely a reasonable question for me to defer to the Prime Minister.
I think that’s because all of these matters of ministerial organisation and administration are rightly the province of the PM.
Let me make this point, we are always, as a Government, always as a Government looking at how we can strengthen responses to national security.
I know that from my discussions with the Prime Minister and other members of cabinet, he and others and myself are always thinking, what can we do to assist, protect Australians, to defeat terrorism, and to take a strong line? That’s the principle.
On the administrative matters, A, it is entirely a matter for the PM but, B, in any event I wouldn’t speculate, as I’m sure you’d understand.
Have you reached a deal with the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to unwind the Medicare rebate freeze?
I recently spoke to the AMA President, and he said he believes that that’s exactly the direction you’re working in now.
Look, I have been fortunate to work with Michael Gannon, who’s the really first-class leader of the AMA, and with Bastian Seidel, who is the equally outstanding leader of the Royal Australian College of GPs.
I’m only a few weeks into the job. I’ve got to say, I think both sides here believe we’ve made enormous progress.
What’s my task? My task is to deliver a long-term National Health Plan, out to 2030, and that’s about strengthening Medicare and working with the doctors, strengthening the hospital systems and working with the states and the private health insurers, third, the pillar is mental health and preventive health, for the first time elevated to the top level, and fourth, strengthening medical research in Australia.
Working with the doctors has been just an absolutely privilege. I am very confident that we will reach a path where we have a long-term National Health Plan which includes strengthening Medicare and working with the doctors, so I wouldn’t speculate …
Well, you use …
On the details, although it’s entirely reasonable of you to ask.
You use the words strengthening Medicare. If you’re strengthening Medicare it sounds to me like you’re looking at lifting the freeze. There’s no other way to strengthen Medicare is there?
Oh well, there are many things that can strengthen Medicare. Firstly of course, there’s the confidence in the relationship between the Australian Government and the medical community, and you know, coming from a family where my mother was a nurse, my wife is a trained nurse, spent many, many years in practise, with a grandmother who was a pharmacist, and an uncle who’s a dentist, my engagement and belief in that community is immense.
I think we’re making big progress there. There are always opportunities for trying to improve the delivery in the services.
So there’s a range of things we’re looking at as part of a balanced approach, but I am confident that we’ll reach a very satisfactory outcome with the profession, and ultimately for the improvement of care for patients.
Ultimately, my fundamental task is improving the access to medicine, to doctors and the hospital and the outcomes for patients.
The defrost could cost as much as $3 billion. Will you pay for this with savings from other areas, or simply wear it and it will hit the bottom line. Which path will you take?
Look, my approach is always to be budget-responsible. I know that Mathias Cormann has talked about anything we do in government we have to manage across all of the different elements of the budget.
So my job is to try to produce the best outcome for the health system, whilst being responsible as part of our long-term budget sustainability. So there are remarkably positive things that can help with the long-term sustainability.
The early indications are that the national My Health Record will deliver real benefits to patients, as well as reducing unnecessary costs in the health system.
If we can work with the doctors on strengthening the role of that, we can produce better outcomes but also medium to long term savings. That’s the sort of thing that can go back into the health system.
So smart medicine produces better patient outcomes, but also more efficient results for the system, which means we can simply do more for more patients.
So you’re going to look for efficiencies for savings across health to try and reinvest into Medicare?
Look, I won’t speculate. That would be …
That’s exactly what you just said, though.
What I am doing is this, always looking to see if we can get better outcomes for patients.
The onset and bringing forward of, through medical research, precision medicine, where we sequence the genome, or we’re looking at what we can do with stem cells or other forms of treatment.
Incredible things are happening. You’ll see the work of bodies such as the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, where they can diagnose, they can do it more cheaply, and in many cases they can produce an outcome that can save patients’ lives.
That same sort of thing is beginning to happen increasingly in oncology, cancer research, so …
Sure, but the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, suggested that health spending won’t face any cuts in May. Given he’s said that, you need to find some money if you’re going to reinvest it in Medicare. Where does the money come from?
Our commitment to Medicare isn’t just rock-solid. What you see at the moment is a budget which is going from 22 billion, to 23 billion, to 24 billion, to 25 billion a year.
So there’s a clear trajectory of increasing investment in Medicare, and therefore in both doctors and patients. What’s the answer here?
Always, in any arm of government, looking to be as efficient as possible, are there things which are being done which can be done more efficiently, and that allows you to do more. So that’s the job, I think, of any minister.
It’s the job of the Health Minister to get the better outcomes and to strengthen Medicare, and to do that as part of a long-term plan, which will be, in my view, the most overarching long-term plan that we’ve had in Australian medical history.
And what I’m finding is that the medical profession themselves are coming up with really creative and constructive suggestions as to where you can find efficiencies, and the more you can find, the more you can invest. But as you can see, Medicare funding goes up by the best part of $1 billion every year.
On mental health, you said the issue of mental health, particularly youth suicide, is deeply personal and a priority.
Are you looking to make more investments to try and deal particularly with this issue with youth suicide? We’ve seen a lot of reporting about this very recently.
Yes, look, it is an incredibly powerful issue. We lose about 3000 people across Australia to suicide every year.
We have about 4 million Australians on the data, which I really drilled into because, as broad as I thought it was, I hadn’t quite understood that it was just so wide across Australia, so normal, so usual.
Four million Australians a year suffer from some form of either chronic or episodic mental health condition.
So the issue is normal, and I think that’s a very important thing for me to point out, but therefore we need to deliver more frontline services.
We’re expanding headspace, and I met with young teenagers and others in Grafton only a week and a half ago and I met with some of the parents who had lost their children and so that really brought it home for me.
So we’re expanding headspace and we’re expanding Suicide Prevention Trials. Over the course of the year, I would like to find more frontline services and more online services.
Both of those approaches help young people, and in my time, on my watch, I don’t think anything could be more important.
Greg Hunt, many thanks for joining us tonight.
PDF printable version of Interview on RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas (PDF 232 KB)