Transcript of Interview with David Speers on Sky News

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's interview with David Speers on Sky News speaking about National Drowning Report 2017 and private health insurance reform.

Page last updated: 13 September 2017

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12 September 2017

E&OE…

Topics: National Drowning Report 2017; private health insurance reform; Labor’s reckless energy policies

DAVID SPEERS:
Greg Hunt, thank you for your time.

GREG HUNT:
Good afternoon David.

DAVID SPEERS:
And I know you did pay a special tribute to Shaun Oliver earlier in the day when you were announcing these figures. So to go through them, we have seen an increase over the last year of nine drowning deaths.

GREG HUNT:
Correct. So the drowning in Australia has gone from 282 tragic losses to over 291. So that’s an increase of nine. One is terrible, nine is awful, but 291 is a national tragedy.

So we have water programs in place. We’re dramatically better than many, many, other countries, the vast bulk, but it’s still not good enough.

DAVID SPEERS:
And not good enough, not acceptable. You’ve announced a review today that you want back before summer on what we’re doing about this.

GREG HUNT:
Correct. So we have a series of programs. As a Federal Government we put in just over $15 million a year on water safety. The states do their bit.

The councils do theirs, and of course our magnificent volunteer life savers around the country do extraordinary work. But we know that there has been an increase in deaths in the last year for the under-fives. So that’s ultimately about the message to many families in terms of supervision.

DAVID SPEERS:
Where are under-fives most likely to drown? Is that the backyard pool situation?

GREG HUNT:
Correct. But also they can drown within the bath and so it’s a pretty sobering report and it’s not good news.

DAVID SPEERS:
So information like do not leave a toddler in the bath unsupervised at all, is that the message that needs to get out there more?

GREG HUNT:
Correct, yeah, so we can’t leave toddlers or small children alone in the bath or near water which they can access.

So if they’re inside a fenced area, if they’re near a dam, frankly if they’re close to the shore line at the beach or at a lake, it’s so easy for somebody to look away and for a little child to slip or roll or crawl and then all of a sudden they’re under the water.

DAVID SPEERS:
One thing that grabbed me in the data today, beyond just the toddlers, is the fact that there are more drownings in inland waterways than there are at the beach.

We often- well, we all recognise the beach can be a very dangerous place, but inland waterways, rivers, dams, lakes …

GREG HUNT:
So put them all together, the rivers, streams and creeks, and then the stable water of lakes and dams, there’s roughly 100 lives lost a year.

If you look at the beach and the ocean, there’s almost 100 lives lost and that’s counterintuitive to many which is why these figures are so important. They say that you have to respect the river.

A river can easily, quickly take a life and what does that mean? You have to have a life jacket if you’re out on a boat, whether it’s in the bay, on the ocean, or where you think I’ll probably be fine on the river but it can happen very quickly.

If you’re caught upside down, if you don’t have the flotation device, a life jacket can make all the difference.

DAVID SPEERS:
Are there any breakdown in the figures of states that are doing better than others, things that could be learnt in different jurisdictions?

GREG HUNT:
Yes, so what you find is that NSW is at the worse end, that’s population related but Queensland is significantly higher than Victoria. So I think Victoria is arguably on a population basis the standout. Now…

DAVID SPEERS:
Less people swimming do you think in Victoria than Queensland?

GREG HUNT:
I think what it is a less well, a more concentrated coast line with very, very high levels of life saving and less in the way of river and dam swimming, although the Murray River of course runs right along so much of Victoria’s northern border.

But I think that you’ve got some very good state and local programs in Victoria. There are lessons there. We do believe that we have to get into some communities of non-English speaking background where there’s just not the training about water safety.

DAVID SPEERS:
I was going to ask you, what does the data show about tourists, and migrant families as well who might not have had that lifetime of experience around Australian waterways?

GREG HUNT:
So this particular report doesn’t go deeply into that component. It was really the places and the types of tragedies and the ages. However, the Royal Life Saving has made the statement that they believe there’s a direct connection with cultural history and affiliation.

It’s something we actually have to talk about and that is Royal Life Saving have said some from Asian cultures and some from Middle East, as an example, just don’t have the history of engagement with the water and therefore we really need to get right into those communities with training, with bringing young people through to be lifeguards, to be water safety advocates.

So you’ve actually got those within the community, they gave a fabulous example of a program with the Sudanese community where they were training young lifeguards, they were then becoming ambassadors for water safety and they were lifting the levels not just of water safety awareness but of the capacity to swim.

DAVID SPEERS:
It’s an interesting point, as you rightly say; we need to talk about it. If families from Middle Eastern or Asian backgrounds don’t have the experience is there also an issue where mum might take the kids to the river or beach and isn’t willing to get in with them herself?

GREG HUNT:
So I don’t have any data on that. One of the things I want to know is what can and should we be doing with people of non-English speaking background? And you know, many cultures, they’re incredibly comfortable and familiar with the water.

You can imagine so much of the Latin American culture and European, but this was the advice today talked about publicly by Royal Life Saving.

So we are asking them to work with our surf life savers around the country and with all of our state and local authorities to come back and say, well how would you get right inside a community where there isn’t a history or a culture to, very constructively, but importantly, to say this is about saving your children, about other children, and to frame it not just about water but these magnificent treasures of small children and teenagers but also adults as well.

DAVID SPEERS:
Just before we leave this whole area, I mean is there education I understand is something that you’ve said you may be willing to even spend more on education. Is there a role for subsidising swimming classes?

GREG HUNT:
Well there are programs that already do that, and they play an important role. What we really need to do is to get into those areas where there’s not a culture, where there’s not a history and an affiliation, and if we can do that then we raise not just the capability in terms of swimming, just absolutely vital, but the awareness of families and those who have been in particular cultural backgrounds.

DAVID SPEERS:
Now, another matter in the health portfolio, a story in The Australian this morning about prostheses and some gouging of private health insurance customers when they go to hospital. Is there a difference between what a public patient and what a private patient will pay for a prosthetic limb?

GREG HUNT:
Yes. In many cases, there are. That’s not universal, but the Independent Hospitals Pricing Authority has found that there are significant examples. What does it mean if you’re sitting at home? It means if you’re the patient in a, let’s say you’re in a public hospital, same doctor, same device, the public system might be charged $100 for a particular price. In some cases, a private patient could be charged $200 for the same device.

DAVID SPEERS:
So who’s doing that? Who’s charging the private patient twice as much for exactly the same product?

GREG HUNT:
So this is the process which is coming through, why we’re working with the technology providers. Now, they’ve been great, I have to say. They recognise that we need to make changes.

Why does this matter? It’s about the cost of private health insurance. We believe deeply in it. We’ve just had the lowest private health insurance increases in 10 years, but they’re still too high.

Now we’re working right across the private health insurance sector on a package of reform to bring down prices. So I want them lower. But the prostheses or the device charges are an important part of that.

DAVID SPEERS:
Well hopefully they will bring premiums down for everyone, but again, who’s doing it? Is it the manufacturer? Is it the hospital?

GREG HUNT:
It’s primarily a process where the manufacturers and the providers are charging and setting the prices, but they have been really good, they recognise that the data is very strong …

DAVID SPEERS:
Do they say why they’re doing it?

GREG HUNT:
Well, I think it’s fairly obvious.

DAVID SPEERS:
Just price gouging.

GREG HUNT:
Well, they’re making their maximum profit. But the question is whether this is acceptable and sustainable, and our job as a Government is to ensure there’s fairness everywhere.

But at the end of the day, my primary job is to make sure that people have the best access to the best quality care, and in order to do that we have to have high levels of private health insurance, and in order to do that we have to have decreased pressure on prices, and this is part of the package that we’re working on now. It’s my number one priority in the health space now that we’ve got the agreement on it with Medicines, with GPs, with the AMA, and with the Pharmacy Guild.

DAVID SPEERS:
Turning finally, Greg Hunt, for your former portfolio, both in Opposition and in Government of the environment and climate change, the Government currently waiting or trying to decide whether to have a clean energy target or not. Do you think it’s a good idea?

GREG HUNT:
No, I’ll leave the details to Josh Frydenberg, who’s working on that. But my proposition is very clear, we oversaw the largest reduction in electricity prices in Australian history. The largest on record without any question, with the abolition of the carbon tax.

We always said there would be other pressures, but what we’ve seen is that a ban on gas exploration contributes to gas prices, which drives the electricity market because gas is a contributor to that.

The drive in South Australia for a 40 per cent plus renewable target is driving instability and electricity prices. In fact, they literally blew up the Northern Power Station.

DAVID SPEERS:
Why has the Sydney price gone up 1000 bucks since you guys came into Government?

GREG HUNT:
Well very, very clearly, we have taken pressure off it. The states that own the electricity systems have put pressure on around the country, and then, at the end of the day…

DAVID SPEERS:
So who’s to blame for these Sydney household prices…

GREG HUNT:
There’s an east coast gas market, and what we’ve seen is gas coming out of Queensland and gas moratoria in Victoria and reductions elsewhere in New South Wales.

DAVID SPEERS:
So this is all about the gas exports out of Queensland, that’s why the household price in Sydney has gone up $1000?

GREG HUNT:
Without the additional gas, that is one of the critical elements. The second is …

DAVID SPEERS:
You mean the additional gas that New South Wales won’t open up?

GREG HUNT:
No, no. When Labor brought on the export process, what they needed to do was to make sure they had in place an agreement around the country to allow gas exploration and exploitation. I gave the example in Question Time today…

DAVID SPEERS:
You never said that at the time, you never did anything Minister.

GREG HUNT:
With respect, I approved 16,000 gas wells for Australia.

DAVID SPEERS:
No, the exports I’m talking about. The problem with opening up exports. You never complained about it at the time.

GREG HUNT:
I think what you’ll find is, throughout my time we raised a different point, the absolute necessity of the states to open up their gas markets…

DAVID SPEERS:
Exporting, exporting, controlling exports of gas.

GREG HUNT:
The issue, though, is that without the domestic supply, now, everybody believed there would be domestic supply because the overseas market would draw it out. What nobody expected was that you would have Labor governments around the country start to clamp down and to stop exploration…

DAVID SPEERS:
It’s a Liberal Government in New South Wales.

GREG HUNT:
New South Wales is not the primary problem, because…

DAVID SPEERS:
Well there’s a big gas field that Santos wants to develop in Narrabri, 850 wells they want to open up. What’s happening?

GREG HUNT:
I’ll leave that to New South Wales. I know that I have, myself, approved wells in New South Wales and in Queensland, 16,000 all up.

Now, what really matters here is, without the action that we would have taken, electricity prices would be dramatically higher than they are now, and gas prices.

On our watch, we took that pressure off. The Prime Minister is doing the same thing now with storage, with supply, and, in addition, with retail pressure.

The alternative here is you have an ALP which is going to come to the next election, if they keep their 40 per cent emissions reduction target.

DAVID SPEERS:
But the problem is, right now …

GREG HUNT:
A target that would involve massive electricity prices.

DAVID SPEERS:
After four years of Coalition Government, we still don’t know whether you’re going to have a clean energy target or not, or what it would look like.

GREG HUNT:
Let’s be clear, we’ve taken massive pressure off prices. Remember, as I say, the largest drop in electricity prices …

DAVID SPEERS:
Thousand dollar increase is a pressure off prices?

GREG HUNT:
No, no. Most of those elements are related to exactly what we warned about with state-based renewable systems and state-based gas bans. Those are the biggest contributors to what you see as being price hikes.

DAVID SPEERS:
So New South Wales - you blame the state?

GREG HUNT:
Well actually, New South Wales does not have a state-wide gas ban.

DAVID SPEERS:
No, but they haven’t made a decision on Narribri.

GREG HUNT:
Well I’ll leave that one for them, but I will say you do have state-based gas bans now in WA, in Northern Territory and in Victoria. You had a power station literally, physically being blown up in South Australia, and then you had our lowest cost base load in Victoria being deliberately closed by the government.

You put all of those things together, and everything we warned about with the Labor electricity and gas policy has come to pass. And what we’d said we do, of delivering 100 per cent reduction with the abolition of the full carbon tax impost, that came off.

DAVID SPEERS:
Feels like old times, Greg Hunt, talking with you.

GREG HUNT:
I miss you.

DAVID SPEERS:
Thanks very much for joining us this afternoon, and very important messages, too, on the drowning problem that we’ve got in this country and what to do about it.

GREG HUNT:
Thank you very much. Keep a watch, and put a life jacket on.

DAVID SPEERS:
Alright. Thanks very much for that.

(ENDS)

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