PDF printable version of Interview on 2GB Breakfast with Alan Jones (PDF 305 KB)
5 June 2018
Topics: $1 million funding for Aussie Helpers phone counselling service; $22 million for a medical breakthrough that could revolutionise the way kidney disease is treated.
You’ve heard me say often that Greg Hunt, and you may not know, he’s a Victorian, he’s the Health Minister. I think this bloke is one of the few people that you can rely on in Government to actually be right on top of his game.
He responds to correspondence, he’s across the brief, he’s thorough, he’s decent and I guess in politics what’s important above else also, he’s loyal. He’s currently in Boston selling Australia to the world to attract more investment to create medical jobs and give Australian patients first access to global medical breakthroughs. One of these is in relation to kidney disease and I’ll come to that in a moment.
But I’ve been writing to him for months now and he’s been telling me to be patient for a phone counselling service for Aussie Helpers’ Brian Egan, to connect farmers to specialist psychologists. So let’s be blunt, intercept the prospect of farmers in awful circumstances - and they are awful – committing suicide.
Rest assured I'm not exaggerating. These times for farmers in Queensland and New South Wales, I don’t think have ever been worse. I know all about this, my family went through this sort of drought but I don’t think we even endured what they are having to endure now. I’ll be at the Hunter Valley at the weekend to see it firsthand.
Greg Hunt has come to the party. He’s providing $1 million of your money over two years to deliver a suite of mental health and suicide prevention programs for people living and working in rural and remote Australia. Aussie Helpers’ Brian Egan will partner with Virtual Psychologist to provide one-on-one consultation services.
The virtue of this, of course, is that farmers like everybody else are very proud. They won’t speak face to face to you or to me about what’s going on in their mind, but they will actually speak almost anonymously to an expert at the end.
Might be on the internet, it might be on their computer, so that they can actually be relieved of some of the pressures that they face. Way back and I can’t think of how many years ago, Brian asked me when this first came up because I went to school in Oakey and they were facing dreadful problems there, and I remember buying him a bus and now farmers and others with mental health issues are able to bus to Toowoomba. And this is now taking a step further. Greg Hunt is on the line from Boston. Minister, good morning.
Good morning, Alan.
Thank you for your time. I don’t know what time it is over there, but we’re grateful for your time. Just firstly, to kidney disease, you’re talking about Certa – C E R T A – Therapeutics. Who are they?
So that’s an Australian company and we’ll be investing $11 million of the Australian taxpayers’ funds and $11 million privately from a company called Brandon Capital in taking a brilliant Australian innovation in new medicine to help control kidney disease which may mean that many, many thousands of Australians and then hopefully tens of thousands of people around the world don’t have to have dialysis. And it’s about creating Australian jobs, but above all else, giving Australian patients the first access to this sort of new medicine and to lead the world.
Fifty-three Australians die from kidney related disease every day. Fifty-three. One point seven million are affected by chronic kidney disease. So you’re saying that these people have cutting edge kidney disease treatment so Australian patients will have direct access to this medicine through clinical trials and by taking the drug the patient is less likely to suffer from kidney failure?
That’s exactly right. And so early next year, they are likely to start what are called clinical trials or medical trials with Australian patients, giving us first access to this medicine. And so far, the results have been very, very promising. You never know until the clinical trials have been completed but this has been identified as one of the most optimistic Australian medical breakthroughs in many years.
We’ve of course seen Gardasil, which the great Professor Ian Frazer developed to help protect Australian girls and women against cervical cancer, and that’s gone around the world. The Nanopatch, which is (inaudible) deliver medicine to people all around the word. Breakthroughs in cancer, such as Venetoclax for leukaemia.
So incredible things and this is one of the next great breakthroughs which we’re announcing to the world here in Boston tonight. But saying, Australia is a great place to invest, a great place to do clinical trials and the world is excited about Australia as a world leader.
Yeah, we punch above our weight don’t we? Let’s talk about breakthroughs. This is a big breakthrough. A million dollars over two years to provide a 24-hour SMS phone counselling service for rural and remote communities, connecting farmers and those in need - and we’re talking mental health here – with doctors at any time during the day or night. I’ve been speaking to Greg Hunt, or at least corresponding with him for some months about all of this, and he’s now making that announcement. Greg, just give us some detail.
So we’ll be providing a million dollars over two years to Aussie Helpers to help deploy what’s called the Virtual Psychologist Program. As you say, 24-hour access for people in rural and remote communities.
So, in particular the farming community, for support services if at 3am, it’s the dark of the night, somebody can be in a deep, profound crisis and this is about giving them access, whether it’s through text or if they want to speak to somebody. Each person has different needs. To give them that support and to assist Brian Egan and his team to deliver these services (inaudible) exactly what we need to be doing.
Alright. Well now, just hang on there. Just hang on, because I’ve got Brian Egan on the line. I wanted him to hear this from you. He’s on the line from Dubbo. Brian, the Minister is here. That’s a really encouraging announcement, isn't it?
Mate, that is more than fantastic. Look, Alan, if I had any tears left in me I’d be crying tears of joy, but honestly, problems we come across every day in this drought is just enormous. They’re overwhelming. So Greg Hunt, you know, thank you and thank your government, and thank you Alan Jones for just a fantastic- honestly, I’m lost for words.
Well, not at all. Just give Greg a bit of an insight. He’s a Victorian and I know he can’t be everywhere. I’ve asked you this many times and we’re not exaggerating here. How bad are the circumstances you are confronting?
It’s bad in New South Wales and Queensland and (inaudible) in Victoria. It’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen, mate.
It’s (inaudible) worst. I mean, our psychologist, with Virtual Psychologist, they’re taking 50 calls a week now. Yesterday, yesterday was one of the biggest days. In one session there, the phones never stopped for six hours.
Yeah, people are desperate. Greg, I’ll let you go, but just one thing. So your people will be in direct contact with Brian Egan and Aussie Helpers?
Yes, I’ve spoken with Brian myself earlier today and my office has been working with him. He’s an example of a great Australian who’s putting his hand out to help other people who need that hand up, and for us to support Aussie Helpers is supporting farmers, and we’ll also be doing other things in terms of rural communities. We’ll have face-to-face assistance and actually we’ll be helping our mine workers and remote construction workers as well with an additional program.
Good on you, good on you. Okay. Well, thank you for talking to us and thank you for all the work you’ve done in relation to this. It is very much appreciated. Politicians are always on the wrong end of everything, there’s a lot of criticism. You do your job in the service of the public and we’re very grateful for that. So I’ll let you go, thank you for your time, Greg, and for this announcement.
Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.