I’m delighted to announce Professor Dorothy Keefe as the new head of Cancer Australia. Dorothy is not just an Australian, but a global leader in medical oncology.
She’s the head of the South Australian Cancer Services, she holds university positions, she’s been a treating medical oncologist, a leader in the field in research, a leader in the field in administration, so we don’t just have one of Australia’s finest medical oncologist, we have one of the world’s finest medical oncologists to lead the fight against cancer in Australia.
I’m also thrilled that we're able to make this announcement on International Women's Day. The Australian Government's appointment of senior board and executive positions has gone from 43 per cent two years ago for female representation, to over 51 per cent as of today.
So women are now for the first time ever in the majority of board and executive positions appointed in health under this government and that's leading Australia.
It's fundamental in the world and we have amazing people such as Dorothy who are heading Cancer Australia but also women who are heading the NHMRC, the Department of Health, the National Mental Health Commission with the appointment of Christine Morgan, just this week the position.
And so what we see is the talent is there, the capacity is there, and the will is there.
I also want to comment very briefly on COAG today.
Today has been a breakthrough day for Indigenous health. I want to acknowledge the work of my friend and colleague Ken Wyatt.
For the first time ever the Australian states and territories have agreed to work with the Commonwealth to eradicate rheumatic heart disease and end avoidable Indigenous blindness and deafness.
This will save lives. It will protect lives. And it will improve lives. The other area where we've had a real breakthrough today is the announcement of a malaria vaccine under development.
This vaccine which the Commonwealth will co-fund with rotary Australia is being developed by Griffith University and this has the potential to work towards the eradication of malaria.
It won't happen overnight. It's a multi-year project but 450,000 lives are lost globally each year. It will protect Australians who travel overseas.
It will save and protect lives in the developing world and in the tropical world. All of these things come together.
Finally, we have an agreement for the first time for the states and territories to coordinate their anti-tobacco campaigns with the Commonwealth and I look forward to further announcements on that front.
I’ll just invite Ken and Dorothy to make- or Dorothy first or Ken.
What does it mean to you to be announced today as the head of Cancer Australia?
Thank you. It's an absolute honour to be announced as the new CEO of Cancer Australia.
Cancer Australia is a fantastic organisation - very important for improving cancer outcomes in Australia. And it's been run exquisitely well by my predecessor Dr Helen Zorbas.
It's always wonderful when you can take over as the CEO from someone who's running an organisation well. But the added excitement of this being announced on International Women's Day is unexpectedly delightful.
Fantastic. And what would be some of your first priorities as you head into the leadership?
Taking on a role such as this, the priorities are always to listen to what's there. I’ve worked for a long time with Cancer Australia but I've only seen it from the outside.
So it's very important for me to see it from the inside. But I know from my work in South Australia and around Australia that we still have some problems.
We have one of the best outcomes for cancer in the world, but we have areas where we're not quite so good and it's very appropriate that with the announcements about Aboriginal health that we should focus on the fact that we need to improve the outcomes for Aboriginal people with cancer.
We also need to do better in other areas such as paediatrics and brain tumours and we're working on all of those, so those are the things that I'll be concentrating on.
Fantastic. And do you think that from your work in the health space, are women getting high positions- obviously this (inaudible) was saying they’re getting a lot of new leadership positions, do you think that needs to increase even further or are there some areas where they potentially need to be more represented?
Women- actually many women who work in health so the proportion of health positions taken by women particularly in cancer is actually very high.
But obviously we're probably tipping the scales and there are some other areas where it's not so high. So there's still a lot of work to be done.
I'm very grateful that I've been so fortunate to not be discriminated against in my career but I see other areas where that happens and there's a lot of work.
For those of us who are successful in leadership in health care and generally to work to support our colleagues in other areas.
And in a way this job is a result of the success of all the other people I've worked with. And most of the people I've worked with in my career have been women.
There have been some fantastic men too but the vast majority have been women and I thank all of them for their support that’s enabled me to take this role.
Fantastic. And last thing do you think there are any female cancers that you think need a larger profile? Obviously breast cancer is very high profile as a cancer in Australia.
There's a lot of research and funding that goes into that. Do you think there are other areas that kind of need a bit of attention?
Well every cancer is as important as every other cancer. And every patient with a cancer is just as important as every other patient.
The problem is that some are harder to actually fix than others. I think we would all agree that ovarian cancer is particularly tricky because the signs of it – when we’re talking about women’s cancer - the signs and symptoms are very generic and difficult to spot.
So there's more work to be done there but I wouldn't like anyone to think that any cancer is less important than the next.
Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
Can I just add to Minister Hunt’s comments, the COAG health ministers today also agreed to tackle renal disease and look at the opportunities we can create collectively for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to come into the workforce of the health sector.
These five announcements and initiatives are significant in this nation and it bodes well for the future in closing the gap because if we can eliminate particularly rheumatic heart disease where there are 6000 Indigenous Australians living with rheumatic heart disease, we prevent 150 deaths annually.
Then that means we will see outcomes that were unexpected but that we strive for. So, I'm really pleased with the outcome at the level of support for Australian health ministers to commit to tackling the real issues facing Indigenous Australians.
And can you just update us obviously as a Western Australian and Indigenous person, obviously there's been a big spate of youth suicides there and that is a big health issue; what is your government doing to- and especially at COAG to address that?
Well we did discuss and commit to further work on suicide at the national level but at the state level, I'm working very closely with Roger Cook, the Minister for Health and with Ben Wyatt who is the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Within a week’s time we'll be in Broome looking at the approach that we will take as a joint approach to reducing the number of suicides.
But what I've noticed with the data is a number of those suicides occurred during school holidays, so I suspect schools and teachers play a significant role in providing levels of intervention and support to young people in the Kimberley.
So we've got to look at some options that better address this issue.
And working with the Education Department as well and the Education Minister?
It's a number of government agencies are involved but more importantly the community have to be involved because if we want change then it also is important that we work alongside Aboriginal communities in developing solutions.
I just have a couple more questions for Minister Hunt, sorry. So first of all- sorry I just got e-mailed this question. Let me just read it. So is the government prepared to follow Labor in pushing the states to termination services available in public hospitals?
As I understand it, Labor has effectively announced three reviews and two of which we’re already doing; one of which would have to happen by law for any changes.
So when you actually look at what they've done they have announced three reviews and actually then said we're not going to force the states.
So I think they should be very upfront about what they are doing and what they aren’t. They've actually said they're not going to force states when you read the fine print, and indeed Tanya Plibersek expressly said that.
And secondly, the reviews that they’ve talked about: two are already occurring, and the third by law would have to occur.
So you’re not going to do that either though?
Well I think, no, I don’t accept that. These things were already occurring at state level. All states and territories have that access available by law currently.
On this topic obviously Malcolm Turnbull did a pretty exclusive interview overnight in the UK.
He said that basically people pushing for Dutton to be PM were worried that he would be elected. As someone who was involved in that, is that true?
Look, these comments are a matter for him. I know that everybody is always focused on ensuring that Australia has a coalition government.
Do you think that it's helpful, him making these comments leading up to the election?
Oh I'll leave those comments to him.
And on the preselection for Sturt, obviously it's looking like a man will be preselected. Do you have a position on that?
Look I can talk about our appointments, we're here with Professor Dorothy Keefe today.
We've achieved an over 51 per cent set of appointments right across the senior positions in all of the Department of Health bodies.
A historic federal achievement. In terms of individual appointments and pre-selections, I'll leave that to the capable hands of the South Australians and I certainly wouldn't pre-empt the outcome.
But do you think, you know obviously still, women are not equally represented in the Coalition and are you prepared- would you prepared to take on quotas or some sort of change to.
Well I think in Victoria what we've seen recently is that amazing candidates such as Katie Allen- Professor Katie Allen professor of paediatrics at Royal Children's Hospital and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute Kate Ashmor, Gladys Liu all incredibly capable women and my view is more generally exactly as we are doing with our health appointments, you've got to have full talent available and that's been my approach in parliament and that's been my approach in health.