I’m delighted to be here at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute with Professor Doug Hilton, the director of the institute, and the amazing medical researchers such as Helene Jousset, Professor Guillaume Lessene, and so many others.
Only two days ago, I met a young mum with two children who has had leukaemia. She’s been one of the early trial patients for Venetoclax which was developed here at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
She said to me: I was given five months, I’ve now had five years, and I hope to have a long life.
The work of medical research, the work of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, is absolutely about saving lives and protecting lives.
It is part of a broader Australian medical research plan, which is one of the four pillars of what we’re doing nationally, along with primary care, hospitals, mental health, and then medical research as an absolute centrepiece.
I am delighted to announce today that the Australian Government will contribute $25 million towards the development of this National Drug Discovery Centre.
The National Drug Discovery Centre is not just for researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, it’s for all Australian researchers.
It’s the envy of the world. The international researchers are looking here at the Drug Discovery Centre and hoping to be part of this; hoping that they had something similar - I’ve had that relayed to me.
And what this is about is the ability with the machinery and the robotics and the automation coupled with the brainpower of the Institute and our Australian researchers to do 200,000 tests in a three-week period; to supercharge the discovery and the translation of new medicines, and that could be cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy; it could be motor neurone disease, which we’re also focusing on today; or it could be heart cancers or blood cancers.
So, this is about giving our researchers, who are the best in the world, the best equipment in the world to give the best outcome to our Australian patients.
The funding comes from the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, and it will set this Drug Discovery Centre up as a national resource to help Australian researchers, develop Australian medicines, and to give Australian patients the first and best access to those new medicines.
And what kind of new medicines will this money go towards researching and developing?
Well, the particular specialisations here at WEHI include cancer; they include immunology and infectious diseases.
But as Doug was saying to me, it’s a platform (inaudible) Australian researchers. So we could have motor neurone disease; we could have different neurological conditions, infectious diseases; we could have any number of different new conditions such as cystic fibrosis or spinal muscular atrophy to Australians’ benefit.
So, what we will see is new medicines being developed, which is great for the researchers, very strong for the Australian economy; but above all else, it’s about giving Australian patients first and best access to the world’s newest medicines.
Just on another matter, Cathy McGowan’s announced she's not going to recontest the seat of Indi. Do you think you can win it back?
I do think we can win Indi back. I respect Cathy. I’ve had a very positive relationship with her.
Our candidate Steve Martin- I was with him only two weeks ago. He drove down from Wodonga to meet me in my house to focus on local health issues, that’s the sort of passion he has.
He’s a young dad, I think 39 years of age, four kids. His wife is a renal physician. He’s a brilliant engineer but with an absolute local passion.
So they’re a local family covering economic development, young kids and in particular his wife, as I say a renal physician.
His focused in our first discussion was about how do I improve health and medical research facilities in Wodonga and Wangaratta. How do I help in my outlying communities such as Bright and along the Murray River, Benalla.
And so he was just focused on real things. So I think Steve Martin is an unbelievable talent who’s completely focused on delivering health and medical research outcomes and practical programs in terms of doctors and mental health for his own community. So he is an extraordinary opportunity for the future.
How are you going to fight that strong independent grassroots campaign up there though because I think Cathy won first preference vote last time. So how are you going to manage that?
Well by having a local candidate who’s compassionate, authentic, in tune. He’s currently visiting 50 towns in 50 days. So he’s a grassroots community member who’s of the community and by the community and for the community.
Are you expecting to come up against Bridget McKenzie?
Look, I’ll leave that for the Nationals. I know Steve Martin. I’ve dealt with him and just seen the immense practical grassroots focus of the community, by the community, for the community.
And just on Melbourne Airport, there’s talk of building a third runway because there’s problems with congestion. Is it something that you’ve had discussions with the airport or with the state government at all?
Yeah. Look, I’ve long supported a third runway. As Environment Minister it was a matter that came before me and the Federal Government’s role is under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, that I think it’s a desirable outcome subject to ensuring that all of the proper environmental approvals are completed. But presuming that is the case, then I think we should proceed.
How soon do you think that might be able to happen?
I’ll leave that to the Melbourne Airport Corporation.
And would the Federal Government contribute some money?
Again, I’ll leave that to the Infrastructure Minister.
Okay, thank you.