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Doorstop in Townsville

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Townsville regarding $5.9 million boost to Townsville drug and alcohol recovery services and James Cook University (JCU).

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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General public


I’d like to welcome back to Townsville the Minister for Health Greg Hunt.

It’s a lovely day today, we’ve turned on the weather but it’s nice and cool because I think that the weather in Melbourne is a little bit cooler than here.

So, I hope it’s not too hot for the minister. And Brad, thank you for allowing us to come to your facility today.

I was just speaking to a lot of people, a lot of residents here and I was thinking why are we here?

Why are we doing this? Why are you here today? And I was passed a letter by David and he asked me to read it out: with a facility like this, it brings awareness to the community on how serious our drug and alcohol crisis is.

TRS staff are great, firm, but fair. TRS address mental health issues at all times, assistance is always available 24/7.

My journey here has been rough yet bearable with highs and lows. At the end of the day, we are here because we are powers of our addictions and how our lives have become unmanageable.

That’s why we’re here and that’s why I’m extremely proud and extremely privileged to be here with the minister and Brad to announce up to $6 million for this facility.

I've been working with the minister, speaking with the minister about this and this letter reaffirms why we are here and why this is something I've been passionate about and fighting for. I’d like to offer the minister a few (inaudible).


Look, thanks very much to Phil and to Brad. Phil has been a passionate advocate for the Townsville Recovery Service for expanding the detox and the drug and alcohol recovery services here in Townsville and in particular, with the Salvos here at TRS.

We met a number of people, David was one of them, Samuel and Franklin and Nick, but Tony said to me - this place gives you your life back.

This place gives you your life back. And Brad, I can't think of a stronger, clearer endorsement on what you're doing it and why we're doing it.

I have to say, I am the grandson of Salvation Army officers – both my grandparents, my grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side were Salvation Army officers, so I have a real feel for what you do.

But what you do is you save lives and protect lives and most importantly, you help them not just with the detox process, not just with the recovery process, but as Tony and Franklin and Sam and Nick and David all said, with having a sense of themselves and how their lives can matter and how their lives can be something special, and this is what Phil has done.

Phil in his own life has been an Afghanistan veteran and an Afghanistan war hero who has faced the highs and faced the lows.

He put his body on the line for Australia, he put his body on the line for a higher purpose and he suffered immeasurably.

And he's been through his own recovery process and then he's dedicated his life to helping young people and veterans recover.

And now he wants to dedicate his life to serving the whole of the Townsville community. So to have that opportunity for us to welcome somebody like that potentially into the Federal Parliament is a privilege.

And he has fought, along with Brad and along with others, to expand the Townsville Recovery Service and it’s opportunities for young people and people of all ages.

So I am delighted to announce that following Phil's tireless advocacy and the success of Brad's work and his amazing team here at TRS, the Federal Government will allocate almost $6 million dollars to expanding facilities for drug and alcohol recovery here in Townsville.

That will involve three parts - a new 10 bed detox facility, detox is what people do before they go into recovery, to come off the methamphetamines, to come off the alcohol, to come off the opioids.

It's a hard process and then we’ll also support eight new beds for adult recovery and eight new beds for youth recovery.

And so all of these things together mean that we know that we have an enormous drug and alcohol challenge, whether it's ice, whether it's fentanyl, whether it's alcohol.

Each of these things can take somebody's life away, but with the support, with the facilities and above all else, with that sense of purpose and belief and the pathway forward that highly skilled, but above all else highly caring professionals such as Brad and his team give, these people, as Tony said to me, give them their life back.

So Brad, thank you very much and over to you, appreciate it.


We just want to thank the Minister Greg Hunt and of course Phil, on behalf of the Salvation Army.

This for us is a privilege to be able to work in this space and to do what we do, and this funding is unprecedented.

It will certainly be the largest piece of funding that we've received in any short space of time and we're just grateful.

Everything that we're hoping to achieve, we had a strategic plan is basically culminating in this moment right now, and it will certainly increase our capacity on all levels, with our detox as well as residential capacity.

And with that, it's not just about changing individual lives. We see the effects for families and communities abroad as well.

So yeah, we’re just grateful to be in this space which transforms lives and yeah, it’s not simply giving up substances, it’s about reclaiming lives. So we’re grateful, Minister, to all that you do and how you’ve contributed this and Phil especially.

So, we look forward to continuing the partnership and seeing how we can make a difference for the better in our communities.


Okay. Well, thanks to you. And we’re happy to take any questions on the facility and then any other issues of the day.


Can you tell us about the need for this at the moment? I understand you’ve been at capacity since you opened?


Yeah, that’s right. So, it tends to wane and vary depending on what time of year, but our detox is fairly filled and that's a really good pathway for many people to come into our residential space; and when we look at our beds, particularly for women of late too.

So we often get to capacity and that means people are on waiting lists. We tend to find that in recovery, there's a small window to actually help people at that point in time and the ability to respond more quickly and to provide greater capacity for people, engage more quickly, is just really important when they're suffering and when they're in crisis.

So, yeah, it’s going to enable us to really meet that need in a more proactive and timely manner.


Do you have the staff to deal with those extra people that will be coming in?


Yeah, that's right.

So, part of the funding arrangement now is the existing facility we have will be able to be maximised to its capacity as well as additional buildings, and the funding will provide for those staffing so those additional staff too because we are predominantly, it’s not accommodation, it's actually a service that we provide.

Accommodation is a part of that, obviously, I live in this community. So, yeah, the funding will service all those staffing needs.


And do you have any idea what that number would be? How many new staff you’d be able to bring in?


Yeah. So we’ll be able to staff the eight beds that will come on with the residential program, so that’ll be up to two or three staff at least on this side; and it's not just casework and clinical staff, we’ll be look at ancillary staff, so whether it's accounts, bookkeeping as well.

So there'll be increased capacity in those areas. We’ll have a greater capacity with our detox so greater nurses will come into that rotational focus as well as pre-imposed care workers and withdrawal workers as well.

And with our youth space, which is going to be fully funded as well, we'll have greater capacity after hours and on weekends, especially to provide case (inaudible) staffing.


Minister, this morning, the Opposition pledged $13 million to the Townsville Hospital and Health Service. Is that something that the Government would consider doing?


We've invited submissions from the Queensland Government and from the Primary Health Networks under the Community Health and Hospitals Program, so we're very happy to consider these things.

But the interesting point is that what has happened is the Australian Government has increased funding to the Townsville Health and Hospital Service by 70 per cent whilst the Queensland Government has increased it by 31 per cent over the course of the last five years.

In the last two years, we have added $50 million and the Queensland Government has taken away their annual appropriation by $8 million.

So they’ve cut $8 million a year and so what this is doing over a two-year period is not even making up what the Queensland Government has taken away.

So, I would simply say to the Queensland Government: please match our rate of funding growth.

But we're happy to consider all the proposals under the Health and Hospitals Program, but I think the thing we have to be absolutely honest about is in the last two years, a $50 million federal increase; an $8 million Queensland Labor decrease.


Labor would have a similar ability to spin numbers in a way that they say would illustrate that the federal government has pulled money out of the health services here.

How can the average voter know whose numbers to trust on this given it is a complex budgeting issue?


No, these are the official figures. I can tell you exactly that the growth in Commonwealth funding since we came into government has gone up 70 per cent; the growth in state funding has gone up 31 per cent.

I can make it absolutely clear that in the last two years, Commonwealth funding has increased by $50 million per annum and the state funding has decreased by $8 million.

For example, they were providing $274 million, they're now providing $266 million dollars, so they had actually cut funding.

We have actually increased funding. And so it's not a game, Mr Shorten. The very frightening thing is that he’s running cover for a Queensland Government that has cut funding, and I think it's very important that we're honest about these things.


Just another slight issue that– I believe the candidate next to you has raised previously on the issue of the placements that JCU has to train rural and mentor a GP.

It's been suggested that the allocation between that difference of rural and city positions is creating a sort of second class version of studying medicine. Is that something that your government would consider looking into?


So, Phil has been a fantastic advocate for this, for JCU, for Townsville and for the broader region.

And one of the things that we are doing – we are responding with additional funding in relation to the teaching and training of medical students within regional Australia.

JCU has the best conversion rate of any medical school in the country for teaching and keeping emerging GPs within rural areas, so we are looking to work with JCU.

And there’s a proposal which Phil has been working on and argued for with us, and I've got to say it's a brilliant university but it's got a brilliant advocate. Phil.


I'm still working with JCU in putting together a very robust proposal for the Minister to read. We’ve spoken about it; we spoke about it last night; and yeah, we’ll continue to keep the dialogue open.


Alright. Thank you very much.


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