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Doorstop interview in Darwin

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's doorstop interview in Darwin.

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

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Look, it’s a great pleasure today to have Minister Hunt, our Federal Health Minister and indeed Minister Fyles, our NT Minister for Health as well.

This is a new facility. We've only been in the new facility for around about three months, and that's fantastic that Minister Hunt has been able to visit us here today and has been so supportive of what we're doing. The initiative itself came through back in 2004, 2005.

It was at the result of the first Bali bombing.

But I'll turn, if I may, to Minister Hunt.


Thank you. And look, thanks very much to Professor Len Notaras, Natasha Fyles, to all of the team here at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.

An amazing team. Abigail Trewin has shown us through, as the Head of Disaster Preparedness, but just to meet incredibly capable staff who are committed.

And this centre is a Territory treasure. It's a national treasure but it's actually a global icon.

The global standards for deployable disaster preparedness teams were developed here and developed on the back of the Australian experience.

A team which, in many ways, had its genesis in the tragedy of the Bali bombings but which has evolved and been deployed around the world since.

It brings together the absolute best of the Territory and Australia.

We know that at any one time there are 35 staff, 750 on call from around Australia. Our people with extraordinary experience whether it's in logistics, whether it's in pharmacy, whether it is trauma surgeons, whether it's our amazing nurses and paramedics. All are on call and they have day jobs.

But in many ways, the pinnacle of their professional career is the training they receive through the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre and the capacity to be deployed at short notice to save lives and protect lives.

It's interesting that there are over 300 who are on the waiting list. That indicates what an extraordinary privilege and professional source of pride and progress it is for the individuals involved and they believe in their work.

So, against that background, I am delighted to announce that the Australian Government will invest $67.6 million in the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre over the next four years.

This will support staff. This will support logistics and equipment and it will support training and deployment – all of the things that this centre was created for.

We never know when it will be needed. It could be an earthquake. It could be a tsunami. It could be a terrorism event or it could be a disease.

As we speak, four Australians are on their way to a mission in Samoa to deal with the outbreak of measles there. And that's an example of the real-time work of our trauma teams and that's about saving lives and protecting lives.

So I am delighted to announce the Australian Government contribution, and to thank each and every one of the staff who are based here in Darwin and working either here on site or at Royal Darwin Hospital.

And to thank all of those Australian medical and logistical personnel who give their time, who are part of our mobile deployable teams but at the same time, build the skills of our state and territory hospital and emergency response teams around the country.



Thank you. We welcome the Federal Government's announcement. We're very proud of the National Critical Care and Trauma Centre being based here in the Northern Territory.

Amazing work over many years.

And we are incredibly grateful for the Federal Government for this continued support.

So, on behalf of the Northern Territory Government, we thank the team here on the ground but we also thank the Federal Government for their recognition of this amazing team from the Northern Territory. Thank you.


Great. Happy to take any questions.


In the media release, the announcement, it talks about expanding the capacity here. How will this funding expand the capacity of the centre from what's been available previously?


Well, obviously, we're in the process of fitting out and making sure that whether it's the incredible innovation with regards to storage and classification, it allows the progressive building of those stores, the progressive building of those systems, and the progressive building of the training and education for the teams here in Darwin but around the country.


In terms of the longer term funding, is that something the Government would consider at all?


Well, it’s a long-term, four-year funding but.


Longer than four years?


Well let me make this guarantee, that my belief and my expectation is that under every circumstance, the National Critical Care Centre will be based here in Darwin and fully funded by the Federal Government for the next 50 years.

It's as certain as anything can be in parliamentary analysis.


On a slightly different topic, what more can the Government do on drought assistance?


Look, the drought is something of immense importance – not just to Australians who are experiencing it, but common human compassion has brought an understandable and I think a very important human response where Australians are concerned and caring for other Australians.

So right now we are delivering Farm Household Assistance, the support to local governments and, as the Prime Minister indicated, we are analysing additional work through consulting with communities.

And the Prime Minister's already made it clear that he expects to be making further and better statements in the very near future.


How much will that coming drought strategy focus on the health and the mental health of people in those drought stricken communities?


That has been a very important and ongoing part of what we're doing. So we've been able to provide both online services, mobile services for psychological support.

We've only just, on the 1 November provided additional consultation services throughout Australia – not just to drought affected communities but to rural and remote communities around Australia – for Telehealth.

In particular, that gives people the chance to talk to their doctors about problems, it might be a physical problem or it might be a mental health problem, that opens up far greater capacity for people in rural and remote Australia, in drought affected areas to get real time help from their doctors and those services only started in the last week.


Why is it that you believe that small businesses in regional areas need government support at a time like this?


Small businesses in a drought affected area can be doing it very tough.

So you have the primary effect on the farmer but it could be a stock feed supplier, it could be a hardware store, it could be someone in hairdressing or in hospitality.

All of those communities can have a very significant flow on effect and we want to make sure that we can keep the capacity in the towns as well as supporting the individuals who are affected.


How does the Government help keep farmers on the land?


So I think the important thing is the Farm Household Assistance package, the support for the communities around them, and then the knowledge that we will continue to be deeply engaged.


We've seen more than 500 veterans take their own lives in this country in the past 20 years.

What is the Government going to do to better support the health and mental health of people who return from serving overseas?

GREG HUNT:         

The support for our veterans is, I think, at an absolute national priority.

It was one of the first things that the Prime Minister did after the election, he convened a roundtable of specialists, MP’s, MP’s with military service, to look at the issue of veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention.

At present, we are investing over $11 billion a year in the broad health, mental health and support services for our veterans.

There’s specifically a $280 million package and I understand that the Veterans Health Minister is currently working on next steps which is ultimately our deep and profound responsibility to protect and care for those who have protected and cared for us.


There are calls today for a royal commission, should that be something that is considered?


Well, I’ll respectfully leave that for the Veterans’ Affairs Minister.


And on the drought, what's the risk if the Government doesn't help farmers now?


Well we have a critical role to continue what we are doing.

I have to say, as the Prime Minister has said, this has been the first call on the budget and that's ultimately about saving lives and protecting lives.

Yes, there’s an economic element to maintaining that capacity, but it's something far more profound.

It's about the commitment to those Australians who have helped develop the nation, who provide so much of our export capacity, and also when we talk about farming communities they provide an extraordinary amount of hope, and opportunity, employment and economic benefit for Indigenous Australia.


Do you believe that vaping is safe?


No. My view is that we have some of the strongest laws in the country and with Natasha, just last week, all of the state and territory and Commonwealth governments came together to reaffirm that we have and will maintain some of the strongest laws in the world on nicotine based e-cigarettes.

And we have also referred our health concerns on non-nicotine vaping to the chief medical and chief health officers around the country.

So precisely because of the evidence coming out of the FDA in the United States that vaping of any form can be an onramp to smoking or to nicotine use but also because of the direct concerns about the respiratory effects of vaping of any form; we have referred that off to the most experienced medical leaders in the country.

I don’t know, Natasha, if you want to add anything on that?


COAG last week, all the state and territory health ministers came together.

We certainly had a discussion around vaping and we don't want anything to impact on those strong laws that we have around nicotine and smoking products.

And as the Minister federally has said, we've referred that to the leaders in each jurisdiction as well as Commonwealth around looking at what we can do to make sure that we protect Australians.


Question for either or both of you, do you think it's appropriate for doctors to be prescribing e-liquid nicotine?


So as far as we are aware, there is very little of that actually occurring. That’s the advice from the AMA and we will leave that to them.

But as we produce the evidence, we are releasing the evidence and that's why we commissioned over a year ago, the Australian National University to do a deep long term epidemiological study on the impacts of vaping on health.

But we have some of the strongest laws in the world at present and we will be maintaining those laws in relation to nicotine based vaping but we have referred the deep concerns about the potential for non-nicotine vaping to be an onramp and to have respiratory concerns in their own right.

And they have gone off to our chief medical officers around the country precisely because of these issues.


(Inaudible) rural doctor training program in the Northern Territory has seen numbers of people enrolling fall by about a third in recent years.

Does it concern you that there isn't a pipeline of talent coming through to service this region?


Yeah. So around the country one of our most important challenges is to bring young doctors into rural and regional practice.

And so in order to do that one of the things that we discussed last week was working on a national partnership with each of the states and territories on a new model of primary care and that model of primary care is based on Medicare but also twinning that, we've pooled funding from the territories or the states.

And that is hopefully going to create a much more integrated practice.

That's one of the things I'll be discussing at the National Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Organisations conference today. And interestingly, we can take lessons from our Indigenous health models for primary care around the country.


Question for both – it’s sort of for you and Natasha Fyles. Natasha, in October, you put out a media release saying that the Territory Labor government would fight the $5 million the Federal Government was ripping out of Territory hospitals, did you get the results that you wanted out of COAG or do you feel like Territory hospitals are still being short-changed?


So we had a very productive health ministers meeting last week. All the states and territories ministers agreed that we have key focus areas around particularly aged care and NDIS intersecting with our hospital system but also around mental health and we saw that interim report from the Productivity Commission.

But we are now going to work in partnership with the Federal Government as we head towards that National Health Reform Agreement which we're hoping will be signed mid-next year.

Certainly, in terms of our hospitals, we need to make sure that they have the funding and that's a responsibility of both the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments.

But we also had conversations around in terms of making sure we have investment in primary health care and stopping Australians and Territorians from needing that acute care.

So we look forward to those conversations continuing.


Mr Hunt, do you still think the NT government is the most incompetent in Australia?


Well let's just put it this way, I think we've made very good progress and we are working together in a way which is really important for the Territorians and has been a breakthrough.

So last week, I think was a line in the sand and it's a new partnership going forwards; partnership on mental health, partnership on primary care and an agreement on hospitals.


Eleven thousand scientists have put their names to a document declaring a climate crisis. As Health Minister, how much do the health implications of emergency-like conditions concern you?


Look, we include climate, obviously, in our assessments of health around the country.

As former environment minister, I've been passionate about our action on climate change and we led the world on the Montreal Protocol which reduced projections of emissions by 72 billion tonnes; 72 billion tonnes through what we did on ozone protection but with an additional element in relation to climate change and reduced CO2 equivalency.

And so that work was arguably one of the most important things that any country has ever done to reduce global emissions.

It led into the Paris conference; it paved the way for the Paris conference and at a moment when global talks collapsed, Australia stepped in and that 72 million tonne reduction against baseline emissions between now and 2050 is the equivalent of almost two years of entire global emissions from one agreement which Australia led. Thank you very much.


Well this document says specifically that global governments are not doing enough. So what more can you do?


Well we- we will continue to meet and beat our targets. I remember when we came in in 2013, many of the experts said we would never achieve our 2020 targets; we would fall short by 500 and 700 million tonnes of.


Yeah. With all due respect Minister, though, these scientists are saying that these goals aren’t enough. So what more can we do?


And we've beaten those targets and now, we'll meet and beat out 2030 targets and what we've done with 2050 is produce 72 billion tonnes of reductions.

So our task collectively and individually is to each and all of us do what we can to help reduce those emissions.

And I would say that in terms of what we've done with that Montreal Protocol, the protocol agreement, the 72 billion tonnes which came out of the Dubai Roadmap is leading the world in real reductions in emissions. Okay. Thank you very much.

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