This content relates to a former minister

Doorstop interview in Melbourne on 6 August 2020

Read the transcript of a doorstop in Melbourne with Minister Hunt about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Thank you very much to everybody for joining us today.

This is a day when so many Victorians will be feeling anxious. Some will be feeling depressed. Many will have mental health challenges that are being exacerbated. And I want to start by saying, that is normal and that's okay.

This is the human condition in the most difficult of times. And these times are unprecedented. Each person will deal with it in their own way.

What we are seeing is magnificent support for each other, whether it's on the telephone, whether it's assisting those who have care needs, but these times are extraordinary.

Lockdowns, permits, curfews, nothing ever experienced in any of our lifetimes, to the best of my knowledge, in this country, and so it's immensely important to recognise the mental health challenges and to support the mental health challenges and the anxieties being faced.

Today, I've spoken, not just with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, who are deeply aware of this, but also with the Pat McGorry, through his work with Orygen and Headspace, Georgie Harman, the CEO of Beyond Blue.

I’ve spoken with John Brogden and his team at Lifeline Australia, as well as with the Mental Health Commissioner Christine Morgan and the Deputy Chief Mental Officer- Medical Officer for Mental Health, Professor Ruth Vine, who is a Victorian and has been literally treating patients today.

All have made it clear that their services are facing increased demand and that Victorians are experiencing many conditions, with anxiety right at the top of those most frequently reported.

Against that background, as the Prime Minister has said, and as he and the Treasurer, along with myself, were very focused upon delivering, we will be delivering an extra $12 million for outreach services, as the Prime Minister has announced, in addition to $2.6 million for psychosocial support for primary health networks.

All up, a package of $14.6 million.

The elements of those include $5 million for Headspace to focus on supporting young people.

This, in particular, will assist with the training and the ability to bring on board additional staff for outreach. Much of that, of course, will be by the telephone.

There are special challenges for Years 11 and 12 and young people who are unemployed. They will be the focus of these additional services.

As well as that, Beyond Blue will have support for their 24-hour web chat, additional services where more are needed to support people of all ages.

They could be anybody in adult age right through to people in their 90s and beyond.

Furthermore, Lifeline. John Brogden made it clear that they are experiencing a significant increase in their Victorian traffic, and to assist with Lifeline's capacity to take and process all of the calls, to give each human the dignity that they deserve, $2.5 million for Beyond Blue, $2.5 million for Lifeline.

And then there's $2 million for Kidsline for their extraordinarily important work in reaching out to our young children, and that is a critical service.

All of those things come together. In addition, the Prime Minister and myself have asked Christine Morgan and Ruth Vine to work on directly providing support through identifying any further steps necessary in Victoria in particular, and I think that that's extremely important.

One of the elements in this package was to make sure that our services are protected for all Australians, wherever they are, whilst at the same time being able to meet the needs of Victorians.

I made this point less than an hour ago on our national hook-up of state and territory and Commonwealth Health Ministers, and I think there was widespread appreciation of the situation in Victoria and the Commonwealth response.

These things are literally about saving lives and protecting lives but also giving Victorians the understanding that it's okay not to be okay and there is real support, support that is available.

If I can turn to those supports, the first place for many people will be your general practice.

And with telehealth, we now have over 23 million services that are being provided and telehealth is available to anyone anywhere, and that's a dramatic transformation but a powerful service to connect you with your GP.

In addition to that, there are the web supports of, in particular, I’ll repeat that,

That's a support that will allow people to have assistance 24 hours a day to get the support they need.

And that's backed up by,

These are both really well-established, well developed services providing lifesaving and supportive assistance to, not just Victorians but to all Australians.

And then there's the telephone. In particular, Beyond Blue has its coronavirus support line 1800-512-348, 1800-512-348.

And Lifeline, 13-11-14, 13-11-14. So, as part of this, there is also the $2.6 million which is available for primary health networks, and that will assist them with their psychosocial support.

Finally, I want to give a brief update on other elements.

We know that around the world there are 18.7 million cases, over 700,000 lives lost. These figures will grow to 25 million, and sadly, a million lives lost.

In Australia, 19,890 cases. And very, very sadly, 255 lives lost on the latest information provided to me by the National Information Centre.

In aged care, 35 residents today, all-up, 847 residents have been diagnosed in Victoria over the course of the virus, or approximately seven per cent of the 13,500 cases that Victoria has had diagnosed.

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre is coordinating five teams from AUSMAT, or the medical SAS.

They are working across different aged care facilities, making sure that activities are being undertaken, that infection protocols are in place, and providing support to the nursing and personal care staff.

We have nurses from South Australia. And Western Australia has very generously indicated that they will be supporting.

We have the distribution of masks and face shields to 767 aged care facilities, with in fact 900,000 face shields distributed, I'm advised.

We initially indicated 500,000, but we've been able to provide more than was initially intended.

And the ADF is working across the variety of fronts with approximately 1500 personnel in Victoria, testing, tracing, isolation, checkpoints, and assistance in aged care where required.

So that's a little bit of a summary. It is a difficult time, but there is a light, there is a pathway. These measures of containment and capacity will help us get through.

But it’s our amazing mental health workers, our psychiatrists, our psychologists, our counsellors, our carers, our volunteers that I particularly want to acknowledge today.

They are giving us a light and giving people guidance through the darkness.

And I want to thank them and honour them and say to all Victorians: as hard as it is, as challenging as it is, these supports will help each of us get through.

But, above all else, each of us will help others get through. Thank you, and I'm happy to take questions. I think Clare is first.


Thanks, Minister. Some questions in relation to aged care. Given that it’s still not mandatory for staff to be limited to working at one site, would you consider making that enforceable, not just in Victoria but across the sector to prevent the spread? Rather than having to rush and deal with it when it becomes a crisis?


Well, that has been one of the very important initiatives we've taken.

Firstly, you have to ensure that there is maintenance of aged care staffing and workforce; critical.

At the same time, there’s been a major initiative, which has seen an overwhelming change. And that of and in itself has been very significant.

And that's been led by Richard Colbeck who's had agreement with the sector and they've put those protocols in place.



Thanks, Minister. Just wondering about this national database agreement, the data to be shared between states that the National Cabinet agreed on a few weeks ago.

I’m just wondering if you could go into the reasons behind why the implementation of that was necessary, and if you felt like all the states were being fully transparent with their data.


Sure. The Prime Minister, and the Chief Medical Officer in particular, were very, very keen to be able to collate and share all data to make sure it is available to all.

We think that that's an important part of information-sharing, learning and accountability.

And that has been driven by the need to have the maximum data available for the public, and also for the decision-makers.

They'll give an update on that tomorrow, so I'll let probably the Chief Medical Officer, in particular, comment on the ability of each state.

But I do think each state and territory is doing things to the best of their ability.

The issue will be whether all have been able to develop the systems necessary to provide full public transparency. But I do know that they're trying.



Minister, on aged care again. St Basil's Home is reopening tomorrow just a day after a coronial investigation was ordered.

Are you confident it’s safe for residents to return there?


The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner will be overseeing this and nothing will happen unless the Quality and Safety Commissioner approves it.

The advice I have from Richard Colbeck is that there was a statement in one of the papers today that positive cases may be returned. The Aged Care Minister’s advice to me and my strong and absolute concurrence is that that will not happen.

So, nobody will be returned unless the Quality and Safety Commissioner is comfortable, supported and utterly convinced that the standards and protocols are in place to protect all residents.

And the advice from the Aged Care Minister today, agreed with me, is that under no circumstances would a positive resident be returned.


So, the lessons have been learned, do you think? Not just there, but in the sector in general now?


The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner is overseeing facilities right around the country.

In particular, where there are any facilities where there are doubts about those- the ability of management to provide a safe environment, then the Commissioner has stepped in and will continue to step in.

So, Janet Anderson is one of the toughest cops on the beat, and she has been absolutely fearless in stepping in to protect residents and will continue to do so. Okay, Jonathan?


Minister, thanks for your time. Premier Daniel Andrews has just announced that (inaudible) in Victoria today, 107(*) of those, (inaudible) a quarter of cases where people do not know where they have got the virus from.

How can Victorians have confidence that things will get better in the next six weeks when a quarter of the new cases every day have traces where they don't know where they've got the virus from?


This is a very serious announcement in relation to the unknown origin of so many cases.

There are four things then that we have to do to contain the virus.

One, is to protect against the introduction of new cases through the border measures. In seven out of eight states and territories that has been outstanding. Victoria obviously is holding an inquiry into the circumstances behind what is a breach which had catastrophic outcomes.

The testing, 70,000 tests, I'm advised, in the last 24 hours and one of the most accurate and broadest testing regimes in the world. That will continue.

Tracing, again, we had very strong tracing systems which have helped prevent outbreaks across the states and territories in seven out of eight cases. Victoria, we've stepped in to help with the ADF, over 300 ADF assisting with that tracing program. But we do have to make sure that each case every day is traced. That is a non-negotiable outcome, each case, every day as early as possible.

And that's the standard that has been set at the national level. That's the standard that must be achieved by each jurisdiction, and that's critical to helping bring those case numbers down.

And then the unprecedented and difficult distancing measure which is are, of course, the subject of today's mental health announcement.

So all of those four things have to come together. If all of those four things are done, we will get the cases down. That's the Australian experience.

We've flattened that curve once. We're going to flatten that curve again. Richard?




I won’t make any prediction on those. Many have made predictions before and they've been wrong.

The Prime Minister and myself have sought to deal with the facts, set out what will work and make sure those things are being carried out by the jurisdictions. Richard? No? Steph?


Thanks, Minister. I'm just wondering, in terms of the Acting CMO Paul Kelly, he issued that advice issued to federal politicians in Victoria, saying they must self-quarantine for 14 days if they plan to come to Parliament at the end of this month.

First question, will you undergo the 14 days of quarantine or receive an exemption as a minister(*) return to Canberra?

And secondly, how many of your Liberal colleagues do you believe will complete that 14-day quarantine so they can attend Parliament?


I will. No special rules, no exemption for me. For colleagues, I'll leave that to them. I don't know the decision of individuals in that situation.


So just to clarify, will you be doing the 14 days' quarantine in Victoria or here in Canberra?


My intention is Canberra.

Alright. Look, thank you, everybody. Let me finish where I started.

This is a time when, because of these unprecedented restrictions and limits on our daily lives, agonising, regrettable, but part of the most difficult of circumstances, people will feel anxious.

They will feel in some cases depressed or mental health conditions can either be triggered or exacerbated.

Now is the time to reach out.

Don't feel that this is anything other than normal.

It could be any of us at any time. Support is there, additional support now.

But above all else, reach out if you're suffering, or reach out to a friend or a family member if you think that they are suffering.

If we back each other, if we support each other, we'll not only flatten the curve but we'll get through this and be proud of who we are as a nation. Thank you.

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