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Interview with Katie Woolf on MIX 104.9 Darwin

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Katie Woolf on MIX 104.9 Darwin.

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

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Now here in the Northern Territory, we know that Darwin's National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre do a wonderful job.

And they’re now located at the Darwin Airport. The move happened a little while back, but the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is in town and he's set to tour the facility as I understand.

He joins me on the line this morning. Minister Greg Hunt, good morning.


And good morning, Katie. It's just a real pleasure to be here, to be able to visit as we’re very shortly about to do the National Critical Care and Trauma Research Centre- or Response Centre.

They do an amazing job. They've been deployed throughout the region and they're here to help people both in Australia and whether it's flood, fire, drought, tsunami, whether it's a health crisis or a security crisis with human impacts such as the Bali bombing, these are the types of things that the centre's been created for.


Yeah, they're a real national treasure, I think you'd have to say. They, like you said, they are there, they're ready to respond no matter what is thrown their way.

And as I understand, they have secured a new $67.6 million four-year funding deal with the Commonwealth?


That's right. So we're announcing today $67.6 million and that locks in the Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre’s national home here in Darwin.

It provides the support both for the centre, it assists with the work which is being done out of Royal Darwin Hospital, and it assists with the AUSMATs or the Australian Medical Assistance Teams which can be airlifted at short notice to provide trauma care, emergency care, and in the case of an outbreak such as measles in Samoa.

So things that really need expert Australian support to help the region or to help Australia.


Now I know it's not the only thing that you're going to be doing while you are in Darwin.

As I understand it you'll be heading to the NACCHO, which is actually the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

They've got an event happening today, and you'll be heading along?


That's right. So I have the absolute privilege of meeting with Indigenous health leaders, and we're working on two big things.

One is the National Indigenous Preventive Health Strategy, and I'm very happy to announce that we will be inviting NACCHO to provide one of the co-leaders for that program in terms of preventive health.

Whether it’s ending avoidable Indigenous blindness, ending avoidable Indigenous deafness, ending rheumatic heart disease.

And then secondly, we're providing additional support – and we’ll announce the details, I apologise, at the time – but additional support for the Aboriginal community controlled health organisations.

These do amazing work around the country in providing support on country, in community, in smaller remote areas or rural or regional areas.

And it really is actually a model we’re now trying to pick up for regional integrated primary health care around the country.


And it is so very important. I know I've got family members that work remotely in the health sector, and the work that is delivered out in those Indigenous communities is incredibly important.

As you've touched on, there are so many preventable illnesses that, unfortunately, we still see really quite prevalently here in the Northern Territory.


That's true. And so particularly in the case of avoidable blindness and avoidable deafness with our young kids where they can have a lifelong impact, either in terms of educational attainment or actually in terms of ongoing impact.

At the same time, one of the triumphs has been that Indigenous Australia has a 97 per cent approximately vaccination rate.

So Australia as a whole has grown to a 94.5 per cent 5-year-old vaccinated rate. Indigenous Australia has been the standout.

And the community-controlled health organisations have played a huge role in delivering that outcome.


Yeah, absolutely. Now, Minister, I know that there is always that real push as well, like you touched on, to be able to try and deliver those services in communities.

We do see very often up here in Darwin – both at Royal Darwin Hospital and also the Palmerston Regional Hospital, even in Alice Springs – a situation where you do quite often end up with some Indigenous Australians having to come to Darwin for that treatment and ending up here for quite some time because they’re not able to receive the treatment that they need maybe back on country.

But what that does as well, I guess, is it means that beds within those hospitals are really taken up for extended periods of time and it does mean that it's quite a juggle from what I can understand with those beds at our major hospitals.


Well very importantly – and I think you make a good point – as of last Friday, so 1 November, we have commenced new Medicare items or Medicare treatments that are available through telehealth for remote and rural communities.

That’s a big breakthrough. That is, I think, part of modernising Medicare in the best sense.

And it means that patients who are on country, patients who are in rural and remote areas, don’t always have to visit the doctor face to face in order to get the help and that will mean better preventive help, earlier action, and therefore better outcomes for patients.

And I think that’s extremely important.

At the same time, we’re also- we’ve doubled our funding from when we came in for NT hospitals from $152 million to approximately $300 million this financial year and we will have tripled it over the course of the next hospitals agreement.

And I’m appreciative of the fact that the Northern Territory has signed what's called the Heads of Agreement for that. So we will have gone from 150 to 300 to 467 million.

So, some of the fastest growth in hospital investment in Australia.


One of the issues which is raised with us fairly regularly on air is the capacity of both the Palmerston Regional Hospital and also the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Were you concerned when we had the code yellow earlier this year and we had those elective surgeries postponed?


Yes, I was, absolutely. And I called it out nationally and I believe it made some significant news here and I think that because, in our view, that was deeply concerning as somebody else mentioned to me there was a bright, shiny new car parking project that was helping in the vicinity of the Parliament.

And it was a local that called it out to me that perhaps that was funding which ultimately in terms of priorities could have better been targeted at the hospitals.


Do you think that sometimes the Northern Territory Government has got it wrong in terms of those priorities?


Well, I'll put it this way. I can't imagine a higher priority than ensuring that the support is there for patients in hospitals when they need it, where they need it.

And in addition to what we're doing with our base hospital funding, the tripling of that, we're also putting in an extra $25.5 million direct to the Alice Springs Hospital Ambulatory Care Centre and almost $3.5 million to the Tennant Creek Hospital staff accommodation to help attract and retain really good staff as well as supporting Katherine Hospital amongst others.

So, these are some of the things we're doing around the Territory to provide those support services, which means that people can actually receive the services closer to where they live.


Are you satisfied with the funding that is being provided by the Federal Government, or do you think that there is still work or is still space for improvement?


Well, for us, it's been a massive increase. As I say, a doubling from when we came into government to a tripling over the course of the hospital agreement which begins next year. And that's a major investment.

We would be very happy to see states and territories around the country actually matching the growth that we've been able to deliver.

But we get on with the job and as I say, that means that in addition to the new Medicare services for telehealth for rural and remote, the investment in the Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine hospital projects, I think, significantly increases what we've been able to do.


Minister, last week the national- the productivity- the draft national Productivity Commission report into mental ill health was released and is costing the economy as much as $180 billion per year or $500 million every day.

The draft report on the Commission's inquiry into mental illness, which was initiated by the Treasurer last November, as I understand, attributes the bulk of the cost to the diminished health and reduced life expectancy of individual Australians living with mental illness.

It is a massive concern nationally, but do you think that we could be doing more here in the Northern Territory?


I think everywhere in Australia, the push is to do more, which is why what we've done is to make the Territory, and in particular, Darwin, one of 12 national suicide prevention trial sites and to establish three headspaces here.

We have Darwin, Alice Springs and the recently opened Katherine. The next thing is we will be establishing in Darwin one of the Adult Community Health Hubs, and so, we're designing it flexibly with the NT Government and with input from the community.

Senator Sam McMahon has been tremendous in helping us to design community focus, to have a community input.

And today, I'll be visiting headspace in Darwin, meeting with young people, talking with them.

But what we need to do is build out those services, which is why we'll be investing significantly in the new Darwin and NT Adult Community Health Hub.


Well, Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt, we really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat with us this morning.


It's been an absolute pleasure. And congratulations to you, I understand there was a little bit of national recognition for radio journalism recently.


Thank you very much. That's very kind.


All the best. You take care. Bye-bye.


Thank you very much. Greg Hunt there, who is of course the Minister for Health federally. And look, interesting stuff.

I think it is really important that the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre continues to receive that funding.

And as we all know as well, the situation with preventable illness in Aboriginal communities here in the Northern Territory, it is prevalent and it has a big impost in a number of different ways.

But the health of every Territorian is incredibly important and that money does need to be invested. So, we are anticipating that there could be a bit of an announcement later today.

We'll keep you up to date with that information as it comes to hand.

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