Date published: 
19 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PETER OVERTON:

With a sixth death today in Australia the Prime Minister has certainly taken the helm on battling the corona outbreak. But he is not a one-man band and right beside him is Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

I spoke to him earlier, and began by asking the Minister about the pressure this crisis has generated, and how he was coping personally.

GREG HUNT:         

Look I’m fine. For me, so long as I can exercise – I’d love to get a run in each day but mostly I'm doing a lot of walking because I'm on the phone – and if I can see my family.

But none of my travail’s matters compared with the challenges that Australians are facing either with their health, or so many Australians have economic uncertainty – and so that’s our focus and look, it’s an every waking moment question.

But all day it's focused on just this intense set of needs of the Australian public – a once in, not just in a generation, a once in a century challenge and so that keeps you totally focused and totally motivated.

PETER OVERTON:

Minister, your job is entirely based on the welfare of the nation. When you came into this job did you ever expect something as challenging or as big as this?

GREG HUNT:         

Well, I hadn’t ever contemplated this particular situation but you prepare for all circumstances. One of my very first briefings on coming into health was the potential for pandemics – the role of the National Incident Centre, the National Medical Stockpile, the National Trauma Centre.

And every day we’re thinking; tests, masks, ICU’s, what are the things that are going to protect Australians? And what are going to keep them safe? And how do we manage? And that is- it's an intensely motivating and powerful task.

PETER OVERTON:

Take us into the War Cabinet. What’s the atmosphere like when you’re weighing up decisions that will have a drastic impact on the people of Australia?

GREG HUNT:         

I was sad that it had come to this for the nation but very focussed as to what this means in terms of the responsibilities. We have a task together to let people know. This is six months, might be a bit longer, might be a bit shorter.

It will be a wartime challenge on a scale we’ve not known since the Second World War but its limited – we will get through it. And to be able to give that sense of hope and reassurance, and confidence that as difficult as it is there’s a pathway through.

PETER OVERTON:

This must be a daunting job though, not only for you, but for the Prime Minister as well?

GREG HUNT:         

Our job is to protect people as best as we can. We can't prevent all the challenges that are global challenges from having an impact on Australia but we can support, we can give them a pathway through and then we can give them a recovery at the end of it. And there will be difficulties and there will be immense economic challenges.

PETER OVERTON:

Okay. To the school debate, are you comfortable with children being at school?

GREG HUNT:         

At this point the best thing is for our kids to be at school. There’s low risk of infection and low risk of consequences for our children but there is a much higher risk if we are putting kids with grandparents, that the vulnerable – because this particularly affects our elderly – that the vulnerable could be exposed.

And as well as that, that enforced school closures could take up to 30 per cent of workers out of the health and medical workforce.

PETER OVERTON:

Many independent schools are already or about to close up – do you see it as the schools defying the government?

GREG HUNT:         

Well we have given the strongest, clearest guidance, they are called independent schools and so we respect that independence. But our guidance is that the best place for kids, if it can be managed, is in schools.

Individual schools will have challenges with particular infections and I understand that in which case it’s appropriate to take the necessary actions.

PETER OVERTON:

Can we expect more bad news in the days ahead and how our lives will be impacted even more? And could it be as bad as lockdown?

GREG HUNT:         

That’s not proposed at this stage – we are not ruling anything out. But one of the things that we are very mindful of is protecting supply lines for food and the production of food.

Now we are fortunately, one of, if not the best set up country in the world for maintaining our food and essential supplies.

PETER OVERTON:

Will it get worse before it gets better?

GREG HUNT:         

There will be more cases. We are at the earlier stages of the caseload – that’s an honest assessment. And right from the outset we’ve said that this is a condition which will go around Australia and we’re not immune – that it will have an impact on Australians.

But remembering this, for the vast majority of Australians who do contract coronavirus it will be mild to moderate. Then some will of course have intensive care, and some – and this is our great task to reduce the rate of lives lost – some will lose that battle as we’ve seen.

But we’re going to fight for every single life, we’re going to fight to minimise the number who have complications.

You asked, how do I feel? This is the fight of my life. This is the fight of our lives, and we’re going to do it. We will get there.

PETER OVERTON:

Health Minister, Greg Hunt.  

Ministers: