He has tackled the rigours of federal politics and now a pandemic, but after 20 years, Health Minister Greg Hunt will call it quits at the next election.
And we’re pleased to say Greg Hunt joins us from Canberra. Minister, good morning to you. Congratulations on 20 years in Parliament. Quite an innings, but why now?
Good morning. Look, for two very simple reasons, Poppy and James, two children who are not really children any more. My daughter is 16 and going into year 11. My son James is 12 and going into senior school. And Paula, my wife has pretty much raised them as a single parent. And so I'd like to spend some time with them and to see them through the last of the years.
I love my work, I'm still passionate. There's a huge amount of to do in terms of COVID and primary health and rural health and mental health before the election, but there's a time and a season for everything and soon enough it will be a season to be a proper dad.
And I think everyone felt that emotion coming from you yesterday with your speech, and it really did touch the hearts of a lot of parents out there who are probably feeling the same way. I know serving your country has been important to you as well, was it a tough decision to make?
Oh absolutely, but it was a very clear decision in the end.
I mean, I feel it's a natural juncture. Here we are, we have gone through the most hellishly difficult pandemic, but the fact that we’re at 92.7 per cent vaccinated, figures just in this morning that we have one of the highest rates of vaccinations and one of the lowest rates of loss of life and one of the strongest economic recoveries.
I feel that the system is so strong, that the PM and the Treasurer, they know the way, they just understand Australians and trust Australians, so they know the way.
I feel that we're in a very strong place with very strong leadership, and so I can step away and it's going to be fine, but I can't stay away from the family for too much longer because then I will have missed it, and so that's the balance.
But it's such a privilege being involved in this role, and one thing I would observe, for all of the sort of observations we have, it's a great country. It's an incredible group of people, the Australian nation. And I'm very optimistic about our future, and I believe in this country.
Can I ask what it meant to you, Greg, to have your wife Paula in Parliament yesterday as you delivered your speech?
Oh it was very powerful and emotional.
We think it's the first time she sat in Parliament for me speaking. She’d been to one or two events which had been in the chamber, formal events, but we both think it's the first time she was there for an actual speech from me, and so that was nice.
And I had all of my staff, I want to acknowledge them as well, to have people who worked with you, six have worked with me for over a decade. To have them there, they serve the nation, they’ve worked through the pandemic. They’ve worked right through the nights, they'll be taking calls at 3am and 4am.
And it's so motivating to have this work, but you have to be a balance. This is our human balance, and now it's time in May to shift that balance. A lot to do between now and then, but I'm very at peace and reconciled, focused between now and then, but just excited to come home and be a husband and a dad.
Oh, I'm sure your family feels the same way.
You are still Health Minister, so on the topic of Omicron, I just wanted to ask you where your thoughts are at, in terms of its potential threat to us at this stage?
I know it's still a bit of a work-in-progress in terms of gathering data on Omicron, but are you feeling confident that it's not terribly dangerous for us?
Look, I'm cautiously optimistic on the basis of the medical advice.
Nine known cases in Australia at this point in time, eight in New South Wales, one in the Northern Territory, all are either asymptomatic or mild at this point in time.
The broader picture is too early to say definitively, but the early signs in terms of the medical advice are potentially more transmissible, vaccines are likely to retain strong protection, but it's too early to indicate the full extent of that, and then potentially milder.
Early days, so I don't want to overstate, but often with viruses, the evolution of them is that they may become more transmissible but milder, and I don't know whether this will be the juncture.
The international scientific community is analysing it, but we are seeing some cautious early potentially positive signs. But in the meantime we've had to take strong precautionary actions.
I know that's hard but that's what we’ve done through the pandemic. That's how we’ve ended up with one of the lowest rates of loss of life and now one of the highest rates of vaccination.
Well, Greg Hunt, as you leave Minister of Health and head into minister of breakfast, I know a lot of parents out there are thinking of you, because you’ll have two kids going into high school and that's going to be a whole different cup of noodles for you.
Thank you so much for your time this morning. It’s good to see you.
Oh absolutely. Take care.