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Melbourne Press Conference, 22 January 2022, on children's medical research and treatment, rapid antigen tests supply in Australia and upcoming federal election

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's Melbourne Press Conference, 22 January 2022, on on children's medical research and treatment, rapid antigen tests supply in Australia and upcoming federal election.

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

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So good morning everyone, and welcome to Hudson Institute of Medical Research. My name's Liz Hartland and I'm the CEO and Director of Hudson Institute.

So we're here this morning to launch the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium. This consortium is a new organisation, a new network that will bring together Victoria's leading research, academic and clinical organisations who are collaborating to improve the long term outcomes of children with cancer.

I want to acknowledge that this important program was made possible through funding from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund and thank Minister Hunt for this game changing initiative.

I'd also like to thank all the partners involved in the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium, which, apart from Hudson Institute, includes the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Monash Children's Hospital, Royal Children's Hospital, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Monash University, University of Melbourne, and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

So I can vouch for the fact that all these research and clinical powerhouses didn't hesitate in joining together to begin this new collaborative network that will accelerate the delivery of better medical care for kids with cancer.

And now I'll hand over to Dr Katie Allen MP, Member for Higgins, to say a few words.


Thank you, Liz. Thank you, and I'm delighted to be here with the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt.

And I'm delighted because I was a medical researcher when the Medical Research Future Fund was first announced, and it was announced to great accolades here in Australia, but indeed right around the world because as a future fund, it was about how to do health better.

And Australian researchers have shown through COVID how health and medical research is alive and very strong here in Australia.

And we can see when children are affected by disease, it affects everyone in the community. When children get cancer, it's not just the families, but the communities that are affected because children are our future.

Every year, over 850 children are diagnosed with cancer here in Australia. Fortunately, there's a fantastic survival rate of 85 per cent over five years, and that's through the fantastic clinical care, medical research that takes place here in Australia, but we still need to do better.

Unfortunately, every year, a family has a child that passes. 85 families are affected by children who die from cancer. That's 85 families and communities that are affected deeply.

And what this paediatric cancer consortium, Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium is about is about doing better so that we can save lives and protect lives; that we can make sure that children who are affected by cancer have more hope for their future.

We know that Australian children are well cared for in our health care system, but this $9.6 million commitment is going to help protect lives of children now and into the future.

And I'm personally very pleased having been someone who was both a Monash University and a Melbourne University graduate, that these two great institutions are coming together and partnering with our two great hospitals, children's hospitals of Victoria, the Royal Children's Hospital and Monash Children's Hospital.

Both two fantastic hospitals coming together with two great universities and partnering with our great research institutes here in Victoria, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the Peter Mac, and of course, the Hudson Institute, which we are here launching here today, bringing it all together as a Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium, doing better for children, doing better for medical research. And it's something that we should celebrate.

And I'm very delighted to welcome the Minister for Health, the Honourable Greg Hunt, to make the announcement.

Thank you.


Look, thanks very much to Katie Allen, who was in her own right an esteemed medical researcher in paediatric space with the Murdoch Children's Research Institute; to Gladys Liu, who is both a great friend and colleague and represents Monash University and helps with custodianship of the Monash medical precinct in her work and is passionate about children's medical research and treatment and in particular, children's cancer treatment.

To Professor Elizabeth Hartland, the director here at the Hudson Institute, which does such a great job, not only in cancer, but also in particular, they've been helping out with cerebral palsy and the work and leading international, not just domestic approaches; to Professor Kathryn North, the director of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, which is one of the great children's research institutes, not just in the southern hemisphere, but anywhere in the world.

And to our co-leads of the Victorian paediatric cancer Consortium, Professor David Eisenstat and Professor Ron Firestein. And to have David and Ron here, thank you so much for your work and your leadership.

Today is about a very simple thing, and I saw that in the face of Nelly, who is the mother of Elias. Elias is a little five-year-old boy. Just after one years of age, he was diagnosed with a sarcoma of the bladder. Obviously, this could lead to catastrophic and heart wrenching consequences both for Elias, but for Nelly and for the whole family.

And this story, as Katie has said, is repeated around Australia with over 850 diagnoses of cancer, and not every story has the successful outcome, the beautiful outcome that Elias has had.

In any one year there are, perhaps, three classrooms full of beautiful young children who do not make it through their cancer journey, who lose their lies to paediatric cancer. And that’s why this project is so important.

All up, we are delighted and honoured to be supporting the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium. There are nine partners in it; two great universities – Monash and Melbourne University’s; three great hospitals with the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Monash Children’s Hospital, Peter McCallum; the three great institutes of the Hudson, the Murdoch, and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; and then, the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

They are coming together with a really simple goal – save lives and protect lives for young children who are diagnosed with cancer. To save all of those who are diagnosed with cancer.

And it’s within our reach to make a massive increase over and above the 85 per cent survival rate we already have with children’s cancer – to give every child that chance.

So we have the Zero Childhood Cancer program; we have the Sydney Comprehensive Children’s Cancer Centre; the Genomics Mission; the Rare Cancers, Rare Diseases Clinical Trials Program with over $600 million attached to it. But now, we have a Victoria paediatric Cancer Consortium.

And that’s about giving hope to every family in Australia that may have a child who faces a cancer diagnosis. It’s also about giving hope to children around the world, because the research that this Consortium will help develop won’t just be available to children here in Melbourne or Victoria, but across Australia and around the world – and I think that’s immensely important.

Just in terms of COVID – we are seeing a decrease in hospitalisation pressure. As I’ve mentioned earlier on in the week, I was speaking with the Victorian Minister this morning and they are doing good work to help bring back elective surgery as a result of that, and I’d support and encourage that pathway. It was a very constructive discussion, and I thank Martin Foley for that.

And in particular, today we have passed 50 million doses delivered during the vaccine rollout. And that’s a tribute to all of the Australian’s that have come forward. Yesterday, over 250,000 doses delivered – precisely 262,000 doses delivered, and that has now taken us to 50.19 million doses delivered of COVID-19 vaccines. And those vaccines have come from medical research around the world – global collaborations.

In terms of boosters, we have now passed eight million boosters – we’ve reached 8.19 million boosters, and already, we’re at 51.5 per cent of the eligible population that have had boosters. And so that’s an extraordinary achievement.

And in terms of children, we've now passed 41.9 per cent and 953,000 doses for our children - one of the highest children's vaccination rates in the world. And so there's more to do - there's always more to do, but we're making enormous progress.

And I want to thank everybody and to say that today is a day of hope, both in terms of children's cancer, but also in terms of the progress with regards to the vaccination rollout and the protection of lives through the COVID national programme and treatments.

I think, Gladys, I'd like to ask Gladys to finish. Gladys Liu, member for Chisholm.


Thank you, Minister. I'm delighted to welcome Minister Greg Hunt to launch the Victorian Paediatric Children Consortium – Cancer Consortium. It is so important to do this because diseases and cancers do not discriminate. So we are here protecting all Australians.

And it's my great delight to work with, and I continue to work with Murdoch Institute, Monash University and the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium.

So, well done to everyone, and I look forward to working closely with you. Thank you.


Great. Happy to take any questions, first in relation to the medical research. And after that, we'll let our researchers go and happy to take any other questions after that.

All right. I think our researchers are free. Thank you very much. And then happy to take other questions.


Three different lines of questioning from me today. In terms of the election, do you think that’s still winnable considering the recent polls show that Scott Morrison's a little bit out of favour with the public?


Sure. Of course. Every election is a challenge, and every election is to seek the mandate and support of the Australian people.

And I remember three years ago, very similar position. Two years ago, as we came out of the summer, a very similar position. I remember some of the challenges John Howard faced with the by-elections in Brisbane.

And this is about two things. One is an absolute focus and determination to support the Australian people. And I've seen in this Prime Minister somebody who has helped deliver one of the lowest rates of loss of life in the world, and one of the highest vaccination rates, and one of the strongest economic recoveries with 4.2 per cent unemployment.

The second thing, of course, is it’s a choice. And it’s a choice between Scott Morrison, who has helped see Australia to some of the strongest results, never without pain and tragedy and loss in a global pandemic – the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years – but to see Australia to one of the strongest results in the world that so many other countries would covet – and Anthony Albanese.

And Mr Albanese only a couple of days ago was completely unable to explain anything to do with his approach to rapid antigen tests, having made points, he’d had weeks to put together a policy.

And what we do know is that he’s policy weak, and that he doesn’t have the strength required to lead the country. So ultimately it comes down to a choice, and I believe deeply and absolutely in this government and in the power and the capacity of Scott Morrison to lead Australia safely.


Do you have a theory about the text messages were leaked yesterday? And was it you that leaked them?


No, and no. Look, very simply- let me say this: if the journalist is confident in his sources, he should release them – and release all of it.

But more generally, if I were to come into the pandemic knowing everything I know, and if I could start with a blank sheet of paper, the two people I would want to lead Australia’s response are the two people who have. Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, and Josh Frydenberg as Treasurer.

And look, I’m leaving, everybody knows that. I’m doing that because it’s time to be a dad. But I do it with a heavy heart because I believe in the team around me, that we’ve got in Gladys and Katie and others – amazing people coming through.

But I do know this, that what I have seen in the Prime Minister is somebody who is actually the Prime Minister, who has taken the hard decisions, who’s worked every single day, every single hour, every single minute for the last two years on focusing Australia’s response, and he understood what to do.

That’s the thing. He knew what to do, and that’s because he understood Australians, and he listened to advice and he was able to make decisions.


In terms of elective surgery, there’s no timeline here in Victoria for restarting elective surgeries. Does that concern you? What are your thoughts about that?


Look, to be fair, I want to be constructive, and I did have constructive discussions this morning with Martin Foley, and we have worked well on these matters, and there are differing models.

The Queensland model has focussed on a set number of beds which they seek from the private sector, and that may be an evolutionary model for New South Wales, which I think is looking at it very closely, and Victoria, both of which have had more pressures on their system, to be frank.

But in the same way that we prepare for natural events, when those natural events arrived, they were prepared, and they were able to withstand. And the whole world faced an Omicron outbreak this summer in the southern hemisphere, which saw global numbers go from 500,000 a day to over four million a day at its absolute peak on official numbers. And inevitably, that was closer to 10 million in real cases of infections around the world on a daily basis.

And yet, faced with all of those pressures, all of the preparation that they’d put in place meant that Australia and our hospitals and therefore our services have been protected.

But I know Victoria is considering it today and in the coming days, and I do support a greater return of elective surgeries as soon as they can feasibly allow.


And just lastly, in terms of the RAT test price gouging, do you think we're sort of done with that? We're now going to be able to move on and we're not going to see that sort of price gouging that we had seen?


Look, I had a very heartening message this morning from the CEO of Chemist Warehouse, Mario Tuscone contacted me.

I'm keeping up with the Pharmacy Guild every day and with others on a regular basis, and the message from the CEO of the largest of chains in Australia was they have very significant supplies.

We've now passed over three million rapid antigen tests that have been delivered through the pharmacies through the pensioners and concessional rapid antigen test program. We're now at 3.1 million and 750,000 people in 2800 pharmacies.

But importantly, what Mario said to me was they have strong supplies for the concessional program, strong supplies for the public and strong supplies for all of their contracted support, whether it's the state governments or to others.

And I know just as a family when we've been out and about, we're seeing in chemists, we're seeing in supermarkets the capacity for the public to purchase them. We're still selling them on the basis of limited numbers for individuals to make sure there's the capacity for everybody, but also the supplies are coming through to the states through the schools.

As a Commonwealth, we've supplied now eight million rapid antigen tests in aged care continuously and consistently since May, and over 10 million all up.

So supplies are increasing. The good news is it's happened on a larger basis earlier than we'd previously expected, so I'm pleased that that's beginning to happen.

And I think that's it. Thank you for- oh, sorry, one more.


I’m from the Institute, am I allowed to just get a photo of you with my Director?


Yes, of course. Thank you very much.

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