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Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Canberra on 24 October 2021 on Vaccination rates, PR Campaign and climate change

Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Canberra on 24 October 2021 on Vaccination rates, PR Campaign and climate change.

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

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GREG HUNT:         

And good morning. I’m joined by Lieutenant-General Frewen to give an update on the Covishield rollout, but also the new advertising campaign.

The next phase, to assist those last people who haven’t yet had their first dose to come forward, and with a particular focus on Indigenous Australian’s, where we’ve had excellent progress in the last two weeks.

Today is a very important day for Australian women and families. It’s a day of hope for Australian women, and a day of hope for families. Two new listings. One, under the pharmaceutical benefit scheme, and one for Medicare.

The challenge of breast cancer is very significant. We know one in seven Australian women, over the course of their lives are likely to face a diagnosis of breast cancer.

As part of that, today, 55 Australian women are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Tomorrow, another 55, and the day after that another 55 women. And so, new treatments are immensely important, for health, for longevity, and for hope.

I’m delighted to be able to announce that as of the first of November, a breakthrough new treatment, for metastatic breast cancer, in particular double negative, which means that for women who are in later stages of cancer, inoperable or metastatic, they will have access to Verzenio, which can save their lives, protect their lives, and extend their lives.

It would otherwise cost $80,000 a year, and can now be available for as little as $6.60 per script under the PBS.

And this will help 1600 Australian women in any year. And that’s 1600 opportunities for a better life, and a longer life, and hope for 1600 families and all of their extended circles.

So, as we’ve been fighting COVID, it’s immensely important that we continue to focus on all of the general health items.

A second thing, is a new listing for Medicare, from November 1, for Australian families. And this is a better, stronger pathway for IVF.

It’s a new hope for Australian families. Some of you may remember that we established, under the Medical Research Future Fund, Mackenzie’s Mission, named in honour of the beautiful little nine-month old girl, Mackenzie Casella, who lost her battle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

And, SMA is a genetic condition, and other genetic conditions include Cystic Fibrosis, include Fragile X syndrome, Huntington’s disease. And some of these, lead to beautiful young children that are born and struggle, and either have lifelong debilitating conditions, or lose their lives at a very young age, or an early age.

So, Mackenzie’s Mission was about carrier screening, to help parents find out whether they carried the genetic markers for Cystic Fibrosis, or Fragile X, or Spinal Muscular Atrophy. And that’s seeing thousands and thousands of parents, given the information.

But the next stage, is Mackenzie’s Gift, and Mackenzie’s Gift, which we’re announcing today, is pre-implantation genetic testing, for families who are going through IVF.

That means that if there is a fertilised egg, that is clear of SMA, or Fragile X, they can go ahead with the IVF, and go ahead knowing that this beautiful young child will be born free of the condition which might otherwise lead to an agonising one or two years of life.

So, Mackenzie’s Mission is now being complimented by Mackenzie’s Gift. And there are 15,000 babies born with IVF in Australia every year. Almost 5 per cent of our children are IVF babies. And that’s an incredible, incredible thing.

But this means more children will now be born free of genetic conditions. And for parents it’s a saving of $3000 to $4000 a year. For many, they would never have been able to have afforded that, given other costs that they face.

So, they’re immensely important steps forward. A new medicine for breast cancer, a new treatment to help make IVF safer and easier for parents.

And then in terms of the rollout, another significant day yesterday, we have now passed 34.2 million vaccinations and critically, 86.6 per cent of people with first doses, 73.1 per cent of people with second doses.

But in order to bring more people to step forward, we move now to the next phase of the advertising campaign, and I would invite Lieutenant-General Frewen to set that out.


Thanks, Minister. Good morning everybody. The Minister just mentioned that we’re now over 86 per cent first dose nationally, and more than 73 per cent fully vaccinated, and I would like to thank all Australians who have come forward to get vaccinated so far.

As the minister has mentioned today we are launching the next phase of our communications campaign. Really focused at that last 10-15 per cent of the nation who are yet to come forward and get vaccinated.

The campaign is called “Spread Freedom.” It’s designed to really highlight the close links between vaccination and either regaining those freedoms that we all want to enjoy, or protecting those freedoms in the states where we haven't yet seen outbreaks.

So, these ads will run from tonight, I encourage everybody to see them, and of course, please, if you haven't come forward to get vaccinated yet, please do. We’ve now got enough vaccines distributed around the country to fully vaccinate, double dose, all Australians who want to get vaccinated.

I will also remind people that if you have not started your vaccination course, at best case, it’s a six-week process to get the full protections of the vaccines.

You have to get the first dose, get the second dose, then wait a couple of weeks, and if you want to be fully protected before Christmas, then you need to start coming forward now that first dose to get the whole process done.

Additionally, we’re now also, we’re up over 60 per cent of our First Nations peoples with first dose, and we’re closing on 50 per cent of our Indigenous people being fully vaccinated.

Still a long way to go, but for the past fortnight now, the first dose rates for Indigenous Australians have exceeded the national first dose rates, which is very encouraging.

And we’re keen to continue with that, and similarly, we are also launching a new PR campaign, focused specifically on our Indigenous folks, to be called For All Of Us. And it really emphasises this is for Indigenous peoples.

It’s about their past, it’s about their future, and it’s about protecting all of their communities. So again, I would also encourage you to see some of those great products.

They feature a range of prominent Indigenous First Australians, including Baker Boy and others, so. Really good products and I encourage all of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to come forward and get vaccinated to protect yourselves and your communities.

Thank you.

GREG HUNT:         

Thanks very much, JJ. I’ll start with Jade and then we’ll just work across.


Thank you. I just want to speak to this Spread Freedom ad. The ad says we're almost there but doesn't feature any person wearing a mask. That’s including at an airport surrounded by lots of travellers.

Epidemiologists expect that we will be wearing masks as part of the ongoing baseline restrictions under Phase C of the plan. So can you confirm in what stage of the plan will we not be wearing masks in these settings?

And if not, isn’t it a bit disingenuous to say we won’t, we’re nearly there, and we will not be wearing masks in an airport?


I might just start and then turn to JJ. These ads are about aspiration. They are about Australians returning to their natural state and their natural freedoms.

And aspiration is such an important part of the vaccination program. Hope and aspiration. JJ?


Yeah, no, I agree with what the minister said.

These ads are really about just making people who haven’t yet made the decision to get vaccinated to realise that there is very a distinct link between high vaccination rates and the sort of freedoms we wish to enjoy, so that is what we want people to take out of these ads.


But under what phase of the National Plan will we not be wearing masks in some of those settings?

GREG HUNT:         

Well, I imagine that by definition, we are already seeing states and territories that don’t wear masks, and we’re hearing from Victoria and New South Wales and others that there will be a progression.

So, I won’t speak to individual states, I will speak to aspiration and hope and that’s part of our fundamental role. That’s been why we’ve been able to bring forward, to rates far higher than many, and most commentators expected, because we had a combination of accessibility and aspiration and a tailored campaign.

And we’re speaking to those people who haven’t yet come forward, so we know that there will always be a small number of people who are anti-vaxx in Australia. But we’re now way above the rates that many expected, but we want to keep going further.

And those people who haven’t come forward so far, there are different things that appeal to them in the freedoms are right at the top, and that is why this campaign is Spread Freedom.


Just on mRNA vaccine manufacturing in Australia.




How close are you getting to making a final decision on which companies you’ll choose? And are we likely to have Moderna and someone else?

GREG HUNT:         

So, I respect the question, I respectfully won’t speculate on particular companies. I will say that we are in advanced stages of determining the shortlist. I am expecting an announcement on the shortlist this week.


Thanks, Minister. Just on climate, if I could. The New South Wales Treasurer this morning, Matt Keene, called on the government to adopt a more ambitious 2030 target. He said projection without a target for zero basically says we don't take climate change seriously. Or we don't trust our policies to get there.

So, is the Government going to be willing to take a more ambitious target on 2030? Or is it just stuck on saying this is a projection?


Well, we’ll meet and beat our 2030 target. Beating that target is achieving more than we set out to do.

And we were able to meet and beat Kyoto one. We were able to meet and beat Kyoto two. And we will meet and beat Paris.

But one of the things that has been the hallmark of our approach is we didn't do pink batts or green loans or citizens assembly or carbon taxes. We actually did things that worked and we set out our plan, we worked out that plan, we were able to turn around a 700 million tonne gap for 2020, and turned out from a deficit of 700 million tonnes to a surplus of 400 million tonnes.

So, for 2020, we had a target and we beat it. For 2030, and I’, very hopeful that once all the numbers have been crunched, what that will show is that we’ll be in a position to beat that target. All that the planets knows, is the actual volume of CO2 that is in the environment or coming down.

And when people talk about net zero, that’s a combination of what goes up, but what comes down. It’s atmospheric CO2 or equivalent gases, which actually contribute to climate change.

So if you’re able to draw down CO2, into forests, into soils, into mangroves, you’re actually reducing the net load of CO2 in the environment.

So, we’ve played our part. We will continue to play our part, a -20 per cent case with regards to where our emissions are now, as opposed to 2005. So, many have talked, few have delivered. We are one of the few to have delivered, and beaten our promises.


I’ve just got one question for each of you, if possible. General Frewen, we’ve seen, gradually, the states setting hard dates to reopen their borders. I’m just wondering if you have noticed or if there has been any impact on those deadlines and the vaccination rates in those states, and whether perhaps there’s a lesson for states like South Australia and Western Australia that haven’t yet set any kind of deadline for their border reopening?

And Minister Hunt, just in the space of net zero, we’ve seen a lot of Nationals, or some Nationals, raising the prospect of nuclear energy, saying that should be in the mix as we transition to a clean energy future.

Putting aside the moratorium and big issues like that, do you think Australia is ready for a discussion about nuclear energy? And you’ve previously said it’s not a real option to have a nuclear power plant in your electorate, has anything shifted in your thinking?


No, no change. JJ?


So, I think the states where they are starting to put the deadlines in, I think is very good on two levels.

One, it gives people something to work towards. But we’re also seeing that it is having an effect of helping galvanise people to step forward and get vaccinated in time for that.

So we have had conversations with all of the states where there aren’t timelines yet. I’m not talking to them about specific timelines, but what I am saying to them is, particularly the bigger states, as Victoria and New South Wales open up, there is going to be greater movement, there is going to be greater movement of Delta, and the threat is only likely to increase.

So they really need to start thinking about getting vaccinated now because as you’ve seen, the rates, particularly in WA and Queensland, are lagging behind.

The six-week thing I spoke about, really, if you want to be ready before Christmas, it’s this week, next week is when people need to start their courses.

So I think that the states are becoming more and more aware of that now. Hopefully we will see it translate into people coming forward to get vaccinated.


Minister, we’ve seen more positive cases among the asylum seekers in the hotel in Melbourne. Are you aware whether all those people have been offered vaccines, and what else apart from vaccinating them, vaccinating the guards, has been done to stop the spread?


Sure. Obviously in terms of vaccination of staff, that’s been a fundamental focus of the states. Secondly, we test those that are coming to Australia before they come, and we have a testing regime whilst they’re here.

On the specific vaccination, can I refer that to DFAT and to Home Affairs. They’ll have that particular detail. I apologise, but I’ll refer that part. But we have the ring of containment around in terms of the protections that are put in place.

We have the testing before and we have the testing during the course of quarantine.


There have been a lot of concerns, though, about for instance the lack of ventilation in the hotel. Is there work being done to look at the actual physical protections in place?


Jane Halton did the review and made specific references to that. We know that the Coate inquiry focused on that in particular, so there’s been strong, clear advice to all of the states and territories that are operating these processes, and overwhelmingly, they have adopted that advice.

I will let their particular jurisdiction speak to that, if I may.


Minister, just about your advertising campaign, and let’s use the ACT as an example. Securing freedom is what we’re talking about.

98 per cent of this population has had a first dose vaccination, 86 per cent has had a second dose vaccination, and we’ve still got outdoor mask mandates in the ACT.

Where’s your message to the territory Chief Minister and the Premiers who are holding back people’s freedom? At what stage do we get rid of these stupid artifices and start actually getting some freedom back?

That’s down now to a decision by the Premiers. When do we lose the masks and the distancing, and get back to normal, not COVID normal?


These ads, as I said to Jane, are exactly about hope and aspiration for people returning to a normal life.


I’m sorry. No limit’s been put on these people as to what point at which they will say: that’s it, at this point you can take your masks off. It’s down to them. So where would you set it? Is 98 per cent not enough?


Well, our view has been to lay down a road map, to encourage all states and territories to follow it, and you know what’s happened? The states and territories are overwhelmingly following it.

Some have had to had a little encouragement to get there. Some may have required a lot of encouragement, and some may have gone there very quickly and very willingly.

But the roadmap, which the PM himself helped draw up and oversee and drive, is what is providing the momentum.

It’s provided the momentum on the vaccinations, and it’s about safely opening and being able to remain safely open, and it’s also about providing incentive and encouragement, not just for the population, but for state and territory leaders, to help us to return to normal as quickly as possible.


But there is no finish line.


Look, this is a global pandemic and it is hard and challenging. Let’s stop and reflect.


As a Liberal Minister, are you comfortable with the idea that people are being told to keep their masks on, and vaccination rates are past 80 per cent? I’m talking about outside. Are you comfortable with that as a thought?


My goal has to have Australians to return to their normal and natural rights and freedoms, and I think it’s very important. I often talk about the fact that these are normal and natural rights of freedom. That’s as quickly as possible.

I am the custodian of the federal biosecurity powers, and these are sweeping and plenary powers. We have used them very cautiously and very sparingly, and we’ve made sure that there were clear processes in place for those rare occasions where we’ve done it.

And that’s been our approach and my approach, so I would encourage everyone to ensure that where they have responsibilities, that they are giving people back their freedoms as quickly as possible, wherever it’s safe to do so.

And those freedoms include the freedom of movement, the freedom of movement across state borders, to visit parents and children, to be there for births and deaths and weddings, and all the great events of life, or just to be together.

Those are profound human rights, and the absence of those is an emergency measure, never a permanent measure.


Thanks Minister. Does the Federal Government have any sort of preference or suggestions to the state about how positive cases in school should be handled?

For example, who needs to get tested, how long people need to isolate, would be five days, 14 days, those sort of things?


Professor Kelly is working with the states, as Chief Medical Officer, he’s working through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, or the medical expert panel, and they are defining the protocols.

Our view is, as Alan Tudge said today, we want schools to be open and we want them to stay open. So we need to encourage all the states and territories to keep those schools open, and to have protocols which reflect the fact that there will be cases, therefore it’s about minimising the risk to students while keeping schools open, and that’s the critical thing.

We want schools to be open, and to stay open.

All right, thank you very much. And I’ll just finish with this. It is an important day of hope for Australian women and Australian families, a new treatment for breast cancer, Mackenzie’s gift for families going through IVF, and then we continue to make progress in the fight against COVID, and we are now on the way to being one of the world’s most freshly vaccinated societies, and highly vaccinated societies.

Take care everybody.

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