Press Conference and Doorstop Sydney
Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's press conference and doorstop in Sydney, regarding the Launch of Zero Childhood Cancer Initiative and mental health.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
Thanks very much to Michael. What an amazing institution we have here and what an incredible group of people.
To Brad Hazzard, my state colleague, on which there couldn’t be a stronger unity of purpose, not just between us and New South Wales, but right around the country; Tracey O’Brien here at the hospital, who knew every patient by name and knew every parent by name and knew all about their conditions and their treatment; to Michelle Haber at the Children’s Cancer Institute, one of our great national treasures and researchers; to David Ziegler and all of our medical researchers and clinicians in the children’s cancer space.
But I especially want to acknowledge the real stars of the show – our magnificent patients and their parents. To Jade and to Gabe, who’s here, we’ll have you back on the surfboard in no time, mate. He’s a pretty impressive guy, this one, and he knows his sport and he loves the water and he knows virtually everything to know about sharks, as every good surfer should know.
To Ava and little Ellie, and if anybody wants to understand what the Zero Childhood Cancer Initiative is about, it’s about these beautiful children.
Let me tell you about the story of Ellie. She had a very, very serious tumour which was filling her chest cavity and things were very, very difficult. We’ve just been with her parents, and the analysis that was done through the pilot program sequenced the genome, discovered what was a unique and novel condition, and then allowed the hospital, through Tracey and her team, to source a drug which I think had only been shared with about 10 children around the world.
And her parents had been in very difficult conversations, and only over the period of the last two weeks has the tumour subsided. She’s not out of the woods yet, but she came off the ventilator on Friday. She’s 12 months old.
So if you think what really matters in life – that matters. And she was sitting up this morning and she was smiling. It was as close to a high five as you’ll ever get from a 12 month old, and this is what the Zero Childhood Cancer Initiative is about.
It’s about Jade and Gabe, Ava and Ellie. For us, as a Commonwealth, yes, we’ve contributed $20 million, but that’s what we should be doing.
But it’s about that moment in history where we know that we have 950 children in Australia who are under the age of 18 diagnosed with some form of cancer every year. Of those, about 150 are likely to lose their battle, and that’s not an acceptable figure.
Precisely as Michael said, a generation ago leukaemia was something that was unthinkable and unspeakable for most parents. Now, through medical research in Australia and abroad, there is a real prospect that each child can win that battle.
The same thing is exactly what we have to do with brain and other cancers. It’s been a Rubik’s cube that the world hasn’t been able to crack, but right now, with the new neurological paediatric oncology research, with the genomic sequencing – and I see the great John Mattick here and the work of the Garvan Institute – with the work that can be done with immunotherapy, with specialised therapies, each of these children has a chance.
So this program is very simple. It’s about giving those 150 kids who have such a difficult path the chance to have a full life.
It’s about the fact that we take a program where there is the tumour from each of these children, it’s extracted, it’s sequenced, it’s also put through RNA trials, it’s also put through other testing against different drugs, and then those drugs are trialled against the children.
Four hundred children a year will be part of this. And I did ask Tracy a very difficult question. I said, how do you choose? And she gave me the best news of all – every child in Australia who falls within the patient group can be part of this test.
Every child in Australia who falls within the patient group. So there’s no choosing, and that’s probably the most important part.
So today we open the new clinical trials component of the Zero Childhood Cancer Initiative. It is about giving each child the chance at a full life. Giving each parent the chance to have their child grow up to be an adult and a parent themselves. So that couldn’t be a greater gift.
So I want to thank our extraordinary medical researchers. To acknowledge the fact that this is history in the making – big history, real history, important history. It puts everything else into the pale of insignificance, in my mind.
So on behalf of Brad and myself, I want to thank all of those involved, our extraordinary medical researchers, and to officially launch and commence the Zero Childhood Cancer Initiative clinical trials program.
The Zero Childhood Cancer Initiative could not be a more important and could not be a more timely medical research task for Australia.
We’ve already seen the results – beautiful children such as Ellie who only a few weeks ago had very dark prospects and now the opportunities are real. There is genuine light and this is the result of what is one of the most important medical research programs in Australia – and arguably in children’s cancer – in the world.
Happy to take any questions on the initiative and then on any other topics.
So with the program, how much of it is federally funded?
We’re providing $20 million of what is at this stage an over $40 million program. We hope that it will grow to be, I think the goal is $58 million with philanthropic and support from all of the states.
And with programs like this, the progress of certain programs, is it really funding the only thing that holds back further progress?
No. The extent of medical research and technology is the critical thing. So, the best example is that three decades ago leukaemia was a word that no parent wanted to hear. No parent wants to hear that word now, but there is a huge prospect that any child diagnosed with leukaemia will survive.
Over that same period of time, despite tremendous investment, brain cancer has simply been a challenge that medical research hasn’t been able to crack, but we are at that moment in history where the medical technology, if supported by the funding and the researchers, can enable that breakthrough.
Just on a different note, there’s been an article in the SMH suggesting that there’s been a spike in mental health groups dealing with a spike in the number of people calling in as a result of the same-sex postal survey. Have you had any talks with mental health groups over this issue?
Look, I am aware of those reports, and so that’s exactly why only recently we’ve provided significant and additional funding.
We have provided an additional $47 million only in the last couple of months for significant frontline mental health services. We had $170 million at the Budget.
I do note Professor Pat McGorry’s comments. I met with Pat last week. He’s a friend, a mentor and a guide, and Pat has said he believes that this is a real moment where we can create and make something positive.
Where if we focus on this in the right way, this can be the opportunity for a breakthrough in Australia.
Obviously, I am a yes voter and a yes supporter myself. My endorsement is in the papers today, and so I think Pat’s approach is an absolutely critical one.
We’ve provided the resources, but he’s helping to provide the leadership that this can be a positive moment in Australian history.
Does the spike concern you?
Look, always any form of mental health issue is of deep personal and professional importance to me, and that’s precisely why we have provided the new resources – so the additional $47 million – for frontline services only just a couple of months ago to cover many, many different contingencies and issues.
That’s our task and I think it’s important that we have done what we’ve done only in the last couple of month.
Okay, thank you very much.