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Press Conference at the Kirby Institute in Sydney

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's press confence at the Kirby Institute, UNSW in Sydney regarding the $70 million boost for Australia’s next generation of medical researchers and same sex marriage.

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

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So, Minister, thank you very much, I’d like to welcome you to the University of New South Wales and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of New South Wales. It’s a great pleasure to have you here.

We really appreciate the support we get through the funding bodies associated with the Federal Government, the NHMRC and the direct funding we get from the Department of Health, it really allows us to do research that makes a difference.

So we have done research at this university that makes a difference to policy and to populations and we wish to do more of that going forward and embedding research within clinical systems is where we want to go, where we already have abilities in that area and we wish to grow that.

And I think some of the initiatives through the MRFF and the various fellowship schemes will allow us to grow that sort of research very effectively.


Great. Look, thank you very much to Professor Tony Kelleher, who is not just the Acting Dean of Medicine here at the University of New South Wales Medical School, but really one of the world’s leading immunopathologists and his work in HIV has been profound.

I want to acknowledge Professor Helen Christiansen here from Black Dog, but with many different hats on, our brilliant medical researchers, all of those involved in HIV, in Hep C, in medical research, in mental health.

Yesterday was, I think, a signature moment for Australia in terms of the acceptance, the rights and the future of a truly integrated society.

It was, in my view, something of which I am proud to have been a part of, something which will help transform Australia into something which will ensure that ultimately there is full and complete acceptance of the rights and liberties of people across the country.

Well, you all voted. I don’t know how you voted but I’ve got a pretty good guess.

But you all voted and it was the Australian people who voted so they deserve to be congratulated and the views of everybody deserve to be respected. The great thing is, by everybody having a say, the outcome will be respected.

Now, today is a signature day as well and I say that because this is about the medical research going forward in HIV, and there are some very significant announcements coming in the weeks ahead of us on that front, in Hepatitis C, in mental health and in so many other disciplines.

Let me speak a little bit about the Kirby Institute, the Kirby Institute has been at the forefront of national medical research in terms of HIV and Hep C and so many other different areas, but particularly in those two we have helped lead the world through the genius and the hard work of our medical researchers.

We are now at the point where HIV related deaths are at effectively zero, so only where somebody isn’t able to follow the course of their medicine that we might face the most tragic outcomes, we are on track to an extraordinary reduction in the loss of life through Hep C where through Epclusa 90 per cent of those who have Hepatitis C are likely to be able to receive, not just treatment, but a cure.

And those that I have spoken to who have been through Epclusa have said that it has transformed their lives. Now, that means over 700 lives saved a year and the Kirby Institute, UNSW, the medical research profession in Australia has been right at the forefront of those breakthroughs.

Our task now though is to expand the capacity of medical research. And we live in a country which has produced Florey and McFarlane Burnet and Gustav Nossal and Ian Fraser and Elizabeth Blackburn and Fiona Wood and Fiona Stanley, and today I had the privilege of meeting our next round of medical experts and medical researchers who will help transform their world.

And so, each month the world transforms through the genius of our medical researchers. In that context, it’s a golden age for medical research.

We are going right now through the doubling of medical research funding through the Medical Research Future Fund, we go from $60 million to $120 million to $220 million to $380 million to $640 million of investment focused on patients, researchers, national missions, I think many of you may have seen the Australian Brain Cancer Mission that we announced only two weeks ago, and research translation.

In that context, I’m delighted to make two specific announcements today. Firstly, we are announcing 22 new clinical research fellowships under the Translating Research Fellowship Program.

That includes some of our extraordinary researchers who are here today. We are really privileged, just privileged to have researchers in areas such as macular degeneration, to have the work which is being done in relation to the link between kidney disease and diabetes, the work which is being done in terms of mental health and the saving of lives through investing in post-suicide attempt treatments, these things are of profound importance.

UNSW, of course, is the recipient of two of those, and I want to acknowledge and thank the university on that front, and then I’m also delighted to announce that the Australian Government will invest $70 million in new clinical research programs for fellowships over the next five years under the Medical Research Future Fund.

So this is a dramatic expansion in the volume, the quantity and the quality of clinical research programs going forward. So this is our acknowledgement of your work and our way of supporting the next great wave of Elizabeth Blackburns and Fiona Woods and Fiona Stanleys and we hope that more lives will be saved. It’s good for Australia and it’s great for Australian patients. Tony.


Minister, thank you. They’re terrific announcements, and the necessity to translate basic research into clinical practice and to make sure that those findings are actually implemented are really important initiatives, and the sort of fellowships that you’ve announced just now will allow us to do those studies to make sure that findings are, in fact, implemented.

And where we’ve managed to take basic science and implement those effectively, we’ve made huge differences to people’s lives across communities, and making sure that we get these findings into all communities, particularly vulnerable communities, is extremely important.

And so embedding research into clinical practice is where this medical faculty wants to go, and these sorts of initiatives certainly help us do that.


Great. Alright, thank you. Well said. Happy to take any questions.


How significant is this funding, and how were the areas of health care selected for funding?


So this new funding will save lives and protect lives.

It will create opportunities for medical researchers, and it will create new pathways to treatment for HIV, for hepatitis C, for so many other diseases and challenges which affect the Australian population. It’s been chosen through the medical experts.

This is not something that has been done on any basis other than the magnificent leadership of the NHMRC under Professor Anne Kelso, the extraordinary leadership of Professor Ian Frazer at the Medical Research Future Fund, so that’s the basis of it, the medical experts choosing the medical experts of the future.


You mentioned the historic vote yesterday. Do you believe additional amendments will be required for Dean Smith’s same sex marriage bill?


Look, I think we’re all committed to implementing the decision and the will of the Australian people. I am personally deeply, strongly, passionately committed to that.

I believe that the Dean Smith Bill will pass. It’s the basis now, I think there’s almost universal, if not universal agreement that that’s the basis going forward.

There’ll be amendments put. I know that the Prime Minister has already commenced discussions to make sure that the Smith Bill is the basis, and that there are religious protections included within it, but what we would not countenance is any reduction in protection against discrimination.

That’s a clear, absolute position. So no reduction in protections against discrimination, but ensuring that there are protections, clear, absolute, unequivocal, for religious freedom within it.

I think we’ll do it. I think we’ll do it easily, and I think that this will be a signature moment in Australian history.


What kind of safeguards might they be?


Look, I’ll let the Prime Minister conduct those discussions. They’re ongoing as we speak, but frankly, having been deeply involved over the last few days with many of my colleagues, I think there’ll be a swift resolution, a positive resolution, and one which will provide protections against discrimination, but protections for religious freedom.


And on yourself personally, how would you vote, following the results that came out of your electorate, Flinders?


I voted yes in the plebiscite, and I’ll vote yes for marriage equality in the Parliament.

Okay. Thank you very much.

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