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Press Conference Melbourne

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's press conference in Melbourne regarding Children’s brain cancer announcements; anti-vaccination doctors; Fiona Richardson

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

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I’m really delighted and honoured to be here today at the Royal Children’s Hospital, undoubtedly one of the world’s great children’s hospitals on so many fronts, but in particular, a leader in paediatric oncology.

In that respect, I’m joined by Dr Jordan Hansford, really one of the world’s leading paediatric oncologists, and in particular, neuro-oncologists dealing with some of the most emotionally difficult, technically difficult challenges that represent every parent’s nightmare.

Nick Gottardo, again, one of the most extraordinary researchers and clinicians working in this space will be helping to lead the AIM BRAIN project.

The amazing Liz Dawes, who founded the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation in honour of her son Connor. Connor’s Run every year brings people together to raise funds and to remember. And Helen Zorbas, heading Cancer Australia. So, just an extraordinary group of people.

Brain cancer is one of the toughest, most tragic conditions that any family can face when they look at young children. But we know that under 25, this is the leading cause of death. We know that the five-year survival rates are about 22 per cent. And so on our time, on our watch, we want to break that cycle.

I particularly want to acknowledge Dustin Perry, who is here today. Dustin reached out some months ago to talk about his beautiful daughter, Chloe. And his view was that we needed to do more.

And frankly, as the new Health Minister, I think he was absolutely right. So, along with people such as Liz and Dustin, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing, because as you go forward, you learn about these things.

Also, the Cure Brain Cancer, they are doing incredible work and these groups come together. So, there are three things that we’re announcing today in the, not just search, but the tenacious commitment to improve and to dramatically improve survival rates for childhood and adult brain cancer.

Firstly, today the Federal Government will partner with the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation in supporting a new fundamental trial and that is what’s called the AIM BRAIN program. And that’s about access to innovative molecular profiling.

What this really means is that we can find the central problem in the brain and, as Jordan was telling me, in the case of beautiful Olivia who is here today and who has told her magnificent story, allow for early treatment, better treatment, and treatment with less side effects.

It means the chances of success are greater and the quality of life is better and the quality of treatment is improved. So our best researchers will now be part of a globally-leading program.

The Commonwealth will contribute approximately $900,000, matching what Liz and the foundation are giving.

The second big thing we’re doing is today I’m launching the call for proposals for the Government’s $13 million rare cancer, rare diseases clinical trial program.

This is only the first year of a program which I hope will run for the next 50 years as part of the Medical Research Future Fund, and we expect that figure to grow over the coming years. But right now we’re opening that to call for rare cancer and rare disease clinical trial proposals which would otherwise not have been funded and would not have been achievable.

The final thing is after we’ve been here at the children’s hospital, we will have a round table, with obviously Jordan and Nick and Helen and Liz and others, but with international and domestic experts, including the extraordinary Walter and Eliza Hall Institute here in Australia, looking at the top priorities for government investment.

The top priorities for government investment in rapidly improving survival rates of childhood brain cancer. So, we will make a further investment after that on a multi-year basis and this, again, Dustin, for you and for Liz and for others is your contribution.

It’s our job to find the right pathways and with Jordan and Nick and Helen and others advising us, we’ll lay down a work program with one simple goal, and that is to improve survival for childhood and adult brain cancers.

I’ll hand over the Jordan and Nick to speak briefly and then to Liz and Helen.

After that, happy to take any question jointly on childhood brain cancer and after that any other questions on other topics.


Thank you. This is really a truly unique opportunity and we’re really, really grateful to the Minister for everybody really for coming together.

It never ceases to amaze me how one person can truly make a difference, and in this case, it was Dustin, who managed to get really in the ear of the Minister to really put the case across for how difficult the field has been for looking after children with brain tumours.

We’ve had successes, but those children that we do cure with the disease we do leave a lot of damage, and this is why we really want to hone in on the treatment to make them much more refined and much more personalised.

And this AIM BRAIN project is really absolutely state of the art, cutting edge collaboration with our European colleagues from Germany, some of which are attending the meeting today that the Minister has put together the round table.

So this is truly, truly a tipping point and a turning point for childhood brain cancer research in Australia and I’m very, very happy to be part of this. Thank you.


None of us want to have to tell parents the time has come that there’s no more treatments. This AIM BRAIN project and steps put forward by the Minister’s office and Cancer Australia and Liz’s foundation gives us that opportunity.

Fifty years ago leukaemia was not curable. In 50 years we hope brain cancer’s in the same space.

And it’s only through projects like this and our international collaborations with the DKFZ in Germany and other centres around the world that that’s going to be possible. And so we thank everybody for this opportunity moving forward.


I just want to thank the Federal Government very much for coming forward and matching our contribution for the AIM BRAIN project.

When our son Connor died four years ago, I made a commitment that I would do my best for other families that were going to be facing the same situation. And I feel like we’ve made some good progress. And it obviously helps when other parents like Dustin get involved and Olivia’s father Martin who’s here.

It really is going to take a group of people coming together to try to fight something that is so cruel to families. So we’re off to a good start. We hope it is just the beginning of very good things to come. Thank you.


Thank you. I think I wanted to sort of put the context of cancer in Australia as being one in which we in Australia have among the best cancer survival rates in the world, and so do our children overall, but we do still have cancers where the survival rates have remained low and relatively unchanged over the past 20 years, and brain cancer is a standout in terms of that.

So this important announcement today helps us to really take forward with our international colleagues an approach to profiling cancers, to really understanding in a more sophisticated way the fingerprint of these brain cancers and therefore targeting more effective treatments and giving children the best possible outcomes.

It’s also important because it establishes in Australia, technology and expertise that will stand us in good stead to not only be at the forefront of these international collaborations, but also to lead them into the future. Thank you.


Happy to take questions. I will just offer my very strong personal condolences to the family and friends and colleagues of Fiona Richardson, as she was one of these people who crossed the divide in Parliament.

I know Rosie Batty very well, and I know Rosie’s been absolutely devastated by this loss. It’s a sad day, and it’s a reminder that cancer continues to be a challenge every day to families across Australia.


Can we go back to what’s in the news.


Yes, sure.


Yeah. These three GPs that it seems are flouting or trying to get around vaccination protocols, what are you likely to do about that? Is there anything you can do about that?


Yes, there is, and they are already being investigated not just by state authorities, but also by the national authorities.

I won’t pre-empt the outcome, but I will say this, I could not have and we could not have a stronger view on the importance of vaccination.

Only two weeks ago, at this very spot, I stood here with the Chief Medical Officer and the CEO of the hospital, John Stanway, and we launched the national pro-vaccination Get the Facts campaign.

Vaccination saves lives, and it protects lives, and it is absolutely fundamental. It is safe, as the Chief Medical Officer and all of the body of research points out.

And if it is accurate that there are registered doctors who are advocating an anti-vaccination position, then they will have the full force of the authorities come down on them.

So that investigation is underway now and I hope that the authorities will conclude it as swiftly as possible.

It will be up to them to determine the penalties, but my view is there should be no place for registered medical professionals, as the AMA and the College of GPs and the Chief Medical Officer have made clear, who are doing anything other than supporting what is a fundamental part of keeping our children safe.


How dangerous are these doctors peddling such information?


Well, I am astonished. I am astonished that there are any people who have been through medical degrees who would deign to stoop to the level of supporting the anti-vaccination movement.

And the authorities should be investigating them, and the authorities are investigating them, and they have my full, complete, and absolute backing in that.


Of course, we know they could be deregistered, could there be criminal charges taken against them?


So, I’ll respectfully not speculate on any possible penalties. Our job is to make sure that investigations are underway, and they were already underway before the media reports today.

But let us be absolutely clear, there will be no sympathy, none at all, from the Government with the authorities taking the strongest possible decisions.


One of these doctors was allegedly referred a year ago to AHPRA, is AHPRA doing enough?


So I’ll let AHPRA comment on that because they have the details of the investigation.


Are you concerned that it might be more widespread than three Melbourne doctors? The anti-vaxer movement, if you like, certainly goes beyond that.


Well, we know we’ve seen an increase in vaccination rates, but we have to go further. The AMA and the GPs have been incredibly supportive, the College of General Practitioners, all of the different arms of the medical profession.

I would hope that these are isolated cases, but if there are other doctors out there preaching anti-vaccination positions, then we will find them.


The Medical Benefits Schedule review has been done, when might the Government decide which, if any, of the services may come or go?


We actually released and had endorsed by the AMA the first round of Medical Benefit Service reviews. So they came out on Tuesday.

That included things such as additional services for pregnant mothers, new maternal arrangements with additional mental health support.

So it’s been very well received. So the first round has actually been released. The second round, the draft consultation paper has been released. So that’s an ongoing process.

I want to thank the AMA. They said they would approach this with a very constructive and open mind, and the President of the AMA has already expressed his support for the first round of decisions.

It was a very good process where a draft was put out, consultation was received, the Government made some changes in response to working with the medical community, and then the medical community has overwhelmingly welcomed the first round of decisions.

Okay, thank you very much.


Just in terms of Fiona Richardson, what kind of dealings did you have with her and what was that like and what does she leave behind?


So she’s not somebody that I knew directly, she’s somebody I knew by reputation. And I do know, from talking with Rosie.

Rosie lives in my electorate, just around the corner from our office really, she was the person that Rosie most referred to as a leader on family violence, domestic violence, violence against women and children.

And so with Rosie Batty’s strong, consistent praise, she stood in the highest of reputational places.

Thank you very much.

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