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Transcript of interview with David Speers on Sky News

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's interview with David Speers on Sky News speaking about medicinal cannabis and the Medicare freeze.

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

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Let me get a quick reaction from you to that headline two party preferred number. As I say, the Government’s done a lot in the last few weeks on the citizenship test, 457s, Gonski 2.0, the Budget and you still trail 47 to Labor’s 53 per cent. Is that disappointing?


No. Look, my focus is actually on the Budget itself and the outcomes from the Budget. The fact that you have Australians by a very clear majority supporting both the bank levy and the NDIS support through the Medicare levy is very impressive.

What it says is that, I think, Australians understand that if the Senate and in particular Mr Shorten block savings that we have to get the Budget back into order, and that it is important that we have the revenue to do that.

Our preference was of course to make savings. We have tried for three years to do that, but instead what we’re doing now is saying that future generations matter fundamentally.

We have to do the right thing by them, and what we’re doing with the banks and what we’re doing with fully funding the NDIS as a national insurance scheme for people who have disability or any of us who could have disability is the fairest and best thing to do.


Does it worry you, there is support for these measures you’ve announced, but it’s not flowing through to the Government. Is that simply a matter of time, do you think, or is there something else wrong there?


I think this is about always doing challenging things, and in the end if they’re the right things, and they have good outcomes, then a government will be rewarded and recognised.

It really is a truism to say that governments are formed and public opinion is developed over three years not one day. But I’ve got to say those initial responses to the Budget and to what might be perceived as difficult measures is remarkably heartening.


Let me turn to your portfolio. A Senate vote last night on medical marijuana. Now, this was actually a tie vote, which meant it was lost.

But Labor and the Greens tried to pass some relaxation of the restrictions around importing marijuana. What would it have meant, had this gone through?


Well, this was one of the most irresponsible, ill-thought-through, and utterly dangerous, unsafe measures that have come before this Parliament in decades.

And I try to be quite calm about these things, but I am astonished that the Labor Party would support a motion like this from the Greens.

What it would have done, it would have allowed bricks of hashish to have come to our airports and potentially to have come through Customs by stripping away the safeguards for the medical marijuana that we support, which I’ve supported in terms of ensuring that there’s a national imported inventory with two shipments already having arrived.

It would have allowed bags of dope to have passed through customs which were not tested in terms of their safety, not tested in terms of their quality, so it would have been unsafe according to the AMA, the College of GPs, and even the Palliative Care Society of Australia.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration said that this was unsafe, and had the potential to lead to criminal diversion.

Why they would do this, why the ALP would support a mad Greens motion is beyond me. Mr Shorten must commit to meeting with the head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to be fully briefed on this, and to renounce a mechanism which would allow for potential criminal diversion according to Australia’s most senior authorities in this space.


Okay, but you would still obviously be needing a prescription to bring this in. Is there a concern right now that accessing medicinal marijuana is too difficult for palliative care patients?


Well that’s precisely why I moved shortly after coming into office to ensure that we could have import brought in on a provisional basis through a safe and regulated process, and that’s already seen two shipments arrive.

We’ve had 77 patients access medicine. And remember many, many GPs have their concern about this medicine, so it’s up to individual doctors to make their decisions in relation to individual patients. We’ve had 12 licenses granted.

We’ve got another 36 licenses that are pending approval, and they’re moving very quickly, and the application for an individual patient will on average be turned around within two days.

But it’s about safe access to safe medicines as opposed to open slather and open borders and the possibility, according to our authorities, of criminal diversion.

Bricks of hashish under the Shorten plan could be brought in to this country with no recourse for Customs.

Utterly unsafe, irresponsible and unacceptable, and he must commit today to meet with the head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration.


Let me ask you finally, Minister, back on the Budget, Labor says you should be ending the freeze on the various Medicare rebates immediately, not phasing it in over a number of years. What would it cost to do that, to lift these freezes right now?


Well, they have a $2.7 billion shortfall which they have to deal with, because they also have to say will they backdate the changes they are talking about to 2017, because otherwise they’re in agreement with the Government.

Because by the time of the next election, we will have completed everything. But we are ending the freeze that Labor started, we ending the freeze that Labor started.


Okay, but $2.7 billion is the figure to do it right now? That’s what, currently a quarter of the…


If they are going to do everything including pathology and diagnostic imaging. If they’re not, then they’re being frauds, and if they’re not backdating, they’re being frauds. But we struck partnerships with the AMA…


Roughly a quarter of what you’re spending on the inland rail, for example.


It’s up to Labor to say whether they will backdate the costs, whether they will backdate to 2017 what they’re proposing because otherwise they’re in the entirely same place as us, if by 2019 when the election is held everything has been covered.

And whether they will also extend their proposal to diagnostic imaging, which we’re covering and they’re not, so I think that’s very important.

We’re indexing diagnostic imaging. Labor is apparently not, and if not, then they are frauds. If they are, then they’ve got to find the money.

All up, to backdate it to now, because otherwise they’re just playing a game, and to cover diagnostic imaging and pathology would cost them $2.7 billion which they don’t have.

So, will they backdate it, otherwise it’s a fraud? And will they cover pathology and diagnostic? And that’s what we’re doing with diagnostic.


Health Minister Greg Hunt, we’ll have to leave it there, but thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.


Thanks David.

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