Minister for Health and Aged Care and Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 1 March 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's and Assistant Minister Kearney's press conference on the 10 Year National Action Plan for the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ people; LGBTIQ+ Health Advisory Group; research funding for the LGBTIQ+ community; WorldPride; health disparities for LGBTIQ+ people.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks for joining us, everyone. I’m really pleased to be with my parliamentary colleague, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney, who has been here the last couple of days holding some terrific roundtables on LGBTQIA+ health policy here in Australia, after announcing that we’d be developing a 10-year action plan in that area, we’ll be guided by a deep consultation process that Ged will be leading. It will also though be depending on the great work AFAO and LGBTIQ+ Health Australia who have been strong community partners of Australian governments for a very long time - AFAO for four or five decades. And I really fondly recall the work that I was able to do when we were last in government with Nicky Bath’s organisation, including on the development of a 10-year plan for LGBTIQA+ elders: an ageing strategy for 10 years that we developed together as well. 

I'm going to hand over to Ged, because she's really going to drive this, but I just want to say that there's a very clear recognition in the Albanese Government, across all portfolios, and from the Prime Minister down. But there is so much more work we need to do as a country to close the gap in health, and particularly mental health outcomes, for LGBTIQA+ Australians. And to do that, we need to work in partnership – nothing about you, without you can happen. Because we know over a long history, that close partnership with community - listening to community, designing programs with community delivers better outcomes, the outcomes that that group of Australians deserve. So, I'm really looking forward to the work of this roundtable, which Ged is going to steer and working with Darryl and Nicky’s organisations.  

I also want to say though, that one of the clear gaps in this area of health policy is in research. So, Ged has also been able to announce over the last 24 hours, a target of $26 million research round which will be delivered by the MRFF, the Medical Research Future Fund, particularly for LGBTIQA+ health, and in particular, we'll be looking at models of care that will continue to close that gap, as I described it, and the round will be particularly focused on working in close partnership with consumers and with community as well, again, building on that rich history that I talked about before. So, I'm delighted to be here. I wanted to be here a bit earlier but I got here. But I'm going to hand over to Ged and then probably to others to say a few words, and then I’m happy to take any questions and pass them on to Ged as well. 

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, GED KEARNEY: Thanks so much, Mark, and thanks for being here, everybody. And Mark, the commitment of the Albanese Government to the LGBTIQA community has been on display all this week at WorldPride and I'm really proud of that. It's been very well received so thanks for your support.  

The Albanese Labor Government really believes in equality of health care – that's equity of access for everybody. And we know that our LGBTIQA community faces many barriers to access to care, they face really some particular challenges. They still, believe it or not, face bias and discrimination, they face harassment, sadly, they even face violence here in Australia. And that means that accessing regular channels for health care can be challenging for them, it doesn’t feel safe, it doesn’t feel appropriate. So, we have been working with the sector for some time now. And I'm very pleased that we have Darryl from AFAO here today and Nicky from LHA. We also have Anna Brown from Equality Aus and Morgan Carpenter representing our intersex community or people who have variations in their sex characteristics. And we just been joined by Joe from Switchboard. And they’ll all be able to tell you in much more detail about the challenges that are faced in the health system. So that's why we are so pleased, and I am really excited to announce the 10-year National Action Plan: a national strategy that will be developed in consultation with the community. And that consultation will be led by AFAO and LHA, I'm very pleased to say that, and so we know that it will be informed - well informed by the community itself.  

But we can't do anything without good data, without good research, and so, we are coupling that announcement today with the announcement that we will invest $26 million into our LGBTIQA health research. This is the single biggest investment into LGBTIQA health research by any government, and maybe the biggest investment in the sector altogether by any government. So, we really are incredibly pleased to announce that today. The previous government at times turned their back on the LGBTQIA community. The message from the Albanese Government, from Mark and myself today is that we want to stand with you, we want to work with you. We want to make sure that healthcare is equitable, and it's everything that it needs to be for your community, whoever you are, wherever you live. So, thanks very much. I'm going to hand over now to Nicky. 

NICKY BATH, CEO, LGBTIQ+ HEALTH AUSTRALIA: Thank you so much, LGBTQ+ Health Australia is the national peak body in Australia for helping LGBTQ+ health and wellbeing. And this is a momentous occasion for us. It's a momentous occasion for Australia. What we're seeing for the first time is national leadership on our health and wellbeing when we're working towards drawing an end to the health disparities that our communities experience day in, day out. In many areas of our health we are in crisis, it is beyond urgent. And what we've had announced today with a 10-year action plan, and the advisory group and investment in $26 million is nothing other than astounding. This is a momentous occasion for all of us to celebrate, and to come together in looking at and addressing these health disparities. Yesterday, I was also at the round table that the Assistant Minister chaired and facilitated, and that brought together community members with lived experience and our community-controlled member organisations. It was the first marker of how we're going to be working together. And when we hear today, that this will be done with us, that this journey that we're on is a journey that we partner with government on, it truly and utterly is and I am well and truly onboard, as is all of our member organisations and I look forward to being able to come back into the future, to talk with you about all of the things we have achieved for every LGBTIQ+ person in this country. We can all be so so proud today. And I cannot thank this government enough for what you're doing for LGBTIQ people. 

DARRYL O’DONNELL, CEO, AFAO: I'm Darryl O’Donnell the CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. I’m delighted to be here to welcome this incredible announcement from the Albanese Government, Minister Butler and Assistant Minister Kearney of a roadmap, a pathway to better health care loyalty to LGBTIQA+ Australians. Disparities for LGBTQA+ people are shocking. Across every measure of health we see poorer health outcomes for our communities. And so today to have the government announcing a consultation, and a pathway, the development of a National Health Action Plan to address those disparities is something that we welcome very strongly. We have an incredible heritage to build upon, although this today is an announcement that begins a journey for wider LGBTIQA+ health. It's a journey we've been on now for 40, nearly 50 years in our response to HIV. And what we've learned in that response is the community working together with government, researchers and clinicians is the formula by which we get outcomes. In Australia, that formula has led to the lowest rates of HIV incidence in our country, in the world. And that's something as Australians, we can be very proud. And we need to build upon that model. And I thank the government for inviting us in to a new genuine partnership to build up on that model in order to address the outcomes for LGBTIQA+ Australians. 

MORGAN CARPENTER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERSEX HUMAN RIGHTS AUSTRALIA: Hello, I'm Morgan Carpenter, and I'm the executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia. We promote the health and human rights of people with innate variations of sex characteristics. Our population is incredibly diverse with at least 40 different innate variations, sometimes called intersex variations or DSDs. And our population is in some ways quite distinct from other LGBTI populations in intersex traits are innate biological characteristics. And our population is quite different, and the issues affecting our population begin, not even at birth actually, conception and the prenatal diagnosis. So, like my colleagues from LGBTQ+ Health Australia, and AFAO I'm really delighted by the announcements today by Assistant Minister Kearney and I think they provide a really clear opportunity to address the disparities affecting each of our populations, the very distinct health needs of each of our populations. From research to consultation to an advisory body to work constructively. So, I'd like to congratulate the Commonwealth Government on taking this step forward. It's an incredibly positive development. And I'm also so pleased to be working with colleagues in the LGBTI sector, in the health sector. So thank you. 

ANNA BROWN, CEO, EQUALITY AUSTRALIA: Hi everyone, my name is Anna Brown. I'm the CEO of Equality Australia, a national, LGBTQ+ human rights organisation. We too are delighted at this announcement by the Commonwealth Government today, quite simply, this plan, and this funding will save lives. We know that there are significant and really quite outrageous health disparities faced by our communities, both in mental health and in general health. And this national plan, and the funding research will drive the change that's needed to address these disparities and make sure that everyone in our communities can live safe and happy lives. I did want to touch on – Minister Butler reminded me - that of the former federal, well, last time a Labor Government introduced the LGBTI ageing and aged care work that was done, it was so important. And following that work, we had some important reform undertaken to our Sex Discrimination Act, which the Attorney General touched on in his remarks this morning. A really big part of that reform was that the religious exemptions in that Act do not apply in aged care settings. We need to ensure that that Act is changed so that the religious exemptions do not apply in any setting, including health care. Because we know this discrimination in the law drives the health outcomes that we're talking about today. So, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't highlight that inadequacy. And I'm confident that this Labor Government and the Attorney General's commitment to ending discrimination in religious settings will hopefully achieve the outcomes we need in that area as well. I'd like to close by thanking my colleagues in the sector. It's a really proud day for Equality Australia to be standing here with these key partners: with LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, with AFAO, with Intersex Human Rights Australia, and also joined by Joe Ball from Switchboard. But together, we've created a conference that really is shining a light on the human rights issues facing our communities, the key issues, but also looking at the outcomes and actually achieving the outcomes we need to actually move forward as a community. So, this conference, from my perspective is, is achieving exactly what we wanted it to, and it shows the value of coming together and having these conversations. Thank you. 

JOE BALL, CEO, SWITCHBOARD VICTORIA: Thank you Ged for letting me join in. Look, I wasn't preparing, so, this is gonna be quite raw, because this announcement is raw to me, but I feel like I have been waiting for this for 10+ years. We are seeing complete inaction on LGBTIQA+ mental health issues. In fact, we've had an agenda from previous governments, state and federal where they have driven discrimination against our communities, either directly in policies or through the rhetoric they have performed during the elections. So, this is, this moment is both a healing moment for our communities of a turning point in Australia, where we're seeing this real leadership from a new government on LGBTQI+ mental health and preventing suicide. So, my name is Joe Ball, I run a mental health service around LGBTIQA+ - we run two seven days a week helplines in partnership with LHA and our other partner organisations. We have the poorest mental health of any single cohort in Australia. And for the trans and gender diverse community, we have the highest rates of suicide. In a study in Victoria, half of transgender people had made an attempt on their life in the last 12 months. This is a crisis. But I want to be really clear that this is not because of who we are as LGBTIQA+ people, but how we have been treated across our lifetime. So, this moment is very significant. And it shows it is the beginning of a journey. Now, we're not going to turn around those poor mental health and suicide statistics tomorrow. But we have got a plan here. And we've got funding behind a plan to work together and finally start to address an issue. And right now, this moment to me, I am thinking about the people's hands I have held, hugged, and of many who’ve called my service, who are no longer with us. Because they have experienced profound discrimination in their lifetimes. And so, this is for them. And for everybody who is alive, who needs to feel hopeful with LGBTIQA+. So, I didn't plan to speak, that just came from my gut, so you're hearing that just not fine-tuned, but just how I actually feel, and I know so profoundly from the direct people who this will benefit from. So, thank you so much. Thank you, Mark. Thanks, Ged. Thank you to the Labor Albanese Government, not just a promise to get in at election, but delivering it. Thank you.  

CLARA TUCK MENG SOO, PRESIDENT, AusPATH: Hi I’m Clara Soo, I'm the President of AusPATH which is the Australian Professional Association for Transgender Health and I represent the health professionals working in the transgender area. And I'm an out and proud trans woman of colour myself. Hearing all the talks today is difficult to not have actual tears come to your eyes. Because it actually reminds us all of all the trauma that we've actually lived through. So I think I'm very, very happy to hear that the Albanese Government, and Assistant Minister Kearney hears what we say, is responding to it, is actually doing, is taking concrete steps that should help what we do. Those of you who have heard my talk just now would know that I've acknowledged that there's a lot of work to be done within the medical profession itself. Because when you've got all these people who are hurting out there, who did they go to for help but to the medical health professionals? And yet, within the medical helping professions, we still have major barriers to accessing care. We serve lots of lots of doctors and nurses and mental health workers who don't actually have the knowledge and work in this area, who don't actually have the research data to actually help them do the work that they want to do. And yet, also, unfortunately, a lot of people who actually have less than supportive attitudes to people in the LGBTIQ community, in particular, the trans and gender diverse population. So, we need to have a lot more education going up out there. We need to be speaking of the specialist medical colleges, to get them on board to actually provide proper gender affirming care to our population. So, thank you very much. 

TEDDY COOK, DIRECTOR COMMUNITY HEALTH, ACON: Hi everybody, my name is Teddy Cook, I'm the Director of Community Health at ACON. I want to say thank you so much to the Albanese Government for standing up for us in the silence. We can only move forward together. What we know is that our communities are experiencing a crisis. Joe's right, LGBTQI+ people across this country are suffering. We are told that because we can get married now that everything's fine. And that's a lie. The pain, the trauma that we experience by being ourselves is the thing that makes us not want to be here anymore. The service that I run at ACON, that is client services, we deliver mental health care counselling, care coordination and peer services to people across New South Wales. We went through a period late last year; we were experiencing suicide every two weeks. And you won't know about that, because we're not recorded in any system that will let you know that our community is in dire straits. I will tell you that the media has an essential role to play. If you believe that the trans experience is a threat, then please do your own education. You are responsible for the way that many people across this nation think about us. So, think about that when you're writing, when you're speaking about us: ask, have I spoken to a trans person? Do I know a queer person? Have I asked an intersex person about their experience? Because you must listen to us today. It is no longer acceptable for you to be printing articles that talk about my life, and that of my community in a way that makes people I know want to die. It is that serious. It is that stark. ACON is the largest LGBTQ health charity in Australia, and we cannot make the demand today. I can't even imagine my partner organisations trying to meet the needs of their communities. It's not possible. So, thank you for your support. It's just a start. It's just the start of the journey. And you will hear from us more and more and more, because we must keep speaking. 

KEARNEY: Wow, thank you very much, everybody. You can see why this is an important announcement, made very clear by everyone. I'm very proud. I look forward to establishing the Advisory Committee. Getting the Strategy underway, the consultation is going to be most informative. And thank you for your time today. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: How will the Plan work exactly in addressing some of those issues we just had outlined? And will you have particular goals that you're hoping to achieve in terms of perhaps suicide rates? 

KEARNEY: Well, we've established $1.5 million for the consultation, which will inform us, we’ll have the Advisory Council, which will help bring the Strategy together. But I just want to say that whilst the Plan is being established, part of the reason why we need the Strategy is because we don't have the data - we just heard from Teddy, we don't have the research, the proper research to help us inform the Strategy, we’ve got to do all of this together. So, whilst this Strategy is being developed, we will not be stopping, we will be moving forward. And that's why the $26 million in research grants is going to be very important to help inform that. The Advisory Council will tell us the indicators, the KPIs, what they see as success, what they see as necessary. So, I'm not about to preempt that today, we're going to be doing that with the community. And I really look forward to getting that started as soon as possible.  

JOURNALIST: And what kinds of projects – medical research projects - do you intend to fund? 

KEARNEY: That again will be driven by the MRFF. And we hope the community will come forward with their many varied ideas about what they hope to do research in, and that will be driven, of course, by the application process. So, I've been talking with a couple of researchers today, I was talking to Dr Clara before - the research community is very excited about this announcement, and I'm sure that we will get a lot of really quality applications for that funding. 

JOURNALIST: Are there any other areas besides mental health with this, that you'll focus on? What other areas of health are you looking at to deal with this crisis?  

KEARNEY: Well, we'll be looking at models of care as Minister Butler said, like how is the best way to deliver health care, and it'll be across the whole health sector, not just mental health, we really want to make sure that people from the LGBTQIA community feel safe, they feel like they get the treatment that they need, where they need it when they need it. We've also spoken about the intersection with mainstream health services, how that community is treated in mainstream services, how their needs are understood and how they pass through those systems, because of course, from time to time, they will need to go through mainstream health services. So, I imagine it will be right across the whole spectrum. But again, it will be community driven. And they will let us know how they want to run the strategy and where they want it to fall. 

JOURNALIST: What about counting LGBTQ people in the census to understand the extent of the community? 

KEARNEY: Yep, I know that there's a lot of discussion going on about that right now. And I'm sure the Attorney General might have things to say on that.  

JOURNALIST: Minister Butler, there's a Senate Committee looking into reproductive health care at the moment and one of the criticisms is that there is some inbuilt discrimination into the Medicare benefits in that same sex male couples wanting to have a baby by a surrogate aren't eligible for certain Medicare benefits. Will your government remove that discrimination from the Medicare system?  

BUTLER: Well, I'm not going to preempt the outcome of the Senate Inquiry. Senate Inquiries do terrific work in these areas and have the ability to dig very deeply into both evidence, but also community attitudes by allowing public hearings and submissions and I know, there's been a terrific response to this particular Senate Inquiry, and I encourage people to articulate those issues in front of the Inquiry.  

JOURNALIST: We’ve heard in that Inquiry that would cost just $900,000 to remove that exemption, when $1 billion is spent on reproductive health care, surely that’s a drop in the ocean, an easy fix? 

BUTLER: Well, I’m not going to preempt the recommendations from the Senate, I'm pretty confident those issues will be canvassed very broadly. And I'll look forward both to the report and the ability of the government to respond to it. 

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