Minister for Health and Aged Care – interview – Triple J Hack – 30 August 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Tim Shepherd about the new sector-led eating disorder strategy.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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TIM SHEPHERD, HOST: The federal Health Minister, Mark Butler joins me live. Minister, thanks for coming on Hack.


SHEPHERD: What was your reaction to this strategy when you first read it?

BUTLER: I read it last night on a very long plane flight to Melbourne to help launch it, and I think it's a terrific piece of work. This is an area I've been working in for some time. I remember it was almost 11 years to the day since I launched another strategy with the Collaboration when I was Mental Health Minister under Julia Gillard, called Breaking the Silence on Eating Disorders and it was a real good chance to reflect on how far we had come in the past decade.

There is so much more to do. There's a lot of unmet need out there which really spiked during the pandemic, but today was also an opportunity to recognise the formation of this collaboration, which developed the strategy, bringing together doctors and nurses and dietitians – so the clinicians, the researchers, people with lived experience and their families. It’s really done a terrific job at taking the country forward. The strategy launch, for example, included a presentation from one of the world's leading researchers from Harvard Uni in the US, and she said Australia is leading in this area. It doesn’t mean there's not much more to do, it doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of unmet need out there, but there was an opportunity, I think, to reflect on the terrific work that people in the sector have been doing, and it has now charted a path forward for the next 10 years to do even better.

SHEPHERD: I'm sure that is the case, but the experts behind the strategy were pretty honest with their language, calling it a national crisis. It's a pretty strong statement, so what kind of response will there be from government?

BUTLER: We've only just received it, and I read it last night as I said. With the collaboration today, our job now is to implement the strategy over the coming years. There's already substantial work that's rolling out now – very new treatment options, some of them through Medicare, that have been in place for a few years that are making a real difference. Lots of access to psychology support, dietitian support and the like, and we are also – over the last few months – rolling out a number of new community-based interventions, some of which will be delivered by the collaboration – the group that did this strategy, others of which will be delivered by other terrific organisations.


The thing this strategy makes really clear, and this was in April's terrific package as well, is that this is not just a challenge for the health sector, so doctors and nurses and clinicians and the like, this is really a community challenge that we have faced for as long as I have been alive, which is quite a long time.

It goes to the way our culture industry, our advertising, our entertainment industries treat body image, and the sorts of challenges that some people in your package pointed out there. This strategy makes it clear this is everyone's business – it is just not the business of government and doctors and nurses, this is everyone's business to think carefully about some of these body image expectations we're creating, particularly among young girls and boys and young women and young men and be very clear on identifying very early people who are risk of disordered eating.

We heard from some young people in this presentation that on average it takes nine or 10 years for a proper diagnosis to be given. And given these disorders often emerge in adolescence, when people are really at this incredibly important part of their life, with so much opportunity and potential ahead of them, if there is not a quick diagnosis and quick support put in place, their life course can be changed so significantly. That was a message out of today's event, and the strategy as well that I think is an important one.

SHEPHERD: A part of this is obviously going to be improving the healthcare system in Australia and that could come down to funding. You mentioned Medicare, I believe, a few years ago, the former Health Minister Greg Hunt changed Medicare arrangements for eating disorders, so that people can access more subsidised mental health sessions and dietitian sessions. Will your government commit to keeping those changes?

BUTLER: Definitely, and I've paid credit to the work that Greg Hunt, my predecessor as Health Minister did in this area. He did a number of things. This was a really important one. It only happened just before COVID hit, so you know it's been hard, really to assess how that's operating in more normal times, because those were far from normal times, but we're in the process of evaluating them now. And there’s other challenges – it's more than just about finding dollars.

SHEPHERD: Mark Butler, thank you very much for coming on to Hack.

BUTLER: Thanks Tim.

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