Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 6 October 2023

Read the transcript for Minister Butler's press conference in Adelaide on tobacco control laws; hospital funding; bed bugs.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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JOURNALIST: These polls suggest that the support of all major faith leaders for the Voice is not extended to congregations and government Ministers have been increasingly involved in faith-based events in support of the Voice, such as today. How will your involvement assist in getting that message out, where that of faith leaders has not?


MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: There's been enormous support for faith leaders really since the Uluru Statement was issued back in 2017, because they are so connected to their community and listen to the voices of their constituencies, which are saying it is time to recognise the face of First Nations people in our Constitution, and to give shape to that recognition by listening to the Voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And I can't think, as the Health Minister, of an area of policy where listening would be more valuable than in health. Because we know that, with the best of intentions and substantial investment, we're simply not closing the gap in health outcomes and life expectancy. So a new approach is needed. And I was delighted to be here with faith leaders from right across the spectrum and listen to their support for this referendum, in eight days time.


In eight days time, Australians will get a chance to vote for an enormous step forward in reconciliation in this country. And I just encourage Australians to think carefully about the opportunities that are presented to this once-in-a-generation referendum.


JOURNALIST: Is it possible you leave yourself open to criticism about separation of power in these sorts of involvements?


BUTLER: Our faith communities have got a very long history of supporting disadvantage and advocating for strong progressive social policies. So much of our social community services infrastructure and services are delivered by faith groups and have been for many, many decades. Many of them understand, better than most, the level of disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians, because they provide aged care services, health services, homelessness services to them and have for many decades. So it's always appropriate, I think, to listen to all groups in civil society. The Labor Party has always encouraged a vibrant, democratic approach that hears the voices of all. So we've been so encouraged by the strong support this referendum has received from faith leaders.


JOURNALIST: And going to your portfolio, proposed new legislation will make it an offence for anyone born after the 1st of January 2009 to be sold tobacco products in the UK. So that will effectively raise the smoking age by a year, each year, to apply to the whole population. Have you had your eye on this policy? Any merit to it?


BUTLER: I've been in a conversation with the tobacco control sector over the last many months, really, to understand best practice from around the world. Because we need to update our tobacco control legislation, which has essentially not changed since Labor was last in government. So over the last few weeks I've introduced new generation reforms for tobacco control that followed deep consultation with the tobacco control sector. And those laws are very much based on best practice from around the world. Now a couple of countries, most recently the UK, have announced their intention to phase out smoking through age controls and a range and other measures. We’re looking at all of the examples around the world to learn from them. At the moment, we're focused on getting the current tobacco control Bill that I introduced into the Parliament only a few weeks ago, through the Parliament as quickly as possible. That follows deep consultation with the tobacco control sector and I know has the support of all health groups.


JOURNALIST: You're probably aware the Premiers are meeting in South Australia today, in Adelaide. The Premier has raised the issue about the split of funding between the states and the feds on health and says he can only address - well, it’d go a long way to address - issues like ramping, if the input from the federal government increased. Is he hoping against hope?


BUTLER: We know that National Cabinet will be meeting before Christmas with health the major agenda item for discussion between the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers. So we're preparing right now for that discussion to be productive, to be mature and constructive. Because we know that there is real pressure right across our health system after, firstly, a decade of cuts to Medicare and then a three year, once in a century pandemic. So we're working closely with states and territories right now to roll out more than 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics which will take pressure off very stressed hospital emergency departments. But we know there's more to do. And that's why I'm working very closely with state and territory health ministers to make sure there is really substantial work for National Cabinet to commence at their November or December meeting.


JOURNALIST: And lastly, a question from Canberra is: what plans does the Health Department have in the event of a bed bug infestation spreading into Australia, I presume, through luggage of passengers?


BUTLER: Obviously this is only relatively recent news about bed bug infestations on the other side on the planet. But given the interconnected nature of the world, with the travel resuming after three years of COVID, we’ll obviously be taking advice from relevant agencies about any measures we need to put in place.

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