Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health

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Sky News interview with Laura Jayes

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Topics: ‘Get the Facts’ child immunisation campaign; low immunisation locations; Million Minds Mental Health Mission. 

The Federal Government has at the weekend launched a new immunisation campaign because some parts of Australia are falling behind. So this campaign is really directed at parents. Joining me now is the Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Greg Hunt, thanks so much for your time. We’ve spoken about the importance of immunising your children in the past; where are the worst areas in Australia for not getting this done?

So, areas such as the Gold Coast hinterland, the Richmond Valley in northern New South Wales, some of the inner urban areas in terms of inner Sydney, inner Melbourne, and inner Adelaide, Margaret River amongst others. 

So, they’re the areas we’re focusing on and, in particular, now we’re able to micro-target through Facebook, through Google, through GP practices.  We’ve got the data about those individual areas. 

And immunisation just saves lives. It protects the lives of your children, it protects the lives of other children. And we’ve got a 94 per cent one year old rate, a 90.5 per cent two year old rate and a 93.5 per cent five year old rate. We need to drive, not just across the country, but in each area towards that 95 per cent herd immunity.

Okay. Where are the- we talked about the worst areas, but where are these parents who are not getting their children immunised getting their information from? Are they getting misinformation or are they just falling behind in keeping up to date with the shots and when they should be going to the GP?

So, you have a mixture of the two. Sometimes it might be that a parent isn’t aware or they’ve missed the messages. Sometimes it might be that they have doubts. I think the Chief Medical Officer made the point that, off the back of our research, there are about 2 per cent of the population that are anti-vaxxers. 

Now, we disagree with them, but we’re really focusing on the next 10 per cent, who have some doubts or uncertainties. And the messaging here is very, very clear, that immunisation is both safe and it saves lives. 

We have people such as the beautiful mother of this gorgeous baby, Dana McCaffery. Toni is the mother and she’s talking about the loss of her little one to whooping cough. Too young to be immunised, caught the illness from other, unimmunised, older children. 

That message is so clear and so strong. We have Professor Ian Frazer, the founder of the Gardasil vaccine, which is going to protect against HPV and cervical cancer. So, such a human story and such an outstanding global leader in immunisation. This is what gives people confidence and it’s what gives them motivation to protect their children.

Well Minister you say that you can target these specific areas now with social media like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Instagram, and the benefits of that targeting that you can do through social media is extraordinary, but at the same time, there’s a lot of misinformation. Things we might call fake news  that also flow throughout those platforms as well. 

We just heard a really interesting address from Kelly O’Dwyer. She said, in her capacity as Minister for Women, she’ll be meeting with Facebook, Google, and other companies like that on a quarterly basis to make sure that cyber-bullying is tackled. Will you consider doing the same thing when it comes to misinformation, particularly when it comes to immunisation, but also more broadly misinformation about medical diagnoses?

Well, we jump on this wherever we see it. I’m always happy to meet with, and I think it is a sensible suggestion to be engaged with the leaders of those companies on where there are unsafe and dangerous messages. I take it as a big, important responsibility. 

We saw a hoax, and I remember calling it out on your program before Christmas, a hoax, a myth, a fantasy, in relation to some of the figures allegedly coming out of the United States. 

These were bogus and we will continue to call them out, but I will also be approaching the leaders of some of the Australian social media outlets of the great global organisations to ask them to take all steps to ensure that dangerous messages, which can literally kill children and take their lives, are also clamped down on.

Yeah, absolutely. And this also can flow over into where we look at mental health. And I know that you’ve launched the Million Minds Mental Health Mission, quite a tongue twister there, Minister.

Sorry about that.

But essentially this is an acknowledgement that there are better ways to do things. There is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to mental health. 

Are our health professionals, are our political leaders getting better at recognising that the one size fits all approach perhaps isn’t even a 100 size fits all, like, there are so many different cases out there, they just almost need to be treated individually.

Look, that’s absolutely right. Mental health affects virtually every family with 4 million Australians a year who are impacted. I know my family has been affected. I know that many, many other families right around the country are affected every day, every month, every year. 

So, whilst we put in over $4.2 billion a year into mental health through the different channels, what we also need to be doing is looking at the new diagnoses, new treatment and above all else prevention. What are the steps that we can taking, looking at the best programs around the world  and Australia, through headspace and others, has many of the best programs, but what are the next steps that we can take. 

So, the mental health mission, the Million Minds Mission, which we’re now developing up with some of the best people in Australia, such as Professor Helen Milroy, Professor Ian Hickey, the great Pat McGorry, and so many others, is about the next wave of mental health treatment. 

So, I don’t want just research, I want clinical trials. In other words, helping people, getting the feedback, looking at it in terms of the research outcomes and then improving the next wave and the next wave. 

So we want to do a long-term program of absolutely targeted treatment and research, which will then continue to inform the next round of treatment. At the end of the day, we want to help change 1 million lives.

And just finally, Minister, a lot of this comes down to breaking down the stigma when it comes to mental health, and more broadly suicide. It’s something that we don’t report on every day here at Sky News, unless it’s something like, sadly, the case of Dolly Everett or in other cases a celebrity. 

Where are you at when it comes to the reporting of suicide, because there seems to be a divergence of views now? I’ve often spoken to different people on this program about how the media should handle the reporting of suicide. Some have suggested we should handle it like we report the road toll every Christmas. What’s your view?

I think the media balance on this is correct at the moment. There are differing views, but the best advice that I have is we need to talk about the risk and the issues, but to focus on individual cases can inadvertently create what’s called a clustering effect. 

So, it’s about identifying that, if you have a problem, if you can feel that you are heading down the path, it’s the right thing to seek help. The world is better off with you than without you. That’s a very strong message which is coming through from the mental health and the suicide prevention community. 

So to be fair I think the media has got the balance right. Generally, we need to talk about the problem but not the individual cases because of the clustering effect, because of the impact that it can have on young people, and to say, above all else, there are ways through, and whether it’s beyondblue, whether it’s Lifeline, whether R U OK?, whether it’s headspace, where you can walk through the door or you can go online to eheadspace or headtohealth in the middle of the night. 

There are avenues. You are not alone. That’s such an important message. If you ask me my view, I think you’re in the right place, but being able to talk about the general problem rather than the specific case is probably the right balance.

Minister Hunt, there’s never enough time to talk about these two issues, but we will have to leave it there. Thanks so much, we’ll speak again.


Thanks, Laura.  


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