Doorstop interview in Melbourne
Wednesday, 31 January 2018
Topics: Launch of the National Asthma Strategy, Bill Shorten’s plan to hurt 13 million Australians with private health insurance, codeine, cabinet records, Ron Walker
I’m delighted to launch the National Asthma Strategy today. We know that there are 2.5 million Australians with some form of asthma; that there are 40,000 hospitalisations a year; and more than 400 people lose their battle with asthma every year.
So, this is about saving lives and protecting lives. It’s about giving parents and Australians of all ages the chance to manage asthma and to have a long, full, rich life.
In particular, I’m delighted to announce $1 million for the Asthma in Schools program. This will give better advice to teachers, more confidence to parents and more independence to students.
Jonathan, I might ask you to say something, and then Amelia from Collingwood, and after that, I’d be happy to take any questions.
DR JONATHAN BURDON:
Thank you Minister. The National Asthma Strategy is about getting better asthma outcomes for people with asthma in this country. We know that the death rate’s something in the order of 400-odd each year, and that’s reached a plateau.
We know that many people with asthma who are prescribed regular medication do not take it regularly. We know that people with asthma who take reliever medication may rely on it far too much. We know that there are not enough action plans out there.
The National Asthma Strategy is about getting education out to all healthcare professionals so we can improve the outcomes of asthma in this country.
So, I was playing football for a long period of time undiagnosed with asthma. Not long after that, I went to Collingwood Football Club, where they sent me off and I got checked up and got diagnosed with asthma.
So I went on a preventer, and within a couple of weeks all my symptoms had gone and I can live a normal life and play elite football.
Well done, Amelia. Alright, happy to take any questions.
Where’s the priority going to be for these students? Obviously, it’s not going to be every student, every teacher, so where will they be targeted for this strategy?
So we’ll now work with Asthma Australia and the National Asthma Council on the priorities. Obviously, we’ll be focusing initially on those students who are most at risk, but we’ll develop the rollout precisely in conjunction with the experts, as we should.
How long has this strategy been in the making for?
So the strategy’s been under development now for some considerable period. I don’t know, Jonathan, when you were first engaged.
DR JONATHAN BURDON:
Yes, about three years, Minister.
What do you think about Bill Shorten’s backflip on private healthcare rebates?
So what we’ve heard are weasel words from Mr Shorten today. Before the 2007 election, Labor said that they wouldn’t touch private health insurance and then took an axe to it.
Now what we’ve heard is that he won’t abolish the private health insurance rebate, but he’s left everything else open.
What that means is that when you take their existing proposal to abolish low-cost premiums, which would have a 16 per cent impact on private health insurance, and the capacity to slash the private health insurance rebate, pensioners could face a 50 per cent increase in their private health cost.
Private health is fundamental to the Australian system and to individual choice and to individual peace of mind. Mr Shorten must rule out any changes whatsoever to the private health rebate.
Well, he did that this morning on TV, just one day after he was saying that he wouldn’t commit to that. Isn’t that a strong statement from him?
No, this morning he said that he would not abolish the private health insurance rebate, but he’s left open the possibility of dramatically and catastrophically slashing the private health insurance rebate.
That’s why I say they’re weasel words, because whilst he’s ruled out 100 per cent abolition, he’s left open everything from zero to 90 per cent.
And what does that mean? It means higher costs for pensioners, higher costs for families, and prohibitive access for young people.
Private health is simply about giving people choice and peace of mind and keeping down hospital waiting lists for public hospitals.
Minister, will the codeine ban result in people doctor shopping, as such, and accessing stronger drugs?
So we’ve been working very closely with the Pharmacy Guild, the Pharmacy Society, the College of GPs and the AMA. The early indications are that they’ve not seen a spike on that front.
We’re introducing a real-time prescription monitoring program with $15 million – the first national program in Australia’s history, and that comes about directly as a consequence of our need to address not only over-the-counter products, but also prescription products.
So our goal is very clear – to make sure that we are dealing with opioid addiction, and that we are saving lives.
What about for the people who can’t afford to go to the doctor and get a prescription?
Well, that’s why there are two critical things. One is we have the highest level in Australian history of bulk-billing now – 85.9 per cent.
What does that mean? It means that people go to the doctor and they don’t pay. So the highest level of people going to the doctor for general practitioner visits without having to pay in Australian history.
But also working very closely with the Guild, the Society, and the pharmaceutical companies. There are alternatives available over the counter.
The AMA, the College of GPs and others have talked about the fact that the ibuprofen and paracetamol combinations will be far more effective in the vast majority of cases.
What is your response to the leaks today about Kevin Rudd and the insulation batts scheme?
Sure. So I’ve already spoken about the particular reports on that. More generally, I understand that it’s a broader issue, and the Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is investigating.
Let me just say this. As somebody in Opposition, without the knowledge of what was before the Cabinet of the day, we made it clear that this was a risky and dangerous program before the first loss of life, and then after the first loss, and then after the second, and then after the third, and it was only after a fourth young man lost his life that finally they listened.
So they wouldn’t listen to the Opposition, they wouldn’t listen to the experts, and now it appears that they wouldn’t listen to their own advice.
It’s up to the ALP to respond as to what they did know and what they were warned, but our public warnings – before the first tragedy – were clear, open, and indeed, we’d approached the Auditor-General at the time.
What do you think about highly sensitive documents relating to national security that have been found in a cabinet being sold in a second-hand store in Canberra?
I don’t have any of those details, and as I say, my advice is that the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet is launching an investigation, as is entirely appropriate.
Do you think that there’s a threat to national security though?
Again, I’ll leave that to the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who’s taken the steps, as he should.
Sorry, just shifting gears. Ron Walker. Yeah, let’s just have a comment on him. He said that one of his greatest life achievements was championship of the melanoma drug and his involvement with the PBS, so what are your thoughts on that?
So I had the great privilege of knowing Ron very well, and he was a wonderful Australian and an extraordinary Victorian. Deeply compassionate man.
I knew him when I was just a little boy. He was a family friend, and so it’s a very personal loss. But he was also a great champion of medical research and a great champion of new access to better cancer drugs.
He played a critical role in Keytruda being made available for melanoma, and potentially now it’s under consideration for expansion across a much wider range of different forms of cancer.
So he contributed to Victoria and Australia, but he’s also helped save the lives of many, many Australians.
It was a wonderful life, and I’m personally deeply sorry to see his loss. Thank you very much.