The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
2 February 2022
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: Scott Morrison’s leadership; aged care bonus payments
Well, today the Federal Government has announced bonus payments of up to $800 as a thank you to aged care workers for their efforts over the past two years.
Greg Hunt is the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, and he joins me on the line this afternoon. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And good afternoon, Jim.
Minister, before we get to this aged care bonus, which I think is great news for those working in aged care, I just want to play some audio of a question that was put to the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon at the National Press Club.
This is reporter-journalist Peter van Onselen. Just have a listen to this, Minister.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Peter van Onselen, Network Ten. Prime Minister, at the start of your speech, you mentioned your close friendship with Marise Payne. I wanted to ask you about another close friend, Gladys Berejiklian and- somebody that you wanted to run actually at the next election.
I’ve been provided with a text message exchange between the former New South Wales Premier and a current Liberal Cabinet minister. I’ve got them right here. In one, she described you as, quote, a horrible, horrible person. Going on to say she did not trust you, and you’re more concerned with politics than people.
The Minister is even more scathing, describing you as a fraud and quote, a complete psycho. Does this exchange surprise you? And what do you think it tells us?
Well, I don’t know who you’re referring to or the basis of what you’ve put to me, but I obviously don’t agree with it, and I don’t think that’s my record.
[End of excerpt]
Federal Health Minister and Minister for Aged Care, Greg Hunt, is on the line, Minister, how do you react to that?
Look, my response is, whilst I don’t know the origin or nature of it, I’ve had the privilege of working with the Prime Minister during the course of the pandemic, and to me, he’s one of the finest, most decent, most capable, most hard-working people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet or work with in my life.
I believe in the guy immensely and profoundly. And I’ve got to tell you, this summer, as last summer, the last two years, he hasn’t taken a break. He’s worked right through. He’s cancelled all his leave. He’s done it again and again and without complaining once in all the time that I’ve spent with him.
And his decisions, closing the border, working to create the National Cabinet, to help create vaccine manufacturing in Australia, they’re the things that have helped save over 45,000 lives compared with the UK, over 30,000 lives compared with the OECD. That’s the measure of the work.
And just to somebody who’s worked with him, I’m leaving to be with my family, but I will miss the work with the Prime Minister and with Josh and with other colleagues immensely, and that’s because of, you know, he’s one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
So I’m a bit emotional about that. I hadn’t heard that before. But I think it’s time for somebody to stand up and say it’s always controversial being in Parliament. It’s always controversial being in the ministry or being the prime minister.
But a country which has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest rates of loss of life and strongest economic recoveries, in the end, the single person who’s most responsible for that is Scott Morrison.
Are you shocked and disappointed that a former Liberal Premier would say such a thing and that a colleague of yours, a senior Cabinet member, would respond the way that he did?
Well, look, I’d always want to check and verify. So let me be cautious on those things. But I tell you what, it’s not my view.
And the Cabinet, when you look at it, it’s arguably the most united Cabinet since the 1960s. And the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, between Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, you would struggle in Australian parliamentary history to find a stronger leader and deputy relationship.
That moves through the whole Cabinet. And that speaks volumes of both of them, each of their integrity. All the things which have bedevilled these relationships over the last hundred years, they’re not there in this case.
And they’re both profoundly capable, intelligent human beings that if you were starting a pandemic, they’re the two people I would choose from all of Australia to manage the pandemic. And if I had a blank sheet, I would have chosen those two people to do it.
Let’s talk about this aged care bonus that’s been announced, as far as these two $400 payments. When will it begin, and when will people get their money?
Sure. So the aged care bonus, it’s an $800 payment made up of two instalments and so those workers who were employed on 28 February will receive a bonus of up to $400 and with another instalment up to $400 for workers employed on 28 April. And so obviously the payments will be made shortly after those two dates.
And what’s really important is this is both a retention bonus, but it’s encouraging workers to come back into the sector.
We know our aged workers have done an extraordinary job. It’s the fourth such bonus payment we will have made and its encouraging people to stay in the profession, to come back to the profession, and also recognising and rewarding the extraordinary service of these amazing Australians.
Do you think it goes far enough though, Minister, considering that the base salary is so poor for those that work in the aged care sector?
Well, it’s been a very important part of what we’ve done. It’s previously been welcomed by the ALP when we’ve done it. We’ve expanded it out now so that it includes food and cleaning services, in addition to those that are providing direct care, the nurses and the personal care workers.
And I hope that the ALP would not renege on this. We’re committed to it, I hope that they can commit to it and promise not to take it away if they were ever in government, because we’ve made that commitment, and we hope the day would honour it if they were to come into government.
But what we’ve done is we’ve also just added $18.3 billion through our response to the royal commission over the May budget and then the December midyear economic update. And that goes into aged care and that is about supporting residents and supporting staff. And so that’s a huge increase in funding to aged care, the largest in Australian history, both in terms of an aged care response, but also a royal commission response.
And so this is recognising that supporting good staff is supporting quality care in aged care.
New South Wales Health has reported the higher rate of age care deaths among those who haven’t had their booster yet. Obviously, Omicron has forced a lot of plans and targets to be adjusted, so when will every aged care resident in Australia have had the opportunity to get their booster shot?
The expectation is that that should be completed this week.
So the latest advice that I have is that we have approximately 99 per cent of facilities that have received booster visits and the remaining facilities are those that have had outbreaks or issues with their staff or the vaccination provider staff, who because of outbreaks or being close contacts have not been able to be there.
So in essence, it’s overwhelmingly complete. It’s about six weeks ahead of schedule. And you know, at this stage we also have 99 per cent of aged care staff who are vaccinated. We think one of the highest rates, if not the highest rate in the world.
You’re bowing out of politics in a few months’ time. How concerned are you about yesterday’s Newspoll that has the primary vote well in Labor’s favour, 41 to 34, just months before an election? Can you turn things around?
Look, I absolutely believe that. This is roughly where things were at before the last election, where things were at two years ago and obviously the public support will go up and down.
And people have had a challenging summer. Omicron around the world has been really hard and Australia has not been spared that but we have been spared some of the sort of catastrophic poll that we’ve seen overseas.
But each life lost has obviously been an agony for the families involved. The simple test is, ultimately, this will be a choice.
It’ll be a choice between Scott Morrison, who has helped deliver one of the strongest outcomes in the world And Anthony Albanese, who, only on the weekend, when asked to provide any detail about rapid antigen tests just collapsed, wasn’t able to provide, you know, when he was talking about a change in programme, couldn’t provide any detail.
You have to be able to tell the country what you’re actually about, what you’re going to do. And if you’re offering higher electricity prices and higher debt and higher cost of living, and last time you were in you stopped listing medicines, I don’t think you’re the person to be prime minister of Australia.
Minister, as always, thank you for your time this afternoon.
Thanks Jim. Take care.
Good on you. That’s Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.