The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
20 March 2022
SKY NEWS INTERVIEW
WITH KIERAN GILBERT
Topics: Genomics Australia, Mental Health Funding, Retirement
And let’s go live now to Mount Martha in Victoria. I’m joined by the Health Minister Greg Hunt, live from his electorate. Mr. Hunt, thanks very much for your time.
Let’s start with significant news on the health front. You’ve got a pre-budget announcement to make on this show this morning. And it’s basically about tailoring medical treatments more effectively and specifically to the individual. Is that right?
Correct. So, genomics is the ability to look at a person’s DNA and to either diagnose a condition or a problem, and to prescribe a specific treatment for them.
So, to think of it this way, there’s a beautiful young girl, Ellie, who was part of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program. She had a sarcoma in her chest. It wasn’t able to be treated. The tumour was sequenced. It was discovered. She had a very rare condition. There was a particular medicine, we were able to source it from overseas. At 11 months, this beautiful girl had a very bleak future. She’s now four years old because of the science of genomics coming together with the available treatments.
And that’s what we want to do, right across Australia. We’re announcing the creation of Genomics Australia, which will work under the leadership of Professor Kathryn North, the Director of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
So, she’s one of the world’s great paediatric genomic researchers and leaders, to establish over the course of the coming decade genomic treatment. Genomic diagnosis is what’s called standard of care, available to everybody, and that’s about finding the right diagnosis and the right treatment.
It’s about precision medicine or tailoring treatments to individuals. And Australia can be a world leader. We’re already at the forefront, but we want to be the leading nation in the world for genomic medicine, saving lives, creating jobs.
Absolutely. And that makes sense. Something else that makes sense is what Andrew Clennell said earlier, about the Government planning some additional mental health funding in this budget in the post-COVID world. It’s crucial, isn’t it? Have you got any further detail that you might be able to shed light on that for us?
Sure. So, mental health is certainly a significant feature of the budget. It’s one of the four pillars of our long term national health plan of primary care, with a very strong focus on access to new medicines and better treatments to support our doctors.
The support for our hospitals and private health insurance medical research, which we were just talking about. And mental health is one of the four pillars. And so, we’ll see more on that in the course of the budget.
But a real focus on youth suicide, of helping to protect young people. It defied all the expectations, that because of what we were able to do in tailored support for mental health, we actually had a reduction in suicide in Australia of 5 per cent in 2020.
We’re still awaiting the final figures for 2021. We want to see it go lower, we want to see it head towards zero. But the fact that in a global pandemic we defied all the predictions, says that our clinicians, our counsellors, the programs we put in place, the partnerships with the states, all of these things helped to protect Australians and there’ll be more of that on mental health and youth suicide protection, in particular in the budget.
This is probably one of our last chances to chat before the Federal election. You’re retiring, wrapping up your political career. You’ve been Health Minister during a once in a century pandemic, extraordinary times. How do you reflect on that period?
I’m immensely proud of Australia. I believe we are a stronger and a better country than many acknowledge. The resilience of Australians, the fact that we have had one of the lowest rates of loss of life in the world, one of the highest vaccination rates.
We’re at 96.5 per cent of people who’ve come forward to be vaccinated, and an unemployment rate of 4 per cent. I was just talking with Josh Frydenberg this morning. You know, he believes that can go lower, and that comes at a time of record participation. So, the equal lowest unemployment rate in 48 years, record participation.
All of these things are about the fact that Australians are incredibly innovative. Give them a chance. They can help find solutions. Our job was to create the environment in which we saved lives and protected lives, but also protected employment. And that’s going to lead to a downwards pressure in terms of the costs on the budget.
So, the fiscal situation will be better than had previously been expected, as Josh Frydenberg said on Friday. And that combination shows that as a country we were able to be one of the world’s leading nations in the pandemic and we did that by pulling together.
Sure, there are challenges, but when you look around the world, virtually the whole world looks at Australia and says we wish we had an outcome like theirs. And that’s just all honour and credit to the people of Australia.
Any regrets through the period? And what’s next for you once you wrap up in Parliament?
Look, I only have one regret, and that’s time with my family. I’ve never been as good a dad as I would have liked to have been. You try to be present, but even when you’re there in person you may not be fully present because of the demands of the role, which is what you sign up for.
But having said that, I leave optimistic about Australia, optimistic about the party in which I’ve had the privilege of playing a role, and optimistic I’ve got a magnificent potential successor in my seat of Flinders in Zoe McKenzie. So, optimistic on all of those fronts.
But personally, I’m excited, I get to be a dad, and my nearly 17-year-old daughter and my 12-year-old son, for this point in time, they’re excited as well. To be a dad and to be a husband, that’s really thrilling. I’d like to do some work in mental health, and then the rest, that’ll take care of itself after mid-May. I’ll deal with all those things there. But a little bit of time to focus on family, maybe some Pilates and possibly a discreet tattoo, who knows, Kieran. Some time for self.
But above all else, being a dad, work on mental health, and in terms of the next phase of the career, I’m quite enjoying saying to everybody: come back to me after mid-May. And right now I am focused on the long-term national health plan, the 10-year primary health care plan, the 10-year Medical Research Future Fund plan, the work we’re doing on rural health.
So it’s a grand final, final season, I’m going to run right up to the line, and there are a lot of health things to do in the meantime. And it’s always a privilege in this role, but it has been a privilege to just see a country that it is extraordinary.
I’m talking to you from the Mount Martha Surf Life Saving Club, they’re doing training in CPR today, they’re doing training in rescue techniques. As soon as I leave this room they come in to do the training. And that’s just the best of Australia, people looking out for each other.
During the course of the pandemic we beat the expectations, A, because of the plan and the work and the leadership of Scott Morrison, but B, because of just the sheer resilience and strength of the Australian population. And in particular our medical teams, our nurses, our pathologists, our doctors, and I just want to thank everybody in that health sector.
Just finally, you talk about the leadership of Scott Morrison. As you know, his approval rating is down, the primary vote is down. We saw the South Australian election, obviously you can’t always extrapolate one to the other. But are there any lessons out of that result that your federal colleagues can take ahead of the general election in May?
Two very clear things: a clear plan for the economy and a clear plan for national security. Scott and Josh and Peter Dutton and Marise Payne and that leadership team, Barnaby Joyce, they have that clear plan for the economy. That’s what the budget is about. They also have a steely-eyed approach to national security.
The PM saw things coming before almost anybody else. He’s been very clear about standing up for our national interests, and that can be difficult and challenging. But he stands for our national interests and we stand for the national economy and keeping people employed and giving them hope.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, appreciate your time today, and we’ll see you soon, appreciate it.
It’s been a pleasure, Kieran, you take care.