Doorstop interview, Canberra
Research grants for type 1 diabetes; Future schools funding arrangements; Sugar/salt tax; Medicare rebate

Simon Birmingham:     Minister Hunt and I are thrilled to be here today with the wonderful researchers, the community from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, from Diabetes Australia, from a range of different research institutes to celebrate the announcement of three new innovative research projects, supported by $4.5 million in funding from the Turnbull Government, which really drives new collaboration in research undertakings to help find prevention, cures, treatments for people who have type 1 diabetes. 

This is, of course, something that impacts on around 120,000 Australians, their families, their friends, their colleagues, an enormous impact across the community. And we’ve been committed consecutively, as a government, to make sure that we do all we possibly can to help them to find the breakthroughs that will make a big difference. And you’ve heard today from passionate researchers, but also of course wonderful children who epitomise the people we are trying to help, who of course give us the inspiration to do the best we possibly can. And I know that amongst my colleagues, perhaps nobody has seen and been more moved to help at a personal level, to help at a professional level, than the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt.

Greg Hunt:                   Look, thanks very much, Simon. Today’s really simple: It’s about helping to find a cure for diabetes. It’s about helping 120,000 kids and adults with type 1 diabetes, and it’s about the great human task of medical research, improving lives and saving lives, and it’s part of a broader goal. We have a national health plan built around universal access to doctors and medicines through Medicare, universal access to hospitals, mental health and preventive health as our third pillar, and medical research is our fourth pillar. This is what we do, and it’s a real honour to do something that in some way helps these beautiful kids and other kids get closer to a cure, and we simply won’t stop until it’s done.

Journalist:                                Senator, just on a separate education matter. Bill Shorten this morning has indicated that he’d be willing to work with you on the private schools that are over-funded under the current model. Have you since reached out to Labor today to work out on your new school funding deal?

Simon Birmingham:     Well we will always work with anybody to get good, positive outcomes, whether it is of course trying to get positive outcomes for Australian families in terms of child care and better support there, which the Labor Party is turning their back on, or whether it is ensuring that we have the most effective funding for Australian schools. I was far from convinced this morning in Bill Shorten’s triple train-wreck of an interview that he had any real comprehension of what Dr Ken Boston was talking about yesterday, when Ken Boston made completely clear that the Gonski report is not necessarily about how much extra money is put into Australian schools, but it’s about how you make sure it is delivered to schools in a fair, effective manner, related to need, and used as effectively as possible, and the Turnbull Government have been talking about this for a long, long time. 

Now, Bill Shorten is perhaps this morning at odds with what Tanya Plibersek has been saying for months, and if that is a change in the Labor Party’s position to work more constructively with us, to ensure we get the best bang for our education dollars in the future, then I welcome that, and of course we will, as with anywhere, work with them wherever we can. But the first thing, the thing in this parliament right now that Mr Shorten could do, is help us deliver the savings that can give more affordable child care support and early education opportunities to Australian families.

Journalist:                                Minister Hunt, I’m sure you’ve seen the research by the University of Melbourne which shows if the Government taxed sugar or high cholesterol foods it could save the budget billions. Given the budget problem, is that something that you’d consider?

Greg Hunt:                               Look, our focus has been on accommodation of medical research, and in particular the Sporting Schools program, activity, physical activity, getting young kids out, getting them engaged. We don’t have any plans for what was proposed today. We respect the research deeply, but there are other views as to the best way to do it, and our focus above all else is through the healthy eating programs, and in addition to that through the physical activity. You put those two together and that’s our approach to achieving the same outcome.

Journalist:                                Three billion dollars is no small amount of money. Is it something that the Government would consider in the future?

Greg Hunt:                               Look, it’s not something we’re planning. We’re not proposing any new taxes in that space.

Journalist:                                Mr Hunt, just on Medicare. The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that Government might be ready to revisit the Medicare rebate freeze, and I understand you’ve met with the head of the AMA today, or spoken with them. Can you give us enlightenment on how those talks went, and can we expect any movement on that rebate soon?

Greg Hunt:                               The very first call I made after being announced as Health Minister was to the head of the AMA, Dr Michael Gannon – really an outstanding Australian – and almost immediately afterwards I spoke with the head of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Dr Bastian Seidel – just another outstanding medical leader in the country. I’ve actually had a number of talks with each of those leaders and with many others in the sector; we’re working very constructively, very constructively. 

So first-class constructive discussions as part of the long-term national health plan. So our overarching framework is a long-term national health plan built on the four pillars of universal access to doctors and medicine as part of Medicare, universal access to and the quality of our hospitals, mental health and preventive health as a fundamental third pillar, and medical research. So we’re working on that long-term plan, and I’ve got to say I couldn’t be more heartened by the discussions and the quality of engagement with the doctors in the AMA.

Journalist:                                So when can we expect some movement on the rebate?

Greg Hunt:                               Look, I won’t be putting any timeframes on it. This is a process in good faith; the Prime Minister’s statement was part of that process. He made a very clear, open invitation to the medical community and they’ve responded with equal good faith, and I’ve got to say I am very happy, very heartened and optimistic about a resolution.