Press Conference with the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health

October 11, 2017

SUBJECTS: Health and medical research, citizenship, reliable and affordable energy, penalty rates.



I’m here with Greg Hunt, surrounded by so much medical talent, we’re going to hear from in a moment. But I just want to say how inspired we’ve been by the courage of the young people here who are battling with and beating cancer, with the love and support of the doctors and the nurses in this great hospital.

Boronia sang so well for us, Nick on the drums, Zoie on the reverie harp, is that right? And Katerina it was great to talk to you too and just to see the love of your family, all of you supported with strong families, great love and bringing that together with the remarkable sights and professionalism of all the team here.

You're the heroes of today, so thank you.


Now, I mentioned I'm here with Greg Hunt who of course is the Minister for Health and Sport, indeed. Peter Orchard who is the Chief Executive Officer of CanTeen, Professor David Thomas down at the end there, who is the Director of Genomic Cancer Medicine at the Garvan, Anne Kelso the Chief Executive Officer of the NHMRC, the National Health and Medical Research Council, which we're announcing today, is making just under $200 million of additional grants for research.

That is in addition to the $5 million that is coming to CanTeen for research and indeed another $5 million of funding, both that $10 million from the Medical Research Future Fund but we will go into more details about that. But Joey Lynch, a handsome young fellow, fantastic jacket -


What a great coat. Joey has come back from Philadelphia where he has been able to participate in a clinical trial. He is doing well, as you can see. He is in remission and he is passionate about ensuring that more young Australians get access to that cutting-edge medicine here in Australia.

So, let me begin and say a little bit about what's happening here today. We're talking about today particularly the $5 million in funding we're providing to CanTeen from our Medical Research Future Fund, so it can undertake clinical trials here in Australia for adolescents and young adults living with cancer.

The investment will develop the next generation of clinical interventions and best-practice care models for adolescent and young adult cancer patients. It will bring the latest medical innovations within reach of young people in Australia who have - as Joey is going to tell us about - have in the past been forced to travel overseas at great cost. It’ll build on our broader investment in medical research and support for children and young people with cancer. Through our Zero Childhood Cancer initiative, we're providing $20 million to bring together a national network of hospitals, research centres and clinicians, including here on the Randwick campus.

So we are going to hear in a moment from Peter on the progress of the CanTeen project and as I said, from Joey, on how it will change young people's lives.

We are also announcing today over $202 million in funding, over and above the $5 million going to CanTeen, to support our world-leading medical researchers through the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Future Fund. The vast majority of the NH&MRC grants announced today, will provide fellowships to support the careers of some of our most outstanding medical researchers. Through our first-round disbursements from the Medical Research Future Fund, we will also support 13 fellowships under our next generation clinical research program.

Medical research, of course, is absolutely essential to continually improving the health for all Australians and it's something that Lucy and I have always been very passionate about. In fact, we have been passionate supporters of the work here at this hospital, the work at the Bright Alliance, here at Prince of Wales.

This is a fantastic institution and while these young people would so dearly rather not be here, you are nonetheless in the best possible hands. So you've got the best people looking after you and we're privileged to be here to support them.

Now, over $38 million of the funding announced today will support vital cancer research and that includes research to improve outcomes for melanoma patients.

It is World Mental Health Week and we’re reminded of the need for greater investigation of the causes and treatments for mental health. We all have a vested interest in everybody else’s mental health.

My friend, the psychiatrist Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Foundation at Sydney University has a great term; he talks about the ‘mental wealth of nations’. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that everybody else around us, is mentally well, hence initiatives like ‘RUOK?’ and awareness of people around you and showing some love and care for them.

So $29 million is going towards support for mental health research and that includes funding for critical research on the prevention of childhood suicide.

Anne Kelso, the CEO of the NH&MRC is with us today and she’s going to talk to us further about the important research and the researchers that these grants will be funding.

So I will now ask the Minister, Greg Hunt, to say some more about the medical research he is so passionate about and is doing such an outstanding job in marshalling the resources of government to support it, Greg.


Thanks very much, Prime Minister and to Peter and Anne, to Joey and David, to all of our magnificent medical researchers. But above all, to Katerina and to Nick, to Zoie and Boronia, you make us really proud.

Today is, in theory about medical research, in practice it’s about you. It’s about giving our young people hope and a future and an opportunity which might otherwise not be there.

So medical research saves lives and protects lives. It makes us better as a country and it makes us better as humans. To meet these beautiful young people who are on the most difficult of journeys, but with incredible hope and a sense of possibility, because of the care that they are receiving, because of the medical research, to find exactly why we do our jobs and why everybody here does theirs.

In short, as the Prime Minister set out, we’re launching the CanTeen clinical trials today. Joey was able, through the support of CanTeen, to travel to the United States. But in the future, his treatment is the sort of treatment which should be occurring here in Australia. So that everybody has that opportunity.

Our goal is very simple; to give every child and every teenager the opportunity for cancer treatment here in Australia. To work towards the eradication of childhood cancer; a simple, clear, absolute and achievable goal in our lifetime. I think that is the case.

So today, with the CanTeen launch, there is also the launch of the more than $200 million of funding. As the Prime Minister said, cancer is the largest area. Mental health also receives $29 million and then there is $22 million for cardiovascular support. $15 million for injury and $15 million for Indigenous support as well as a focus on diabetes and dementia amongst other things.

But to break it down to something specific, for example there is research which is being done on childhood leukaemias, for those beautiful children that are under one year of age. Their survival rate is lower than children who are older and as a parent, can anybody imagine anything more challenging? So if we can lift those survival rates that will make every dollar worthwhile.

We have research into rejection of chemotherapy in some young children, again, something incredibly important. Then, as the Prime Minister said, research into suicide prevention for young children. So that's why our research matters, because at the end of the day it saves lives and protects lives. Peter.


Thanks, Greg.



CanTeen wants to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister for this wonderful announcement of $5 million for clinical trials with adolescent and young adult cancer patients. It really fills out the picture for us.

The Australian Government has already provided terrific funding that has allowed us to set up world-class youth cancer services for these young patients. Now we can bring clinical trials and add them to that wonderful foundation and give access for young patients to the latest developments and possibilities in treatment.

This will mean the saving of lives for those young people, as well as shaping the future of treatment for young cancer patients here in Australia.

It’s an enormous opportunity and CanTeen is thrilled to work with the Government on taking us forward and with the State and Territory governments that we partner with around cancer services across the country. It’s an enormous day for young cancer patients and thank you very much for coming today.

I’d also like to now introduce Professor David Thomas. We have a clinical trials expert advisory group. Professor Thomas is the chair of that expert advisory group amongst other hats that he wears at the Garvan Institute here in Sydney. But also I regard David as the grandfather of adolescent, young adult medicine here in Australia.

He’s been the person who worked on the first youth cancer service here in Australia at the Peter MacCallum Hospital in Melbourne, so it's terrific to have you here, David.


Thank you, Peter. When I started in adolescent young adult oncology, I fitted the US criteria for adolescents and young adults. I don't anymore. It’s interesting to reflect on how much has changed over the past 15 years since we set up the first adolescent and young adult cancer unit at Peter Mac in Victoria. It’s gone from something that was driven from passion in the community and philanthropy, into a core government investment.

The youth cancer services have literally transformed the care of young cancer patients, providing them with a focus for the first time, to concentrate all of our assets onto improving outcomes. It’s very pleasing for me in particular, a believer in science and the ability of science to transform health outcomes, particularly at this time, to see that potential turned into something in the form of clinical trials.

There is no doubt that clinical trials have to be the standard of care for patients who are fighting for their lives and this will enable youth cancer services to reach forward through that dimension. Through things like genomics, the enormous power of technology to deconvolute cancers to give us clues to how to personalise therapy. Through precision medicine, through trials that are powered in that way, we are going to see this trial's investment capacity, allow that science to enter the lives of the people in this room.

That's my hope, that's my expectation and that's what I want to see happen. A very exciting time. Thank you.



Yes, I would just like to say as the Prime Minister did say, I did go over to Philadelphia last year to take part in my own clinical trial, having been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2008. I had reached a point in late 2015 where I had run out of curative options and there was nothing available in Australia, so I was forced to look overseas. Not just for treatment, but to save my life in a way.

So the fact that now, trials such as the one that I had to secure $600,000 US for, to go on and travel overseas to receive, will now be available in Australia. It's just so, so important to me. Because at its base level, what these trials will be doing is they are going to be saving lives.

The trial that I was on saved my life and these trials that will be running in Australia, are going to save the lives of young Australians that don't have any more options.

So on a very personal level I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister and the Australian Government for this investment because it's going to save the lives my friends and support their families through a time which they never want to go through, but we can do our best to support them in. So thank you for that.



Just to quickly introduce Joey. He is a CanTeen board director, but also has worked very hard, as you can hear, to get access to a clinical trial in the States. I really want to thank Joey for flying up today, to be part of this. He has been an absolute advocate for the needs of young patients here and his story is incredibly compelling. Thank you, Joey. If I can introduce Professor Anne Kelso now to talk about the announcements.


Good morning, everyone. It’s a great honour to be here with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health to talk about the funding that’s being provided today for health and medical research.

The more than $200 million that’s been announced today is just a wonderful investment in the future health and wellbeing of all of us, of all of the Australian community. I think it's very interesting to be doing that in a place like this, where we see the translation of research into the best possible health care for young patients.

It’s also a time when we can see how the combination of Commonwealth investment can be made with state and philanthropic investment, to create these extraordinary facilities where research can be put into practice for the best possible health care. The $200 million-plus that is being announced today is, as the Prime Minister said, largely going to fellowships for our most promising emerging researchers. Which I think will be a launching pad for their ongoing careers in research in Australia and we hope will keep them here for all of our benefit.

But the funding is also going to our international Australian stars, these are our most senior and most respected, most established researchers around the country. So it’s a wonderful opportunity for the Commonwealth to support the careers of our absolute best researchers. Many of those researchers are working in cancer research.

Today also the announcement covers a number of other types of grants and I want to mention just one of those types and those are the centres of research excellence. There are 16 of them being announced today and four of them are in cancer research, one for melanoma, one for our absolute world-leading cervical cancer program, which was enhanced with the announcement of Gardasil 9 by the Prime Minister and the Minister on Sunday - also for the better implementation of research evidence into practice. Finally for a centre which will be focused on stem cell transplantation for leukaemia and the prevention of graft versus host disease, which is a very significant problem for many leukaemia patients.

So these centres are going to be a way of bringing together people around the country, to make sure we continue to be at the absolute leading edge of the delivery of best possible cancer care to all patients.

So thank you very much.


Thanks Anne.


Well, thank you. Thank you all very much. So we have some questions? Happy to take some.


In terms of the $5 million going to CanTeen, how many young lives do you think it could possibly save, with these clinical trials now available in Australia?


Well, the answer of course – I’ll throw to Peter – but just the important thing about clinical trials is that the trials themselves can save lives, but as they demonstrate and prove new treatments, new therapies, of course as that is translated as Anne was saying into clinical work around the country and indeed around the world, the life-saving potential is enormous.

But Peter you might - or have I answered it?



You have got very close, but if I could just add, 150 young people will die from cancer each year. 60 per cent of those will die from either leukemia, sarcoma or a brain tumor. The research we are going to target will be in two to three of those cancer types, depending on the proposals we receive, but the result, the efficacy of those is yet to be tested obviously, but there will certainly be opportunities that weren't there for those young patients if those trials didn't exist.


Prime Minister, if we can jump to another issue?


Just before you do that, before you jump, do we have any other questions on the announcement today or matters of health matters? There being none.


Thank you.


Off you go.


Have you started planning for a possible by-election in New England?


The matter is before the High Court. This is the citizenship matter, as you know. The government, based on the advice we've received from the Solicitor-General, we are confident that the Deputy Prime Minister will be found not to be disqualified from sitting in the Parliament, hence there would be no need for a by-election.


 So you have no plans at all, you are unprepared if things don’t go your way?


Well, look, I’d say this - we're always prepared, but we are confident in the advice we've received.


Prime Minister, on energy policy, the head of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency says that the declining cost of renewables means that in the near future you won't need subsidies or minimal or zero dollars to renewables. Andy Vesey said this week his plan to replace Liddell means he won’t need any subsidies to make it stack up. So what does this mean for you as you’re considering Alan Finkel's recommendation of a clean energy target?


Well, thank you, and thank you very much for that question.

At the Press Club in the beginning of the year in February, I set out the approach that my government is taking on energy, energy policy, and that is to ensure that we are guided by engineering and economics not by politics and ideology. There has been far too much of that in energy policy in years past.

And our approach is one that is designed to deliver at least three things.

Affordable power - above all, you’ve got to make sure that power is affordable, whether it is for families or for businesses, for industry.

Secondly, it has got to be reliable. You have got to know that not only can you afford to pay to turn the lights on, but that when you go to turn them on, they do come on and stay on.

And thirdly, we have to ensure we meet our international commitments to reduce our emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement which we entered into several years ago, as you know.

That's that trifecta that you've got to deliver. It has got to be one that is technology agnostic, so that you are able to use all forms of generation - solar, wind, hydro, coal, gas and others.

And so that's the approach we're taking. It is one based on engineering and economics. Now, already - already this year, look at what we have achieved-


Can I just put you back to the question, though? On subsidies for renewables, post-2020, are they in your thinking or not?


If you just let me finish, what we are doing is ensuring that in addition to the other measures that we have put in place this year, one of which, of course, has already seen wholesale gas prices come down, because there is a shortage of gas on the east coast.

We took strong action to ensure that the gas market here was supplied, and you've seen wholesale prices come down. I think you might have heard that from a number of the people speaking at the AFR conference in the course of this week. That's a sign of our action which is putting downward pressure on electricity prices and, of course, ensuring that thousands of jobs in energy-intensive industries are retained.

We've also taken steps to stop the energy network companies continually appealing the decisions of the regulator so they can jack up the price they charge for the poles and wires. That will in time save billions of dollars for consumers and costs, and of course we've taken action to ensure that people get onto the right retail plan and that's taking, ensuring people can save hundreds of dollars from the here and now.

Longer term, we are putting in place the storage that you need. You know, the reality about solar and wind, great renewable technologies and Ivor Frischknecht is absolutely right, the price is coming down, the cost is coming down, absolutely. But the sun doesn't shine all the time and the wind doesn't blow all the time. So what do you do when the sun isn't shining, and the wind isn't blowing? What do you do on a still night when neither of them are working of the-


Okay, how do you-


Please, you've got to have backup-


Renewables with gas but no subsidies are required – will the new look CET involve any incentives or subsidies for renewables? Can you rule that out now, because a lot of your colleagues are saying that’s what they want?


Well, what I'm saying to you is we are working through this very complex area very carefully. While I'm sure you would like us to announce the next step of our energy policy here today, the Government will do so when we've completed our work and in the normal considered way you expect and you've seen from my Government.

We approach these issues seriously, we are guided by engineering and economics. We are technology agnostic and we will achieve affordable and reliable power and of course, meet our emissions reduction obligations. That's our commitment

But the realities of the declining costs of solar and wind in particular - in fact, solar even more so than wind - is a reality, and I'm keenly aware of that, and that's one of the reasons why we are undertaking the largest single addition to renewable storage, pumped hydro storage, in the country's history.

In fact, it will be the largest pumped hydro facility in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. But that's planning ahead, that will take some years to build. That will be five or six or more years to complete.

So what we're doing is taking steps that ensure affordable, reliable power, and we meet our emissions reduction obligations. We are taking action in the here and now with gas and retail prices in the medium-term, with network charges, and in the longer-term, with ensuring we have the right policy settings in place.


Is the clean energy target still being considered? Is it on the table? Is it going to happen?


We are considering the recommendation of Alan Finkel very, very carefully and we are consulting very carefully with other experts and institutions and stakeholders in the field, and when the government has completed its work, we will make an announcement at that time.

But I can assure you we are, as you've seen, every step we've taken to date, we are being guided by engineering and economics.

There has been too much sloganising, too much politics, too much ideology and frankly too much idiocy and we’re not going to make the same mistakes that were made in the past.

We are not going to see a great rush of solar and wind, for example, as was the case in South Australia with no backup. Look what happened in South Australia. Solar and wind are great. They are great technologies and the cost is coming down, as you said, but they are variable sources of energy.

So you've got to have the backup. You've got to have the reliability. You've got to build that in to the market, to build that into the mechanism that ensures affordable, reliable power and you meet you're emissions reduction obligations.

It is a complex task. There has been too many slogans, too much politics, not enough engineering and economics, and that is the leadership my government is delivering.


Just on another matter, what do you think about the Federal Court rejecting the unions' appeal against penalty cuts?


Well, obviously we respect the decisions of the Court.

Naturally, it is, this matter of penalty rates was considered over a long period of time by the independent umpire, by Fair Work Australia and the unions challenged it, took it to the Federal Court.

These are the same unions that have been trading away their members' penalty rates for years, but nonetheless, they took it to the Federal Court and the decision of Fair Work Australia was upheld. So that is the independent umpire doing its work and its work being confirmed by the Court.


On the Paris Agreement, there were calls this morning from Fred Hilmer and Gary Banks for the government to scale-back its commitment. What is your response to them?


Well, I'm not sure that's a fair assessment of what was said, but the government - in fact, it was made, Greg and I were, Greg was the minister, the Environment Minister at the time and there was a decision taken by the government when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, as you know, to commit to a 26-28 per cent reduction in our emissions by 2030. We're on track to achieve it and we will ensure that we do, and indeed, as Mr Abbott said at the time, Australia is a nation that when it makes international commitments of this kind, keeps them.


Prime Minister, if I can take you back to energy – you spoke a lot there about reliability. We've seen reports in the papers today about Australians being sent text messages asking them to turn off appliances. Has it really come to that, that we rely on the goodwill of Australians to stop the grid from collapsing?


Well, demand management is an important, is a tool in managing the energy system and Josh Frydenberg is announcing today some trials to progress that because there are opportunities for people to, for individual householders to play the sort of role in the energy market that historically only big companies and big industrial establishments can do.

Whether it's with having batteries at home, you know, charged by solar panels on their roof, or by having arrangements with their electricity retailer to perhaps be prepared - power down air-conditioning or a pump for a pool or - it might only be for five minutes at a particular time.

So managing the electricity grid is becoming disrupted by technology, it is becoming much more complex, but also technology is giving us the opportunity to put more power literally, both in terms of electricity and financial power, into the hands of individual consumers.

So this is a time where technology is our friend, but you have to manage the transition guided by engineering and economics.

So you've got to make sure that you are not blinded by ideology and politics and slogans. You've got to make sure - and I will just conclude on this - that you keep the lights on, people can afford to keep them on, and you meet you're emissions reduction obligations. It is a complex area and we make no apologies for working through this very carefully.

Australians expect a better standard, a higher standard of analysis and governance when it comes to energy policy. The days of politics and partisanship and slogans and ideology should be over.

Engineering and economics are our guides. You've seen, as we've rolled out our policy measures to date how careful we've been and we will be just as careful in the future.


On that topic – is Tony Abbott undermining you? Is Tony Abbott undermining you here?


I’ll leave all the personalities to you to write about.

I'm focused on delivering – I’ll tell you what I'm focused on, you can write whatever you like - I'm focused on affordable and reliable power and meeting our emissions reductions obligations. That’s our commitment. That is our commitment. It is a technology-agnostic approach. It is all of the above. Engineering and economics are the guides.

That's what will deliver the right outcomes for Australians - affordable and reliable power and meet those international commitments.

Thanks so much.


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