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Transcript of interview with Leigh Sales: ABC 7.30: 6 February 2017: suicide prevention trial extended to four regions; Medicare; Cory Bernardi

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for Health Minister for Sport


6 February 2017



Topics: Suicide prevention trial extended to four regions; Medicare; Cory Bernardi

LEIGH SALES: With me now from Canberra is the federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Do you reckon minister you would be able to find some time and head up there and meet with that dad and go for a drive with him and talk to those people first-hand?

GREG HUNT: Yes, I could and, yes, I will. One of the first things I did after coming into the job was to visit headspace in Frankston very near my home, very near my community, and there is no substitute for talking with the front-line social workers and talking with the families affected.

This is an individual tragedy in every case, but it is a national crisis and what we have been doing has made things better, but it is not good enough and it has to be better still.

LEIGH SALES: Well, we heard in that story that six young people in that Clarence Valley region of northern New South Wales have killed themselves in the past year and the people in that community say they are just desperate for services, local resources. You are the minister, what can you do?

GREG HUNT: So the north coast of New South Wales will be one of our suicide prevention trial sites. All around Australia there will be 12 and another four as part of that which we are announcing this evening.

Western New South Wales, Central Queensland, the Darwin region where there is a particularly high Indigenous suicide rate and then in the Geraldton region in WA.

LEIGH SALES: So what will those communities get then as part of that?

GREG HUNT: This is about more outreach workers, people who are on the ground, people who can work with each community and I think it is important to understand that different communities that have higher than average loss of life, terrible tragedy, might have them for different reasons.

So it is about finding the right response for each area. It could be a community with drought. It could be a community with ice. It could be a community with simply a culture and a climate where things have got out of hand and there is just a sense of deep loss or hopelessness.

So, it the right young people, the right front-line workers finding the right approach for each community.

And this, if you ask me what would be the single most important thing that I could do in my job over the coming years, it would be to deal with youth suicide and suicide which covers all of the age groups and mental health, which is an enormous national problem.

LEIGH SALES: We also heard in that story that they were saying it is a three month wait up there if you want services. This is for people in crisis. Under this trial that you are having, will that three month wait be gone and if you ring for help there will be someone there to help you?

GREG HUNT: So I want to make it better. I am only just very briefly in the job, but I have set out from day one that this is my signature focus.

LEIGH SALES: Sorry to interrupt, I want to get some concrete answers for people because they are desperate and they don't want to have to wait for three months. So in these areas you are rolling out your program, can you offer an assurance they will be able to get services straight away as they require them?

GREG HUNT: I won't make a false promise about overnight changes having only just started, but I will make a guarantee that in every one of these trial sites, the goal is to improve services, to reduce waiting times, to make sure that we have better outreach.

There are real resources required. We put just over $4 billion a year into mental health resources in Australia.

I want to see more of that going into front-line resources to boost the work of extraordinary organisations, such as Beyond Blue, headspace, Sane, Lifeline, to have that way that people can reach out and know that they are supported.

LEIGH SALES: And how much money do you think these trial sites are getting, I think these trial sites are receiving $3 million over three years but that is the tip of the iceberg for the problem. You are under budget pressure, your government, how much extra money will you be able to secure come the federal budget this year?

GREG HUNT: We have $192 million we are adding at the moment following on from the election for mental health, for, in particular, suicide prevention, for psychosis and new headspaces.

My goal is to deliver the extra resources for people. It is profoundly important. It is deeply personal for me and that is both mental health and, in particular, youth suicide.

So, I will visit and meet with Emma's family. I, like many Australians, have friends who have lost loved ones and so it stays forever with families and families affected by mental health, it also stays with you. It stays with everybody.

So, my goal is very simple. More front-line workers and just to keep going until that is done.

LEIGH SALES: Minister, while you are here, if I can ask you about another issue in your portfolio, you have only been at it for a few weeks as you mentioned, one of the controversies is the freeze on the Medicare rebate which has made doctors unhappy.

Are you are looking at that? When will there be a decision on whether that freeze will stay or go?

GREG HUNT: I know this is of great importance to the medical community. My first call was to the head of the AMA, Michael Gannon, the medical association and very shortly afterwards to the Head of the Royal Australian College of GPs.

LEIGH SALES: They are waiting for a decision. When will you deliver it?

GREG HUNT: I have met with each of those and I am building a long-term national health plan and if you think of it as, firstly, working with Medicare and doctors and nurses, secondly, the hospitals, thirdly, medical research and, of course, there is the signature personal focus mental health.

As part of the work with the doctors, we are looking at that long-term plan, making sure that we can deliver additional services and work with them on making their practices sustainable.

LEIGH SALES: Will you make a decision on that freeze soon? Is it imminent?

GREG HUNT: I am not going to pre-empt that less than two weeks into the job but I can say that the very first thing that I did was to call both the doctors' organisations but also to meet with them.

LEIGH SALES: You have made that point. I want to quickly get through something before we run out of time. Finally, you look at what is going on in the right wing of the Liberal Party, you look at the opinion polls, is Prime Minister Turnbull on borrowed time?


LEIGH SALES: How is he going to carry on, though, when you have people fracturing off on the right side of your party? It is unknown if Cory Bernardi will be alone or of others will follow and when he is not in a competitive position in the polls, which he established himself as his benchmark for success.

GREG HUNT: I believe deeply in the work and the mission and the task of the Liberal Party and the Coalition. I believe deeply in the work that Malcolm Turnbull is doing.

LEIGH SALES: The trends are all in the wrong direction, aren't they?

GREG HUNT: Delivering in particular in terms of taking the battle on cost of living that affects people's lives, that allows us to give them a lower trajectory on electricity prices and more opportunity at a job and more opportunity at national security and, because of that, then you can also deliver the additional health services.

This is a big task…

LEIGH SALES: If we can stick to the question that I am asking..

GREG HUNT: We can deliver that and we are doing that and that’s what will have an impact on the long term standing and future and (inaudible) of the party.

LEIGH SALES: If we can stick to this for a moment, minister. Minister, what do you think about Senator Bernardi’s decision to defect?

GREG HUNT: Look, I hope that each and every person who committed to the Liberal Party and through that committed to the voters honours that pledge.

It is a sacred pledge that we all undertake when we go to the electorate in an election to carry out our promises, both in terms of our policies, but also our allegiance. I think that is very important for each of us.

I won't discuss individuals, but it is part of the deep belief that we can through being inside a movement with a grand tradition and a grand history of improving Australian lives, continue to improve Australian lives and it is the best place to be to make those changes.

LEIGH SALES: Minister, thank for your time this evening.

GREG HUNT: Thanks, Leigh.