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Wednesday, 3 July 2019
Page: 110

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Cabinet) (11:31): I want to start by acknowledging all of those on the other side for whom this is a very powerful and emotional day. A great figure in the life of the Labor Party and a great figure in the life of Australia has passed. He was a friend and a mentor to so many. The member for Watson gave what I would frankly describe as a beautiful speech. It was a recollection of somebody he knew well and who was one of the great icons and mentors. I might just inform the House that it looks like there's a tear in the eye—I won't give it away completely, but it does look like there is—and rightly so. The Leader of the Opposition's acknowledgement was for somebody who was a friend, a mentor, an iconic figure, but, above all else, a human figure. And that was the story for all of Australia. I'm one of so many who had the pleasure of meeting him but I wouldn't say I knew him. Those opposite did. He was their shining light—their lodestar. He was their leader and an inspiration.

I do remember, in September of 1983 whilst I was in my final year of secondary school, watching the America's Cup. We were all enthralled with the whole back and forth of the races and the way Bob Hawke, as the Prime Minister but also as the cheerleader of the nation, captured that spirit. For so long afterwards, it wasn't the jacket—of course, the jacket is hard to forget—it was the ethos, the passion, the joy and the fact that he was able to articulate the mood of the nation to capture it and add to it. It was such a powerful moment in Australia—a unifying moment. I don't think I remember a more unifying moment for Australia. I've said to friends and to family on occasions other than today that that was the singularity of the essence of Australia all brought together. To have somebody who could speak for the country, of and by the country, was just a wonderful sense of who he was.

Something else happened in September of 1983. That was also the month that the Medicare legislation, the Health Legislation Amendment Bill, passed Old Parliament House—same month, same time—one a moment of great joy; one a moment of great import. The interesting thing about that is it was only six months after the government was sworn in. As a legislative achievement, it was a landmark. As a legislative example of rapid, high-quality work, it's almost unparalleled. I was thinking through this today: that that was done within six months was extraordinary. I thought, 'I have some responsibilities in terms of the Public Service; I think I'll take that as an example.' But that Medicare has become a deeply engrained bipartisan commitment.

Only the day before the election was called, I had the privilege in this current role of signing off on the latest addition to the Medicare list—through the work of the Medical Services Advisory Committee, which is the body which administers the items that go on the Medicare list—of Kymriah. Kymriah is a breakthrough cellular immunotherapy. It would otherwise cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the fact that we can make this available through our hospitals for the treatment of adolescent and childhood leukaemia and lymphoma is, in many ways, the great continuum from that which was commenced in 1983. To think that back then you could have said, 'This system will, in the future, help provide not just a treatment but a potential cure for leukaemia and lymphoma'; this week I was informed that six children have already been treated for conditions that were deemed to be incurable. We await the results with hope and with prayers for their families, but with the knowledge that the system begun in 1983 continues to deliver with an absolutely passionate bipartisan commitment.

Indeed, at the moment we have the highest bulk-billing rates on record, something of which I'm immensely proud. The member for Hasluck, the now Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and I have worked together over the last two years in this space to see a nation coming together. That is the test of successful policy—does it continue beyond one administration to the next? I want to acknowledge that.

I also want to acknowledge in the health space the immensely important work that Bob Hawke and Neal Blewett did to take a proactive step at the moment that HIV-AIDS was threatening to spread dramatically not just through the gay community but through the whole of Australia. Their preventive work, which had its controversies at the time, was something of profound importance. I'm delighted to honour the memory of Bob Hawke by informing the House that today we will release figures which show that, in the last year, we have had the lowest rate of HIV infection in two decades. I acknowledge the member for Sydney, the former Minister for Health, who passionately continued the action on HIV. That continuum, that flame, across different governments at different times has meant that we've achieved that lowest rate in 20 years. The addition to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme of PrEP, a preventive medicine to ensure that HIV is not transmitted, has been credited with part of that success, building on the work which dates back to the Hawke government and all successive governments and all successive health ministers since then. I hope that the new foundation which the Prime Minister announced, the Hawke foundation, will contribute to further medical research to give young medical researchers the opportunity to further their careers and to produce breakthroughs that will help the Australian public.

I am somebody who has spent considerable time in the environment space, often opposite the member for Watson. We would disagree on some things but secretly conspire to achieve others. And then there were the things he talked about where I had no idea what his cunning plan was. But good on him on that! To acknowledge what happened with Bob Hawke and the environment is to acknowledge something quite profound. His contribution on Antarctica, I think, may be his most important environmental legacy. The fact is that we've been able to add to it and continue it, and we have a $2 billion program to honour that legacy of protecting Antarctica—something which no Australian government will ever walk away from, in my view. It is because, deeply embodied within the parliament, we have a shared goal of protecting Antarctica that we have a $2 billion refurbishment program for the Antarctic icebreaker. Many of us have worked in this space together. To see that continuum I think is extremely important. What was done on World Heritage, the work in relation to Uluru, Kakadu and Gondwana—all of these things are abiding and then added to.

Finally, Landcare: Landcare has been an immensely important part of the fabric of the Australian landscape—literally the landscape and the people who work in the land. With my great friend Ken Wyatt, we have looked at Landcare projects and other projects over the years, and I never lost the source of that, the origin of that—the work of Phillip Toyne, Bob Hawke and others in bringing that together.

So, on behalf of the government and on behalf of the people of Flinders, I want to acknowledge the work of Bob Hawke; his amazing life. When I met him, what struck me were his dancing, mischievous eyes that he still had in his later years and that immense love of all of the people. As long as he thought you were doing the right thing by the people, he thought you were okay. He was a great figure and he will continue to be a great figure. I want to pass on my best wishes to everybody on the other side—it is a difficult day in a difficult week—and to all of those Australians who will benefit from his abiding contribution to Australia.