Source: Prime Minister of Australia
PROFESSOR STEPHEN CLARKE OAM: Thanks everyone for coming today. I’d like to welcome you to the Northern Cancer Institute at St Leonards. I’d particularly like to welcome the Health Minister and Prime Minister to our facility to prove again today what a wonderful institution the PBS is and how much it benefits all of us in Australia and how it’s the envy of people around the world and particularly today an announcement that will help patients with non-small-cell lung cancer which is one of the big cancer problems remaining for us in the cancer world. So, I welcome the Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Well thank you Professor. It’s wonderful to be here with you and of course with the Minister Hunt. And Pernille it’s wonderful to meet you today. We’re very pleased to hear how your treatment is proceeding and being able to do those rounds of golf again. That’s great news when we hear those stories. $10.6 billion is what we’ve invested in listing PBS drugs since we came to government. It is of the highest priority of my government that we list these drugs and that we have a budget that can achieve that. And today we’re making an announcement of a further three listings which Greg will go into more detail about in lung cancer and leukaemia and for chemo treatment. And on top of that some serious savings across some other drugs which will assist those who are going through their treatments, to make life just that little bit easier. And these are lifesaving drugs. They’re also life changing drugs. As Pernille was telling us about earlier when we met.
When you have a strong budget, when you can bring the budget back into a position of strength as we have done over painstaking budgets over the last six years and now to be moving into surplus and also to be able to continue to list these drugs which make such a big difference to people’s lives. That’s why you do it. That’s why you exercise the restraint and care when you’re putting budgets together so you can put yourself in a position where you can make these commitments. So we are meeting the demands and there are many high priorities but there are few if any which are as high as ensuring that Australians get access to affordable medicines. I mean these drugs will save up to about $190,000 per course of treatment and bringing that down to just 40- just over $40 and $6.50 on concessional treatments. It is one of the mainstays of the wonderful health care system we have in this country supported by a strong budget, supported by setting priorities and understanding the things that we need to fund most urgently. And that is certainly the case with the PBS. So Greg, you’ve been able to list even more here. You can add it to a very long list of drugs that are changing people’s lives. And it was great to meet some of the patients here today and seeing the huge difference it’s making to their lives. This wouldn’t be possible if Greg wasn’t doing the tremendous job that he’s been doing as Health Minister for several years now and ensuring these drugs are getting listed. But just take us through the details Greg.
THE HON GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Look thanks very much Prime Minister, to Professor Clark and in particular to Pernille, today is about saving lives and protecting lives and it’s about the patients such as Pernille and David and Barry and so many others who are here at the the Northern Cancer Institute, to hear Pernille’s story of the progress she’s been making, stage four metastatic lung cancer, is to actually see a modern medical miracle unfolding before our eyes and you know, some months ago she was struggling terribly with the fact that she was able to play not just one or two or even three but four rounds of golf on the weekend indicates what these medicines can do. And so we’re delighted today to be able to provide medicines for three different sets of treatments. Avastin and Tecentriq together would otherwise cost up to $190,000 as the Prime Minister said, they’ll now be available as of tomorrow for over 750 patients. For stage four lung cancer for either $40.30 or $6.50 for concessional patients. That’s life changing, life saving. And it’s a cost which would otherwise be beyond the reach of virtually every Australian family and patient. This changes things and it changes things because we can do it and we should be doing it. And we are doing it. In addition to that Besponsa and Blincyto they will be made available for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. And it’s a small number of patients probably only 16, but it would be over $120,000 dollars and be beyond their range. So whether it’s a large number or a small number we’re making these medicines available when the medical experts recommend. And then for over 7,000 patients Apotex will help those patients who are going through chemotherapy with the sometimes agonizing side effects of extreme nausea and to give those patients the ability to have their treatments without the extreme nausea means more patients will continue through with their treatments and patients will have a better quality of life as they have those treatments. In addition to that we are also reducing the price on 175 different medicines. Savings of up to $390 million which will be across areas such as high cholesterol or extreme pain and over 500,000 Australian patients will benefit from them. So to have Pernille here, but also our wonderful representatives from the firms, the Lung Foundation, from leukaemia and lymphoma who are represented here, we are really privileged to have you and we’re delighted Pernille to be able to support you other patients.
PRIME MINISTER: Tell us a little bit your experience Pernille.
PERNILLE, CANCER PATIENT Well I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in August last year and obviously it was very, very traumatic. Fortunately though I have been on this treatment that now is coming on to the PBS since about November last year. My tumours have actually shrunk so I’m feeling exceedingly fit and healthy and I’m very active and I’m just very pleased that this wonderful new treatment is coming onto the PBS for all those other people who are affected by such a terrible disease.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Pernille. Let’s take some questions on the announcement today and then we can move to other political issues when we might excuse our friends when we get to that point. So questions on the announcement?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister if it’s such a priority, why was there an underspend on the PBS in the budget. The last Budget?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No, there’s no underspend, what happens is there are estimates of the possible amounts and often we’ll be able to negotiate better prices and better outcomes than expected but as the medical experts list them, we’ll recommend them.
JOURNALIST: And how quickly when it’s recommended by the PBAC does the Government list them, is there a lag? Because I understand there are 60 drugs that remain on this list?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: This is a very false claim from Mr Bowen, what happens is that companies overseas have to build supply. They will often say we need a little bit of time to be ready. We’ve reduced the time from approximately 320 days under Labour to just over 180 days under us.
JOURNALIST: Is it still taking too long for these sorts of drugs though to make their way onto the PBS?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No we do it as quickly as the companies are willing to do that. Often the companies will have to go back to headquarters, we push them, we push them to be faster and we want them to be faster but as soon as they’re ready, we’re ready. And it’s not just a dramatically faster process than it was under Labor, Labor of course stopped listing medicines. One of the reasons they stopped listing medicines is the boats blew out as the Prime Minister knows better than anybody under Chris Bowen. And he had almost 400 boats, 24,000 people coming illegally. That had a massive impact on the budget and they stopped listing medicines on their watch, in their time. We will always list the medicines that the experts recommend.
JOURNALIST: Minister why hasn’t the government listed all of the drugs that have been recommended by the PBAC?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No we are.
JOURNALIST: So there aren’t 60 on the waiting list?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No what happens is that once a medicine has been approved then what happens is companies then have to assess, determine whether they accept, and it will often take them some months. For example it took one company six months to respond to the PBAC. And so we’ll list everything, Labor wouldn’t list. We are. So I respectfully categorically reject that claim from Mr Bowen.
JOURNALIST: You dispute that there are 60 that have been left off?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Completely. What happens is that for example if something’s been approved in the last few weeks then the company will make- by law they have to respond. The legal process isn’t completed until they respond and accept the expert medical advice and the reason there’s expert medical advice is to protect Australian patients. So it’s a bogus claim. It’s an embarrassing claim from Mr Bowen, and under him. He couldn’t stop the boats, but he did stop the medicines.
JOURNALIST: So what do you say to claims that you are politicizing these announcements for political gain?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: This is Pernille. Pernille is here because of these medicines and these medicines save lives and protect lives. There’s a difference here. Under the previous Labor government they stopped listing medicines, under us we are listing the medicines. And that’s a cause for celebration, for information and we can only do this because as they said at the time, due to fiscal circumstances the listing of some new medicines will be deferred, due to fiscal circumstances as the Prime Minister said we will always list the medicines and that is everything you need to know about the difference between two styles of Government.
JOURNALIST: Minister, Can I just ask last week’s budget forecasts said that there would be no growth in the PBS for 10 years and it also said based on historical listings of your government that we would see the PBS go back by 0.2 per cent as a proportion of GDP. How does that then demonstrate the government’s commitment to the PBS?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: So this is a demand driven program. So as the experts recommend them we will list them. And if that means that we are able to achieve it within budget, that’s fantastic. If the cost is greater, we’ll meet those. So essentially the real point here is, the medical experts assess the medicines and in turn we list them once we have the recommendations and the response from the company.
JOURNALIST: It’s also true that the experts are recommending medicines at zero cost to government which means companies are expected to provide them free.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No. That’s not correct at all.
JOURNALIST: Was that not the case with Vertex recently with Symdeko. And that was the cause of Symdeko not being listed so quickly?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No that’s a very interesting case, it took the company six months to respond.
JOURNALIST: But it did say the PBAC says at no cost to government. It be listed at no cost to Government?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: No, I think what you’re confusing there is that some medicines are for example if there’s a particular price of a $100,000 dollars they might say a new medicine would be at $100,000 that might be a new and upgraded medicine but it’s a medical expert process. And one of the great things is we have an independent process in Australia. And if they recommend a higher price or a lower price we recognise that and as a government we respond, we accept and we implement on that basis.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister if I could change the subject? Why call a retirement income review and rule things out before it starts like tax changes regarding the family home?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it was a recommendation of the Productivity Commission that we engage in this review. We undertook to follow through on that. And that’s what we’ve done. The nature of this review is very analytical and it will basically run the [inaudible] over where we see the future of retirement incomes. Which I think will inform the future decisions that are made by the public as well as the decisions that are made by funds and by the Government.
JOURNALIST: It’s not a formal review though is it, if it- already ruling things out before it starts?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think we’ve made pretty clear our view to the retirement age and I made that clear at the last election see when I say things that elections I mean them. I said we weren’t going to change the pension age. So we’re not.
JOURNALIST: Should Deborah Ralston be removed from the inquiry as the ALP suggested?
PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely not.
JOURNALIST: Why not?
PRIME MINISTER: Well why should she be?
JOURNALIST: Are you open to the idea of having voluntary contributions for some people in our society?
PRIME MINISTER: The review will do its job and the government’s policy is well known but some suggestion that we could only have people doing this review that the union industry fund bosses actually agreed with is quite absurd. I mean what sort of country do we live in where the union funds are saying well we’ll pick and choose who does the reviews on how much money flows into our funds. I mean that’s just ridiculous. So we’re not going to be intimidated by that at all. She has great experience in this area and we welcome her participation in the review. I mean you’re not just going to have people that you always agree with doing your reviews, was that how Labor does it? They’d only put people on that they agree with. We’re not going to run the show like that.
JOURNALIST: Labor says you’re destroying Australia’s relationship with China. Is that the case and what will you do to fix it?
PRIME MINISTER: I think Richard Marles and Labour are showing a real lack of maturity on this issue and a naivety when it comes to managing our international relationships. I mean Australia under our government has been I think negotiating a very careful course on managing our relationships between our great ally in the United States and our comprehensive strategic partner in China. And we’re doing that effectively and that has been reflected in the engagements we’ve had with both China and the United States just in the course of the past week. The foreign minister met with her counterpart while we were in New York together. And so we will continue to manage those relationships carefully. But I would, I would urge those in Labor to be less confused, less naive and show a bit more maturity on this question and not seek to talk down Australia’s relationships, particularly when we’re overseas.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you’d be well aware that the Reserve Bank is expected to cut interest rates tomorrow. Bank analysts, the likes of Morgan Stanley, have estimated that only 10 basis points of that might be passed on. Would that be unfair on borrowers around Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think the question is pretty presumptuous. I mean we don’t know what the Reserve Bank’s going to do tomorrow. I don’t know. I don’t know if you know, we don’t. It’s an independent Reserve Bank. And they’ll go through their normal assessments as they do each month and they’ll make a decision in accordance with their charter. So we’ll wait to see what they do. But I would expect in all cases that I would want the banks to fully pass on any changes that were made. If they are indeed made, but I don’t think there’s any certainty about that question.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister how embarrassing is it that the Moyne Shire may not accept the million dollars in drought funding that you offered it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not going to feel at all troubled about the fact that we are doing everything we possibly can to help rural communities that are affected by drought. You know the Bureau of Meteorology and the Shire in question advises that 62 per cent of that Shire is actually drought affected. So the Minister has asked the department to go back and look at this again and I think that’s fine but if we’re being accused of being too supportive, too generous, too much on the front foot in helping rural districts when it comes to supporting them in the drought, well I’m happy to take that criticism because we are on the front foot when it comes to helping our rural communities.
The changes we made on Friday were incredibly important, we’re now up to 123 council areas, shires, who are getting that support through the million dollars which is all designed to keep the money ticking over in these towns. See you need those who are working previously as contractors or employees on farm actually now working in other jobs in those towns otherwise they leave the towns and if they leave the towns then the businesses in those towns are affected. And this has been a very successful program. So if that Shire in particular doesn’t want to participate, well we’ll have a look at that they can obviously share that news with the farmers in their own rural communities. But what we’re trying to do with this program is try and keep ahead where we can. So I think it’s a really good program, it’s been very successful, the changes to the Farm Household Allowance, very important particularly when you’re talking about how we’re assessing off farm income. This has been a key piece of feedback as we’ve been listening carefully as we’ve been rolling out our drought strategy and our drought response and we’ll continue to make changes and amendments where we think it can help people more. So yes we are helping people and if people are accusing us of helping them too much well they can. That’s certainly much better than the alternative.
JOURNALIST: Could that money be better spent perhaps on areas where we have towns in New South Wales and Queensland that have run out water now?
PRIME MINISTER: Well two points. I met with the Premier and the Deputy Premier here in New South Wales before I went overseas and they gave me an absolute assurance that they have absolutely in hand ensuring that all of those towns that are rapidly approaching those points that their water needs will be covered and addressed by the New South Wales State Government. I sought those assurances from the state government and were given those assurances so I commend Gladys Berejiklian and the Deputy Premier on the work they’re doing to make sure that those issues are addressed and secondly we’re taking advice from the Bureau of Meteorology on where we’re directing these funds to support those council areas and we’ll continue to take that expert advice. But if there are areas where we can improve it, or if we need to amend it well we don’t feel uncomfortable about that because we’re happy to listen to people. We’re happy to make sure that we better target our arrangements. I don’t see that as a problem. I see that as a virtue.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just one question on Aged Care, 16,000 older Australians died last year waiting for a home care package. Doesn’t that suggest your government needs to invest substantially more in home care packages as a matter of urgency?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I agree we do need to invest more in, and I’ll ask Greg to comment in a sec on in-home care packages and that’s why we’ve been doing precisely that. We have been increasing the number of places and that’s one of the reasons why you need to keep a strong budget. There have been plenty of suggestions put to me about what we should be spending on and I agree with you that in-home aged care places are very much a top priority and that’s what you’ve seen in every, in every statement we’ve released over the last few years continually providing further places to try and provide relief because people want to take the choice to stay at home and to age in their home and spend that time with their families and have that quality of life that we want to support. We want to support that. And it’s the other reason why I’ve got to say I initiated the royal commission into this area and it is going to be a bruising royal commission and we will soon get the interim report. And we did that in good faith and with an open mind and I look forward to receiving that first interim report and ultimately the final report. And we’re extending out the terms of that inquiry to make sure, at their request, that we’re getting the job done properly. Greg?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Great. Thanks very much to the PM. This is an immensely important topic and that’s we’ve invested enormously, at the moment we’ve increased our aged care funding from $13.3 billion and we came in to 22, 23, 24, and 25 billion approximately over the course of the current budget. In particular in the last 12 months we’ve taken the number of home care places from 99,000 up to just over 125,000 and that’s seen a significant reduction in the waiting time. So an almost, well a 25 per cent increase in the number of packages in one year. And we’ll continue to do that. We’re going from 60,000 home care packages when we came into government to over the course of the budget cycle approximately 155,000 home care packages. So dramatic growth and at the rate at which the system can absorb it to make sure that we’re maintaining the quality, the safety, the care, the protections which is the fundamental guide rail for what we are doing.
JOURNALIST: So you agree this is being addressed as a matter of urgency?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Well it is absolutely. You can see a quarter increase, a more than 25 percent increase in the last year and the number of home care places that are being delivered. And that’s a very, very significant growth. And one of the main guides there is the ability to do that with quality and safety and care for the residents.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just on Dr. Yang currently held in China, can you confirm that consular officials have been able to meet with him recently?
PRIME MINISTER: We’ve been maintaining consular contact. And again these issues are never assisted by the government making public commentary on these matters and we’ll continue to seek to provide that consular assistance. The Foreign Minister has been pursuing this matter very very diligently as we have with a number of consular cases at the moment which we know are very sensitive. And I want to commend Foreign Minister Payne for the great job she’s been doing on that. And we’ve also been keeping in close contact with the families of those who are directly affected. We will always act in these cases in the best interests of the citizen who is at the centre of these issues and our foreign affairs diplomats and officials have a lot of experience in working on these issues. And as I say they’re best addressed through those channels and we will continue to do that and the consular care and support that is provided by our missions overseas is outstanding and sometimes done in very difficult circumstances. So I want to commend them for the great work that they’re doing and also the care they’re showing to the families wherever possible to keep them informed. Thank you very much.