TRENT ZIMMERMAN MP – MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: My name is Trent Zimmerman, the Federal Member for North Sydney and I am so pleased that we have the Prime Minister in this part of Sydney this morning for what is a very important announcement for those patients with leukaemia across Australia.
And I am particularly pleased we are the Royal North Shore Hospital which is one of Australia’s great hospitals and this morning we’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the patients and seen the fine work of the doctors and nurses.
Thank you Prime Minister for being here. Welcome back to North Sydney.
Thank you Trent and it is great to be here at Royal North Shore. And to see the, as Trent said the outstanding work that is being done by the doctors and nurses here.
Now, what we’re announcing today is the listing of Imbruvica or Ibrutinib which is a new cancer drug which is having an extraordinary life changing, lifesaving impact for patients with leukaemia and lymphoma. And we’re going to hear from one of those patients in a moment, Warren Lippiatt – he’s going to talk about the change it has made to his life and to his family.
Now, this drug which has been going through trials over the last four years or so would cost $180,000 for a course. Completely beyond the reach of the vast majority of Australians. We are putting it onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. A monthly course will cost $38.80 or $6.30 if you have a concession card - bringing this drug, this life-saving drug, within the reach of all Australians.
It is one of 1,500 new drugs costing in total $7.5 billion that we brought on to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme since we came into office.
It is a reminder of how keenly focused we are in the fight against cancer.
One in $6 spent on drugs through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme goes to drugs that are fighting cancer.
We have seen outstanding results. We are going to hear now from Professor Stephen Mulligan, the haematologist here, who has been supervising the Imbruvica trials and knows what a difference it makes. Then we will hear from Warren Lippiatt, the patient who has had an extraordinary recovery thanks to this drug - a recovery, a life-changing recovery, that now will be available to thousands of other Australians.
Professor Mulligan, step forward.
PROFESSOR STEPHEN MULLIGAN – ROYAL NORTH SHORE HOSPITAL:
Thank you very much Prime Minister.
This drug, Ibrutinib is being used to treat patients with the most common form of leukaemia called chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. It grows in the lymph glands, the bone marrow, it causes failure of the bone marrow and failure of the immune system.
Now, when standard treatments fail for these patients, previously they've had very few treatment options available. This new drug Ibrutinib really has revolutionised the outlook for these patients with a very marked improvement in their overall survival and wellbeing. Generally speaking, the drug is remarkably well tolerated.
It is really to be welcomed to put this drug onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to make it available for patients with CLL widely across Australia.
Thank you. Warren, just tell us when you started taking Ibrutinib and where have you got to? You said to me earlier you had run out of options?
WARREN LIPPIATT - PATIENT:
I had, Prime Minister, I had completely run out of options. I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia about 13 years ago and the path and the journey that it has taken me on has been nothing less than a roller-coaster ride – would be the best way to describe it. In and out of hospitals being treated with different forms of chemotherapy, all to have, four and a half years ago simply run out. The disease had taken over my body. I was approaching a stage where nothing was working and, fortunately, through Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, and through Stephen Mulligan, I was placed on a clinical trial for this particular drug. Within weeks, I was starting to feel better.
I was an individual who had run totally out of options.
How old were your children?
My children back then were 3 and 5. But when I was diagnosed, my wife was pregnant with our first child. She was pregnant, she was 8 months down the track and we were told that I'd have five years to live back in those days.
Thinking that you may not see your first child go and spend their first day at school was just – oh, I can't describe the feeling at the time.
This drug has not only saved my life but it's saved hundreds and it will save thousands of people's lives in the future.
This is a step forward and I thank the government and I thank all the physicians that have been involved in it because it's not just about me. It's about changing people's lives.
Four and a half years ago, I could barely walk. I'm not the same man as I am today. There is no question about that.
All I do today is stand here very grateful and very thankful that we have had this progression with these types of drugs that will turn lives around.
There was once upon a time I was not working. I'm now back at work. It's incredible. Absolutely incredible. Thank you, Prime Minister.
Warren, thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, you can see the significance. It's life-saving, life-changing. Not just for patients like Warren but for their families, for children who will have their fathers and mothers with them for years and years.
This is an example of what we can do if we ensure that we bring the latest drugs on to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as soon as they are tested and trialed and we are doing that.
You saw yesterday our announcement with Ian Frazer about Gardasil 9. What an extraordinary Australian achievement that is. That's a vaccine that is protecting thousands, millions of young people, particularly young women, from the Human Papillomavirus which, of course, is the precursor to cervical cancer.
These are life-changing, lifesaving measures.
We are proud to be able to support them. They are all built on the foundation of great medicine, great medicine practiced here at this hospital and around Australia.
Do you have some questions?
This must be one of the best parts of your job, making announcements like this today?
It is, it is. You’re absolutely right. It is a great privilege to be able to lead a nation that delivers outstanding healthcare. Always setting out to do even better and always setting out to ensure that the best and the latest drugs are available and affordable for all Australians.
Is this drug used in other parts of world?
The answer is yes but I will ask Stephen to speak about it.
PROFESSOR STEPHEN MULLIGAN:
Yes. The drug is now becoming more widely available across the world. Since the clinical trials were conducted some two and three years ago, it has progressively become available just as it is here in Australia.
Very good, any other questions?
On another matter Prime Minister, can I ask you-
We’ll come to that, but any other questions on health? We also have the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy is here if you have any other questions on health matters or vaccines or PBS?
What's the next priority with the government? You mentioned Gardasil, now this one, is it an ongoing trend?
We will continue to list the latest drugs. They obviously have to be trialed and assessed. It is a very careful process but as you hear from Stephen, how long have the clinical trials been going on for now?
PROFESSOR STEPHEN MULLIGAN:
With this particular drug, just over four and a half years.
So four and a half years of clinical trials and now the drug has met all the requirements for listing and now it is listed. We will continue to do that.
You saw just the other day we listed Zydelig - another cancer drug that is used for leukaemia patients. So we'll be constantly bringing the latest drugs forward on the PBS.
You had a question on another matter?
On the Clean Energy Target, is the government considering not having any form of Clean Energy Target or are you looking at some sort of scheme with subsidies behind it?
What we are determined to do is to ensure that energy is reliable, affordable and that we meet our emissions reduction commitments that we have made through the Paris Agreement.
We’ve had a lot of failures in energy policy in years gone by. And as you've seen this with energy policy being driven by politics and ideology, in some cases, as much idiocy as ideology, to be frank.
I’m being guided, my government is guided by engineering and economics.
So, what we are doing is making sure that we have the energy that we need at prices we can afford and it will be there when you want to have access to it. You’ve got to keep the lights on.
And are you confident that there’s government policy in place or do you need new policy to ensure that the market does deliver affordable and reliable power?
We are obviously working through all of the recommendations that we have had from the Finkel Review. We are working intensely on ensuring that the rules that will apply after 2020, when the Renewable Energy Target is met, will deliver us that affordable and reliable power.
You have to recognise - I don't want to spoil this pleasant occasion by being unduly partisan but I will just be very frank with you - the Labor Party's failures on energy policy have been extraordinary.
The idea that you would bring so much renewable energy - wind and solar, which is variable - into the electricity system without providing the backup or the storage to support it when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, was a comprehensive failure of policy.
Now, I’m turning that around. You can see the emphasis I’ve put on storage. Snowy Hydro 2.0 will be the biggest battery in the Southern Hemisphere. Gigantic additional storage. We are going to need a lot more than that too, by the way. But that's why you have got to plan this properly.
Look at gas. An extraordinary state of affairs where, again, the Labor government under Julia Gillard allowed gas exports from the east coast without making any attempt to protect or ring-fence the needs of domestic consumers.
I've had to take very strong action, as you have seen, holding up the prospect of export controls to ensure we got agreement from the gas exporters that there will be sufficient gas to meet domestic demand on the east coast.
Step by step what we're doing is putting in place the energy policy based on engineering and economics. They are the two guides to our policy.
Can you guarantee your energy plan will bring down the cost of electricity?
What I can certainly say to you is that the measures we have taken already with respect to gas have seen the wholesale price of gas come down. Because there was more demand than there was supply - price is a function of supply and demand. We had the extraordinary situation that the east coast market was short of gas.
So we’re doing a lot of things - making sure there is sufficient supply of gas, making sure the market is transparent and the work with the ACCC and Rod Sims, you will have seen what he's been doing there to make sure that all of these trades are going to be publicly disclosed.
Transparency is a very good guide to ensuring that we get affordable and reliable energy.
We have seen what Josh Frydenberg is doing, for example, to abolish the Limited Merits Review process.
This was a system where the people, the network companies that owned the poles and wires could go to the regulator, get an agreement on what they could charge and then if they didn't like it, appeal to the Courts. Invariably, they got a higher price. No other utility had that privilege - so we’re abolishing that. So they’re going to have to live with what the regulator says. That will also reduce upward pressure on energy prices.
But the critical thing is, as I said earlier, there has been a failure of policy – it’s been guided by ideology and idiocy - stupidity in some cases. We’re changing that.
We’re focused on engineering and economics. That's the way to deliver affordable and reliable power and meet our international commitments.
Labor is calling on the government to admit defeat on your, tightening the citizenship laws – have you lost that battle?
We’ll continue to negotiate with the crossbench.
We’re very disappointed that the Labor Party is not prepared to stand up for Australian citizenship.
It's particularly disappointing to see Tony Burke out there objecting to a requirement that people who become Australian citizens should have a command of English. He advocated that himself only a few years ago - wrote a very powerful and eloquent op-ed, I recall, in The Daily Telegraph.
Obviously he couldn't even convince himself, or perhaps he’s just playing politics, as usual, with where we should be absolutely united in ensuring that Australian citizenship is valued and that it works as part of our effort to ensure that our community, the most successful multicultural society in the world is more and more integrated as time goes on.
Will you have to adjust it though to get support in the Senate?
Well, you’re asking me to speculate about crossbench negotiations.
Let me say that I've often been told on occasions like this that we have no chance of getting something through the Senate, and then we do.
But then I get asked the question the next time and then we get it through the Senate again.
So we've got more through the Senate since the last election than we got through in the whole previous Parliament, three years.
So we'll just keep working away. We treat all of our colleagues with respect. We listen to their concerns, from time to time we reach compromises that enable legislation to pass.
Just one more maybe.
Prime Minister, the latest Newspoll shows quite an alarming drop in support for the Coalition in regional areas, from 44 per cent to 34 per cent. Has the Coalition been doing enough to win voters in regional areas?
Well, I can assure you, we are very focused on delivering for Australians everywhere, and whether it is in big cities like Sydney, or whether it is in regional Australia. I spend a lot of time in regional Australia.
I know, for example, how important the cost of energy is there. And you can see why we're relentlessly focused on that.
You can see how important health services are.
You can see how important mental health services are, and again, we are putting more resources than ever before, just as you've seen today.
Whether it is in the PBS, whether it's in respect to hospitals, whether it's in respect of supporting primary care and guaranteeing Medicare - all of those things support Australians around the country, but particularly in regional Australia.
What about the High Court ruling? Are you still confident that Barnaby Joyce is eligible?
Yes, as I have said, it's now in the hands of the High Court, of course, and we await their decision.
But the government, based on the legal advice we have from the Solicitor-General is confident that the DPM and the other two, Senators Nash and Canavan, will be found not to be disqualified from sitting in the Parliament.
Thank you all very much.