Doorstop with the Minister for Health, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance

01 Apr 2019
Bruce, ACT
Prime Minister, Minister for Health, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance
Life-saving PBS funding; a strong Budget and strong economy; Labor’s big new taxes; congestion-busting infrastructure;

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND FINANCE, THE HON ZED SESEJA: It’s great to be here at the Icon Cancer Centre here in Bruce and it’s great of course to have the Prime Minister and the Health Minister with us today and to have some of our local candidates in Mina Zaki and Leanne Castley. It’s great to be talking about what the Coalition can deliver particularly in the health space and particularly for cancer patients. So great to be with you today in sunny ACT and without further ado I’ll welcome the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Zed and congratulations - as Assistant Minister to the Treasurer and Finance Minister I know you’ve been very busy in recent weeks and months as we prepare for tomorrow night’s Budget. Tomorrow night’s Budget is all about building a stronger economy to secure Australia’s future. A stronger economy means we now have the highest level of bulk billing in Australia’s history under Medicare. A stronger economy means we now have record funding for Medicare. That's what the strong economy that we’ve been presiding over is delivering; a stronger Medicare. A stronger economy means hospitals funding is now at record levels from the Commonwealth, all around the country. A stronger healthcare system is dependent upon a strong economy and a strong Budget and tomorrow night you will see both of those in action.

Today, a stronger economy and a strong Budget means that we can list two further pharmaceuticals, life-saving medicines, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to make them affordable for cancer patients. More than 2,000 medicines have been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme under our Government. That's because we know how to run a Budget. It's because we know how to preside over a strengthening economy and taking the decisions, through lower taxes, supporting small and family businesses, opening up our export markets so our exporters, particularly small and family businesses can be out there growing and employing more Australians and more Australians in work. There are more Australians in work today of working age, as a proportion, than at any other time in our history. There are fewer Australians on welfare today of working age, than we've seen in over 30 years. That's what a strong economy delivers. But when Labor were in power, they had to stop listing medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme because they ran out of your money.

So, as we go into tomorrow night's Budget, a stronger economy guarantees funding for the essential services that you rely on. Not higher taxes, that only slows the economy. That only undermines our ability to invest in the healthcare and the education and the security that you depend on as an Australian, for you, your family and your community. So today is another example, another demonstration of what the practical benefit of a strong economy is for you and your family; life-saving medicines. In this case, a very Australian form of cancer, skin cancer and a very specific type of skin cancer which is being treated here at the Icon Cancer Centre here. Wayne has been able to benefit, he’ll talk to you as well as Megan in a few minutes' time and of course, we’re listing drugs on breast cancer as well. Now we have done a lot on breast cancer and Greg will talk to you about that in just a second. 

But my real message today is; a stronger economy, a strong Budget, a budget surplus that only a Coalition Government can deliver, is what guarantees the essential services you rely on. That is demonstrated here again today, with yet two more listings for important life-saving drugs, which is changing the lives of people who are standing here with me today and their families. It's happening all around the country. Greg, congratulations on another listing and why don't you take us through the details?

MINISTER FOR THE HEALTH, THE HON GREG HUNT: Thanks very much to the Prime Minister, to Leanne and Zed and Mina but, in particular and most importantly to our patients here, to Wayne and Jonathan and Megan. Today is about saving lives and protecting lives. It’s about saving lives and protecting lives off the back of a strong economy that allows us to invest in the PBS and other essential services. I'm delighted to announce that, as of 1 May, two new medicines will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Ibrance for advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It will help over 3,000 Australian women who have advanced breast cancer. That's a condition that goes to their certainty, their confidence, their ability to be with their families. It's a life-saving and life-changing and life-prolonging medicine. This is one of the most important things we can ever do to give these women real hope and real treatment and a real pathway forward. It would otherwise cost over $55,000 a year, now it will be down to as low as $6.50 a script for concessional patients. In addition, I'm delighted to announce that Bavencio, for a rare skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This medicine has saved Wayne’s life and it has saved Jonathan's life. Without that medicine, they wouldn't be here today. It's a rare condition, Merkel cell carcinoma. It affects 160 patients that are likely to benefit from this medicine and it would have cost over $150,000 a year. That's almost impossible for almost any patient in Australia. So this will save lives and protect lives and will give new access to patients who suffer from this most Australian of rare cancers. It’s just our absolute privilege to announce these new medicines.

PRIME MINISTER: And Megan is another Australian hero who survived breast cancer since 1996, congratulations.


PRIME MINISTER: It’s great to have you here with us today. Why don't you tell us a bit about what you think this means for breast cancer patients all around the country?

MEGAN JAMES: Certainly. Well I sit on the board of Breast Cancer Network Australia and we'd like to acknowledge the support that Minister Hunt and yourself have given us not only today but an ongoing basis. We’re sure it will be ongoing, from our point of view we have a very strong voice. This makes a great difference to those women with metastatic breast cancer. It means they are able to live their lives, see their kids grow up, meet their grandchildren and do the sorts of things that a lot of us take for granted. I'm representing them here today in my capacity as a board member.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much Megan. So whether it’s breast care nurses through the McGrath Foundation which we started the year off talking about, whether it’s the research we’re putting in for breast cancer or it’s the drugs we’re listing today to support women with breast cancer, we're in the fight with women and families who are fighting breast cancer. Congratulations on winning your own fight.

MEGAN JAMES: Thank you and I think it is wonderful just to see the breast cancer groups coming together and partnering around these announcements as well. It's bringing everybody together for a greater cause, for the community and Australia.

PRIME MINISTER: Great and I’ll ask Wayne and Jonathan to come up. Now Wayne is a reasonably handy tennis player he tells me and Jonathan as he said before, is an economist and used to work at the Productivity Commission. Those two points are interesting but what’s more important today is how this drug has changed their lives. Tell us a bit about that?

WAYNE LIEBERMAN, PATIENT: Well look, 12 months ago I had a very short horizon to look forward to. It wasn't good. I went on to Bavencio and in three months, the metastasized tumours throughout my body all cleared. It’s quite an amazing drug. Having said that I think, on behalf of all the patients around Australia that have been living with this short horizon, this drug offers hope to them. For every future patient being diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, they now have a future. It’s just an amazing thing we've done with this PBS listing, not only for patients, it's the partners, the family and friends.

PRIME MINISTER: And Jonathan, you've been funding your own treatment?

JONATHAN PINCUS, PATIENT: I’ve funded my own yes, which is an enormous expense which I could afford but most Australians couldn't afford it. Now they'll get access, which is a marvelous thing to happen. I wish to thank the Government for agreeing with what PBAC suggested, that was tremendous for patients, as Wayne said.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s good health and it’s good economics.

JONATHAN PINCUS: It’s very good economics.

PRIME MINISTER: He is an economist.

WAYNE LIEBERMAN: It's helped my tennis as well!


Just one of the side benefits of the whole system.

PRIME MINISTER: Fantastic, well thank you very much for sharing your stories. The PBS to me spells “H-O-P-E”. That's what it means to millions of Australians around the country and that's why we invest in it. It’s an investment in real hope, because it has changed lives. Whether we’re talking about lung cancer with Tagrisso or breast cancer or ovarian cancer or skin cancer; all of these, we are in the war against cancer and the fight against cancer. What fuels our army on this is the strong economy and the strong Budget. Without that, you're going into battle with nothing. That's what you need to fight cancer, having these drugs to support us in this battle. So it’s very pleasing to be here today. Let's take questions particularly on the announcements today and Wayne and Megan and Jonathan will be here to help us with that and then I'm happy to move on to other issues of the day.

JOURNALIST: My question is going to be more about the Budget.

PRIME MINISTER: Why don't we deal with this first, then happy to take those questions.

JOURNALIST: When will these medications be rolled out, available to people?


JOURNALIST: Do you have an estimation perhaps of how many lives you think it might save or how many people it might impact?

MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Certainly it will help 3,000 women in terms of Ibrance and the breast cancer medicine. It will help 160 patients for what is a rare cancer, but an unaffordable medicine in terms of Bavencio. So we know that well over 3,000 patients will benefit from these and we hope that in the vast majority of cases, it will be an absolute game-changer.

JOURNALIST: I think we all recognise the importance of today's announcement but are you concerned your big-spending Budget might look like you’re trying to buy up seats for the election?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I wouldn't describe it like that at all. The Budget is on tomorrow night, I think that you will see very plainly that our Government has the lowest growth in Commonwealth public expenditure of any government in 50 years. So we are the government that has been most successful of any government in 50 years in keeping expenditure under control. That's why we'll be handing down a budget surplus tomorrow night, the first in 12 years. It's been about keeping expenditure under control and it's been about supporting the growth in the Australian economy and getting Australians off welfare and into work. It's the classic 12-point turn around - that works in AFL as well as NRL - you know, you stop one team scoring a goal down one end and you score yourself down the other. This is what we’re doing in the economy. People who were receiving welfare, under our Government are now paying tax because they have jobs. That's how you balance a Budget. That's how you bring the Budget back to strength.

In terms of the announcement we made yesterday, the Australian economy and the Budget we have been able to manage over the past year has come in stronger, once again. In each of the budgets I handed down, in the final budget outcome, they have all proved to be stronger than what I announced on Budget night. We believe it's only fair - it's only fair that we share that dividend with Australians who need it most, those who are receiving pension payments all around the country. I don't think it's an unreasonable thing to do to ensure that when your Budget has performed better than you set out the year before, that the benefit of that actually is shared with Australians, whether they be pensioners or others to receive at least some assistance to deal with their cost-of-living pressures.

So our Government has the most restraint and discipline on expenditure of any government, in fact better than any government over the last 50 years. That's our record. That's why we’re in a position today to announce these types of measures.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given Bill Shorten's climate change announcement, his electric car target, do you worry what impact that will have on fuel excise receipts going forward?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me make two points about this. The first one is, Bill Shorten does not have a plan, he just has another tax. That's all this is. Bill Shorten does not have a plan, he just has a tax and he's got more than $200 billion worth of higher taxes. This one is even higher than all of those individually up until now.

What we've got here is a ‘re-Rudd’ of a failed policy that costs jobs, that costs businesses, that will cost Australians at least $9,000 a year, with the reckless targets that Bill Shorten will make law. That's what he's announcing today. He will make that reckless target law in this country.

You make the point about electric vehicles. Well, the Government is already taking a number of steps to support the growth in electric vehicles. I mean, if you buy an electric vehicle, one of the things you don't pay is fuel excise. That is already a major advantage for those who are buying electric vehicles, a big, significant leg-up. We're also investing, ensuring through the CEFC and other projects that we're putting in place the charging stations and the other infrastructure you need around the country to see that growth in the electric vehicle industry be realised.

But Labor as I understand it are talking about taking it, in 10 years from 0.2 per cent of the market to 50 per cent. Now, he needs to explain how he's going to make that happen, because you know what happens if he doesn't? It means because he's legislated his reckless target, he has to come back and get that money off you. He's got to come back when it fails and we saw this the last time they were in government; they had all these fanciful schemes that set fire to people's roofs and overpriced school halls and all of this madness. Australians were the ones who ended up paying for the ill-thought-through policies by the Labor Party. That is what we’re seeing again today. It's not a plan, it’s just another big Shorten tax on the Australian public.

JOURNALIST: Speaking about plans, the $285 million you’re going to give back to people to help pay their power bills, doesn't that just show the Government doesn't have an energy plan?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it shows that we’ve outperformed our Budget. We have outperformed our Budget and we’re in a position to provide some modest relief going into this next bill. We already have a plan, we’ve got the Reliability Guarantee which is in place, ensuring that those investing in reliable power in this country can have the certainty of the reliable energy guarantee that we have already made a fact in this country. We’ve got the underwriting of generation capability, around 4,000 megawatts of capacity which we announced just last week and that is about twice the size of Liddell power station in New South Wales.

JOURNALIST: That's a stretch isn’t it Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: That's a fact.

JOURNALIST: You don't have a NEG plan, which is the reason you’re giving money back to people. [Inaudible] should have been getting people money back off their power bill, but because they’re not going to get that, you have to find a way to reward them and get their votes.

PRIME MINISTER: No that's not how it works. The difference when it comes to the National Energy Guarantee in terms of what Labor are proposing is this; the Reliability Guarantee, which was part of the NEG that we brought forward at the time, that is now happening. That's the important part. The bit that Labor are applying to that is legislating a 45 per cent emissions reduction target. That's what Labor are doing and they’re going to legislate that. That's not going to reduce power prices, it’s going to increase wholesale electricity prices by 56 per cent. So Labor's NEG actually put prices up, not down, because they are going to legislate a reckless target that will hit wages, that will hit jobs, that will hit production.

Let's not forget what they've also announced today is the extension effectively of the native veg laws in Queensland from the Queensland Labor Government which is basically going to land-lock the country and tell farmers and graziers and pastoralists all around the country what they can do - or rather what they can’t do - with their own land. This is a massive tax on agricultural Australia. It's a massive tax on jobs. It's $35 billion that Australian companies are going to have to spend, sending money offshore to foreign carbon traders. Carbon credits for Kazakhstan, that’s what this is for. $35 billion that companies in Australia are going to have to shell out to meet Bill Shorten's reckless target. That is going to have a significant impact on the Australian economy. This is on top of the $200 billion in higher taxes. This is why I say what Bill Shorten's talking about is not a plan, it's just another big tax.

JOURNALIST: Just on the M1 in Queensland, a 50/50 funding split, why was that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is the traditional arrangement for these projects. We’ve already invested over $1 billion into the M1 upgrade and now we are putting another half a billion. That’s on top of the congestion-busting work that we’re doing on the ramps around the M1 which I was announcing a little while ago. So we are turning up with real money, real cheques to upgrade the M1. It’s frustrating that the Queensland State Government have been unable to manage their own money and unwilling to actually join us in a lot of these projects.

I mean we’re getting on with building projects in the Victoria with the Labor Government and in New South Wales with the Liberal Government, so it’s not about politics. We are just happy to work with people who actually want to get things done. Those funds are there, they’re committed, they’re in the Budget, they’re in the baselines to ensure we can build this important infrastructure for Queensland. We are keen for the Queensland Government to work with us on it, that's what people in south east Queensland need. They’re feeling the population pressures, just like they are in Sydney and Melbourne. This investment in the M1 enables us to get ahead of that congestion pressure which will be coming in south east Queensland, so parents can get home sooner and safer from work, that tradies can get onsite and not sit in traffic jams. That’s why congestion-busting infrastructure grows our economy; because it frees our cities up to go forward and to create jobs and be the economic success stories they can be.

JOURNALIST: That $700 million for Geelong, will that still be there even if Sarah Henderson doesn't win the marginal seat?

PRIME MINISTER: It's in the Budget so yes that’s there. See, this is not a promise, this is a Budget. This is a Budget and we are committed to the satellite cities approach that I announced as part of the population management plan. Whether it's the Fast Rail that connects up Geelong, whether it's the increased investment in the Waurn Ponds line, whether it is the North South Rail links, whether it's any of these projects, these are all about managing Australia's population growth. We have got a balanced plan which deals with sensible migration settings, works closely together with State and Territory governments to ensure our planning is in line for services like hospitals and schools and roads. It's also about the big investments in the infrastructure like Waurn Ponds and the Fast Rail, as well as the smaller investments on the smallest intersections you can imagine which are chokepoints in our cities. It's about investing in the social cohesion of our cities as well and we've made investments of tens of millions of dollars in supporting our communities to grow together, not grow apart.

JOURNALIST: The North-South corridor in South Australia, is that new money? Is that money on the table or is it in the forward estimates? A question from South Australia, that 1.5 billion?

PRIME MINISTER: It's all new money.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on the Islamic State, there’s a few people trying to come back to Australia to serve jail time - potentially – here and bring kids back. Are you comfortable with that?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people from these dangerous situations, I think Australians would certainly support that. I think it's appalling that Australians have gone and fought against our values and our way of life and peace-loving countries of the world, in joining the Daesh fight. I think it's even more despicable that they put their children in the middle of it.

We currently have legislation that we have been seeking to pass on temporary exclusion orders, which would enable us to manage it effectively like a parole scheme, if people were to come back into the country. Labor are playing games with this legislation. But that doesn't really surprise me, I mean Labor always have to be dragged kicking and screaming when it comes to national security legislation.

I assume that's why they seem quite comfortable with the fact they'll preference the Greens, who want to abolish the US alliance, have opposed pretty much every form of national security legislation and anti-terror legislation we’ve put in place. Labor think that the Greens are actually a more viable and more reasonable and an aligned Party when it comes to their outlook on the world, rather than another mainstream party, which is the Liberal Party, which stands for the US alliance. Now, the Labor Party have got to apply their own rule to their own decisions. If they want to have this rule which says minor parties should be considered separate to the mainstream parties, well, it seems that the Labor Party doesn't think the Greens have these extreme views. They've got to apply the same rule to themselves.

We've made our decisions on this. The challenge is on Labor now. Are you for national security? Are you for the US alliance? Are you for border protection? Are you against death taxes? Now if that is your view, if you are for all of those things, then by all means put the Greens ahead of the Liberal Party. But if you're not, then you shouldn't do that.

Thanks very much.