Press Conference with the Minister for Health

Media release
25 Mar 2019
Peter McCallum Cancer Centre, Victoria
Prime Minister
Health and cancer investment; Campaigning in Victoria; New energy generation;
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Australia is the best place in the world to live and the future of our country depends so much on our economy. Why am I saying that today? Because the announcement I am making today, to invest almost half a billion dollars in our medical infrastructure, in our cancer-fighting infrastructure and our health infrastructure here today is made possible because of the strong economy and the Budget management that we’re pursuing. Today I’ve had the chance to talk to Lauren and to Finn and many other patients and it is a devastating prognosis that often attends the diagnosis of cancer. As difficult as all of that is, to see the courage and the hope on the faces of the patients I've met today as a result of what's happening here at Peter Mac, I think is an absolute tribute to everybody who works here, everybody who researches here, everybody who contributes, whether through the Foundation or other means, the volunteers and others who come here and give people hope. Melbourne is leading Australia's fight against cancer through facilities such as this. They're leading Australia's fight in the world today and that is happening right here at the Peter Mac Centre.

So today we are making a series of announcements which will mean that, for Australians who are diagnosed with cancer, the one thankful thing there is in that, is that they can fight it here in Australia, because of the services and the infrastructure and the medical professionals and the treatments that are available in this country, because of the strength of our society and the strength and prosperity of our country. So today we are making a series of announcements; $80 million to establish the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre National Centre of Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy. This is groundbreaking work that is happening here. This will enable this centre to take its treatment and capability from its current level, to a much greater scale. To reach out and touch the lives of just so many more Australians. I've met Australians being treated here today from Tasmania, from South Australia, from my home town in Sydney, from here in Melbourne. This is a centre for all Australia and this is why our investment here today is for all Australians. But it is very much a recognition of Melbourne leading not just here but around the world in what is taking place here. Very much, if you like, the Boston of the Southern Hemisphere is what we're seeing right here in Melbourne.

As a Government, we are investing here. We are doubling down here. We are backing this centre in and everyone who works here, with this significant investment of $80 million further today. Now, Greg will take you through more of the details of our announcement, which in total funding of some $116 million to the cancer research and treatment programs here, new hospital infrastructure worth some $152 million, including new emergency departments for families and children worth $40 million, focusing particularly on pediatrics. I will ask Dr Katie Allen, our candidate for Higgins to speak more about that as Greg will. Medical research into medicines and treatment of some $112 million. More mental health care, especially for young people, some $16 million and more MRI units for patients when and where they need them, of some $100 million.

This is what you can do when you manage an economy well and we prosper as a country. This is how we can invest the dividend of a strong economy, back into the health and wellbeing of all Australians and recognise the compassion and the brilliance of the people who work here to change lives and give so many Australians hope. It is a great privilege to be here today to be making this announcement a Government committed to the healthcare of all Australians. The person who has made this possible, in leading this announcement today, is Greg Hunt.

Greg Hunt is the best Health Minister a Coalition Government has ever had, his leadership on these issues, his compassion and his dedication to seeing these projects through has never been matched, in my view. We've had a lot of good Health Ministers, I'm pleased to say, but none better than Greg Hunt. I want to commend him for the work that he's done and invite him to make some remarks. Thank you, Greg.

[Applause]

THE HON GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much to the Prime Minister and Katie, to Nicole and your amazing, amazing staff. To Brenda Shanahan and the incredible team from Aikenhead at St Vincent's, along with Tom and others. But above all else, to Lauren and to Finn and to Patrick, whom we met by chance downstairs in the foyer.

Lauren had run out of hope and CAR T-cell therapy gave her hope and gave her life and gave her future. Finn had run out of hope and was in palliative care. CAR T-cell therapy here gave him his life, his hope and his future and the chance to be driven by the daughter, whom he taught to drive. Which he said was the scariest part of all. Patrick, whom I met downstairs, I saw last week at the Epworth Hospital and he is a lymphoma patient who has benefited from a clinical trial of a drug which would otherwise cost approximately $300,000. He has a long, healthy future ahead of him because of this medicine, which we're listing on the PBS as of 1 April. A medicine that nobody, nobody but the rarest few, could ever afford.

So today is about saving lives and protecting lives. It's also about the fact that Peter MacCallum and the Royal Children's Hospital at this precinct and our hospitals and our medical research institutions, are the beating heart of Melbourne and Victoria. When Victorians think of the very things that they're most proud of, our medical research institutes, our hospitals, that's what they turn to and it's our absolute privilege to support that.

So, as the Prime Minister said, there's an $80 million investment here in Peter Mac in bringing the world's leading cancer therapies right here to Victorian and Australian patients. The new National Centre for Cellular Immunotherapies will mean that CAR T will be available here for Australians, but also cellular immunotherapies as they come online. We even met Terry, who was being treated for a hard cancer, a hard tumour, bowel cancer, which is right at the very first stage of trials in humans. We hope, with every fibre of our being, that this treatment will also help him and so many others.

So, Melbourne will help lead the world in terms of its new national centre for cellular immunotherapies. But this is part of a much broader plan. As the Prime Minister said, a $500 million plan, in particular, we're investing in cancer research with $116 million, of which this is the most significant part, with other elements soon to be advised. In addition to that, $152 million for our hospitals, including four new pediatric emergency departments, which are being announced today. They include Geelong and Maroondah and Casey and Frankston, in fact on the advice of the Victorian Government. We're contributing to the work of our research institutions with $111 million. In particular I want to acknowledge Aikenhead and the incredible Biomedical Translation Centre, into which we'll invest $30 million, which will lead to potentially groundbreaking treatment for patients with epilepsy and other conditions. As well as that, $32 million will go to go to Monash University and Peninsula Health for dealing with community primary health, nation-leading research into mental health, addiction and drug and alcohol challenges, as well as ageing. Then finally, a $116 million investment in primary healthcare, $100 million into new MRIs for scans, $16 million into new Headspaces around Victoria, which will make a dramatic difference to people's ability to seek help when they need it and where they need it.

But at the end of the day, what this is about is saving lives and protecting lives. The living proof is Lauren and Finn. I'm delighted to introduce Professor Simon Harrison.

[Applause]

A/ PROF SIMON HARRISON, PETER MAC CANCER CENTRE: Good morning. My name is Simon Harrison and I'm an associate professor, hematologist and researcher here at Peter Mac. It's my privilege to represent the clinical and translational cellular immunotherapy program here both in Peter Mac, Royal Melbourne and the Royal Children's Hospital. Immunotherapies such as CAR T-cell are transformative treatment modalities for patients like Lauren and Finn and they had exhausted all other treatment options. They took the brave step of joining an experiment we call a clinical trial to see whether they can make a difference. They're here with us today because of that decision.

Our patients and the people who participate in these clinical trials are crucial members of the clinical team. Without them these therapies would never be available to others who need them. Today is a remarkable day. In combination with the federal funding, we have contributions from the Hospital and the Foundation, making this $105 million to establish the Centre of Excellence for Cellular Immunotherapies. This is going to transform our ability to be competitive across the world stage and the impact of this investment is going to be felt across the country through our network of collaborators, such as those at Westmead and in Brisbane.

I'd like to thank the Prime Minister, Minister for Health and the Commonwealth Government for their significant, ongoing support of Peter Mac. As part of this process of developing the Centre of Excellence, we're going to establish new research programs focusing on the fast-tracking of new targets and new ideas, to get the body's immune cells to be able to fight cancer. We'll build on the expertise and the clinical and translational research space, leveraging off the strengths in the laboratory research area, led by Joe Trapani and other members of the team. In collaboration with other health institutes across Australia, we're going to be able to run new clinical trials, investigator-led rather than industry-sponsored. This is a great strength across the Australian community. We're aiming to increase our clinical trial program, treating over 50 patients on clinical trials, per year. We're going to expand our GMP-grade clean room for the manufacture of cellular immunotherapy. This is going to dramatically increase our capacity in partnership with cell therapies. We'll increase the number of cell products being able to be produced, from around about 100 to over 1,000 doses per year, creating 150 highly skilled jobs in manufacturing. We're able to also increase our treatment capacity with a new 14-bed unit within the institution.

We're aiming to be competitive in the global landscape, so that Australian patients can have early access to the latest novel therapies and ensure it's affordable in the Australian context. I came to Australia to work at Peter Mac in 2007, because of an opportunity to work in a dendritic cell based immunotherapy trial, developed by my mentor and colleague Professor David Richie, who is the head of the allograft transplant service in Royal Melbourne and Peter Mac. Along with David, I found a unique collection of visionary people, such as Miles Prince and Dominic Wall, who set up cell therapies manufacturing facility 20 years ago, almost to the day, opened by John Howard in March '99. It's Dominic's single minded focus and quality control of manufacture that has enabled us to get a TGA license to manufacture and supply cells here for any clinical trial across the world. We hope this will be extended to commercial products soon. In the research area, Mike Kershaw and Phil Darcy developed Australia’s first CAR T-cell project, developed against the Lewis Y antigen in 2006. Miles Prince led that program and this program is running today, as you heard, in solid tumors. This new trial is run by Ben Solomon as the principal investigator. In 2015, pivotal industry-sponsored CAR T trials were running at Peter Mac, the Royal Children's and Royal Prince Albert Hospital in Sydney. Finnian was treated here in the lymphoma trial by Michael Dickinson and Lauren was treated on the ALL pediatric trial at Royal Children's Hospital by Francoise Michenaud. Both are here today in complete remission, with Lauren focusing more on her acting career than doing what I asked her to do in clinic.

[Laughter]

But ultimately that’s what it’s about. Once again thank you to the Prime Minister, Minister Hunt and your team, the broader Peter Mac team here today and our strategy group, who over the last year have worked on this project to bring our aspirations into reality. Particularly my thanks are to Dominic Wall, Michael Dickinson, John Seymour, our executive leadership team and our collaborators across the country. More importantly I’d like to thank patients and their families for their participation in all aspects of our research program e which allows us to bring our ideas to routine clinical practice. I’d like to invite Lauren to say a few words.

[Applause]

MS LAUREN KRELSHAM: Thank you. So, wow, what an amazing thing we just heard. I’m so excited about his. CAR T-cell therapy has basically saved my life and you know, being a young person who has been battling leukemia on and off since she was seven years old, I’ve been through all the treatments possible in treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I can confidently say that CAR T-cell therapy was one of the most efficient, one of the most un-invasive and quickest I guess, treatments that I’ve had that has actually worked. That, like Greg said before, that gave me hope and it has given me hope to live and I’m still hopeful because I haven’t completed my life yet. I’m still quite young and I’ve still got a lot ahead of me. So when I was put into palliative care probably about four years ago, and there was no other options for me, when CAR T-cell therapy came along, I knew I had a life or at least had a chance to life again. That’s what this will provide. This will provide other people, who don’t choose to get cancer, to actually, perhaps have a chance to live and to live the rest of their lives. Because I think that’s a wonderful gift and well done to the Government and to Peter McCallum and also to the Royal Children’s Hospital. Francoise, thank you very much. Great things are happening in Melbourne, I’m so proud to be part of it.

[Applause]

DR KATIE ALLEN, LIBERAL CANDIDATE FOR HIGGINS: I’d just like to introduce myself, my name is Dr Katie Allen and I’ve been a professor of pediatrics here in the Parkville Precinct and I know what it’s like for so many of you, who have been fighting for grants for medical research, but also most importantly, fighting for the outcomes for your patients. The families here and the patients here who have benefitted from all the work that you have done. For me, I’ve often been asked why I’m putting my hand up for a political career and the answer is right here. It’s about being part of a team that is delivering a strong economy and that strong economy is what delivers the funds that help patients and helps medical research each and every day. I know that the Australia research environment has always been very cost effective and very innovative but I think with Minister Greg Hunt, we have a great champion for us. That includes his interest in prevention – as a pediatrician I’m very interested in prevention – mental health and of course, innovation. Today, here, it’s been a total thrill to see this amazing centre and to hear from patients and families who are benefitting from medical research and the innovation that Australia is delivering for patients here in Victoria and across Australia.

I’m particularly delighted in the $500 million investment being made today by the Morrison Government, that it will include $40 million for four pediatric emergency Departments. Pediatric emergency departments enable families and children to have their care in a way that is separated from what is unfortunately rising levels of violence and drugs in main emergency departments. There is investment in separate emergency departments at Frankston, at Geelong, at Maroondah and at Casey and I know that the families and children, who are being served by these fantastic hospitals, will be so delighted by the outcomes, to be able to have a safe and child-friendly environment so that they can get better quicker. It’s been a total privilege to be part of the very exciting presentation today and the investment, the significant investment, the game changing investment in innovation and medical research that is going to help families and patients here in Victoria, but also across Australia. It’s just a wonderful outcome and I’m so thrilled to be part of such a wonderful announcement. Thank you.

[Applause]

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Dr Allen. So there it is, our Victorian health plan. Well done Greg in bringing this together. We’re happy to take questions on this, I also want to thank the Victorian Government for their work, particularly on working together on those emergency department investments. These are things that we’ve been working closely together on. I think people in Victoria just simply want to see us get on with the job, working closely with the State Government here and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this Victorian health plan.

So let’s take questions on that, particularly while we have the specialists and researchers and the clinical staff who are here on what we’ve announced today. Then of course we can move to other topics and we might excuse our partners, who don’t need to be here for that part of the press conference. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Mr Hunt just to put it into perspective - as you know through the mutual [inaudible] United States for this CAR T treatment. If this had been available, she could have had it here, is that how it works?

MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Correct. That’s exactly right, what we’re doing is looking to make CAR T-cell therapy available to all Australian patients for whom their doctors believe it will help them.

JOURNALIST: When will it be, when will the first patient be treated?

MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Simon and I were talking last night and Simon I think has very good news.


PROFESSOR HARRISON: Yeah so patients are being treated on clinical trials here at the moment, for solid cancers and for lymphoma. We’re waiting to hear whether the therapy is going to be approved to be funded by the PBS or MSAC over the coming weeks.


MINISTER FOR HEALTH: So, weeks.


JOURNALIST: What will the cost then be?


MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Well, these are always determined by the medical authorities, but instead of $500,000, it comes down to effectively nothing, or maybe a very minor payment. So, from something nobody could afford, everybody will be able to afford it.


JOURNALIST: Would you make that announcement before the election?


MINISTER FOR HEALTH: It will depend on when the medical authorities complete their assmensne.t But we guarantee and I think it’s very important to say this – that if the medical authorities recommend a drug or a procedure, we will list them. Unfortunately in 2011 when Mr Shorten was the Assistant Treasurer, he stopped listing new medicines.


PRIME MINISTER: Any other questions on this topic? I know it was a very comprehensive presentation and I know you’re all terribly excited about all the detail, it’s all set out in the document here which will be circulated to you and you can get further information from that. I’m sure those here at Peter Mac Centre and others will be happy to assist with any other inquiries. I want to thank them – if there are no other questions - ?


JOURNALIST: You’ve become a resident of Victoria over the last [inaudible]?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m always very happy to be here. I’m continuing my education on the AFL, which I always enjoy and you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to a sporting contest. There’s no shortage of those here in Melbourne and it’s wonderful to be back here today, you're right. Last Friday I was here, announcing the fast rail project to Geelong, we have been announcing congestion-busting projects. But today this is very special; to be able to be announcing this, this is a half a billion dollar investment in the future of Victoria's healthcare. But more than that, to ensure that Melbourne continues to lead the world in the fight against cancer.

I mean what I said; the Boston of the Southern Hemisphere, that's what we're seeing happen here. It's been a long time in the making and the expertise that is gathered around us here today and right across this great city, this is a real hub for this type of activity, which really will stand Australia out. That's why I'm pleased to support it.


JOURNALIST: Do you see Victoria being the battleground of the coming election?

PRIME MINISTER: Just before we go to politics, I'm going to thank everybody here today. Well done, good on you Finn. Finn's a New South Welshman, he's happy with the result too on the weekend. I certainly was. So?


JOURNALIST: The battle ground for the federal election?


PRIME MINISTER: Look, every part of the country matters. Melbourne matters, Bunbury matters, Townsville matters, Alice Springs matters. The whole country is what our Government is about ensuring is stronger. Both a stronger economy, which means we can invest in these essential services that Australians rely on, keeping Australians safe and, of course, keeping Australians together, whether it's in our workplaces, or more broadly in our communities. So, everywhere matters.


JOURNALIST: Will the federal election be held on May 11?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, when I have gone to the Governor-General, then people will know what day the election will be held on. There are several dates it can be held on and that's one of them.


JOURNALIST: Arthur Sinodinos [inaudible] personal income tax cuts in the Budget, can you let us know if there will be anything along those lines, perhaps more than a cup of coffee a week?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Budget will be on Tuesday week, tomorrow week. It will be the first surplus Budget that has been handed down in this country since we had a Coalition Victorian Treasurer in Peter Costello 12 years ago. This demonstrates the work that has had to be done over the last five and a half years to get the Budget back into balance.


You vote Labor once, you pay for it for more than a decade. That is what happened back in 2007. Here we are in 2019. That's how long it has taken to get the Budget back into balance, to overcome the serious economic damage and fiscal damage that was done to our Budget last time Labor was in office. I can assure the people of Australia that I'm always for them earning more and keeping more of what they earn.


My record is lowering taxes for Australians. We currently have $144 billion worth of tax relief for all working Australians in this country. And wherever I get the opportunity to give Australians further tax relief, I never miss the opportunity.


JOURNALIST: Do you think this investment today will help you turn things around at the next election in Victoria?


PRIME MINISTER: This investment we're making today is going to save people's lives.


JOURNALIST: Will you strike a compromise on coal with the Nationals?


PRIME MINISTER: The National Party and the Liberal Party work closely together in coalition. We work constructively on all of these issues and we will continue to work constructively to ensure that Australia has a sustainable and reliable energy future. What we are not hearing from the Labor Party is how they are going to meet their emissions reduction targets. I mean the Labor Party has a 45  per cent emissions reduction target. Bill Shorten can't even answer two basic questions; will he use carbon credit carry forward? Because Australia has over achieved, particularly stemming from Greg's work when he was Minister for the Environment, we had a 1.1 billion carbon abatement turnaround. We went from a deficit of over 700 million tonnes to a surplus of 369 million tonnes on our Kyoto 2020 target. We’ll be carrying that forward over to our 2030 commitment. Bill Shorten can't that question; will he use the credits that our Government has earned to meet that target? And will he be using taxpayer money to buy foreign carbon credits from overseas? He can't even answer the two most basic questions when it comes to carbon abatement.


But the big one, even more significant than that is his policies - on the best-case scenario - will cost Australians $9,000 a year. That's with taxes on their electricity, taxes even on hamburgers when it comes to the impact on the agricultural sector. Bill Shorten needs to come clean. He's been Leader of the Opposition for five and a half years and he still can't tell you how he is going to meet his reckless emission target, which will cost Australian families dearly, whether it’s at the petrol pump, in takeout or in paying the household electricity bills.


JOURNALIST: Can we expect a coal deal with Michael McCormack [inaudible]?


PRIME MINISTER: We'll continue to work constructively with the National Party, because we are part of the one government and we always come to resolutions on important issues for Australia's future, including on that.


JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] using Daniel Andrews quite a bit in the election campaign, will you be calling on Michael O’Brien to help you out down here?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm working with the Victorian Government and I welcome Michael O'Brien's support as well. At the moment, I'm delivering infrastructure with Daniel Andrews and here today we're delivering pediatric emergency departments with Daniel Andrews. I think that people in Victoria just expect the Premier and the Prime Minister to work together. I notice when I was here the other week, they called us travel buddies when it came to the Melbourne Airport link. Well, that’s true, I'm very happy to work with Dan Andrews on the infrastructure and the health services that Australian need here in Victoria. I think we've demonstrate add very productive working relationship and I thank him for that.


JOURNALIST:  What’s your personal view on whether the LNP should preference One Nation?


PRIME MINISTER: I've already answered that question in an extensive interview last week. We're not doing any preference deals. Our Party has its process for doing determining those issues at the time of nominations closing. Thanks very much.