Remarks at the Australian Medical Association National Conference

27 May 2017
Melbourne, Victoria
Prime Minister
Health and Social Services


Thank you very much Michael for that very warm welcome.

Michael Gannon, President. Tony Bartone, Vice President. Anne Trimmer, Secretary General. The AMA Federal Council, past presidents, state AMA delegates, Australian Medical Students Association, friends one and all – it is great to be with you.

And to be so at a time of growing collaboration between the government and the AMA.

The work you do is so important. You are the healthcare professionals to whom Australians turn in their moments of greatest need. You treat us from the time we’re born, and through every stage of life. You are doctors, counsellors, friends and you always provide a reassuring, trusted voice.

Meeting your Federal Council last year helped me hear first hand from you the first hand prospective of the medical profession.

In President Michael Gannon, you have a leader who engages in policy discussions with government with real candour – he is a plain, blunt man and very good. Very good to know, you always know what his position is – no ambiguity - and he has a willingness to work with the government.

We won’t always agree, but it’s very important to have an open door for discussions on health and my government always will.

Now, as Michael said, this year’s budget has restored the sense of goodwill between the AMA and the government because it reaffirms our commitment to health.

Ensuring that the budget is on a sustainable footing enables us to maintain our world class, universal healthcare system - one that puts patients at its very heart. 

Health care is costing us much more as our population ages. And while new technologies, and drugs help us live longer, better lives, it is also expensive to stay at the very forefront, at the cutting edge in every respect, putting further pressure on the health budget. That's why it is critical that we spend each dollar wisely.

I am determined to ensure that we maintain our world-class health system, now and in the future, and that our policies are fully funded.

We are increasing funding every year into Medicare, the PBS, public hospitals and private health insurance. At the same time we have delivered a fair and responsible budget, that contains growth in expenditure, and returns the budget to balance so that we can pay for the healthcare system Australians need.

We are making sure that the money we invest in health is targeted and efficient.

And we must ensure, as far as possible, that healthcare - Medicare in particular - is quarantined from baseless cynical political attacks.

Patients must have confidence in their healthcare system.

Funding for Medicare will now be guaranteed by an Act of Parliament and the money will be there for all to see.

Dedicated funding for Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be placed in a Medicare Guarantee Fund every year—transparently, assuredly, and responsibly.

It’s all part of my determination to give you - the professionals we rely on - the resources and backing that you expect and deserve.

The Minister for Health and I appreciated your feedback and the very collaborative approach in the lead up to the budget.

We have listened and acted, lifting the freeze on MBS indexation.

Our approach to lifting the freeze is responsible and targets those services that matter to Australians the most.

We have also decided not to proceed with 2014 Budget savings measures as well as changes to bulk billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology services.

Our staged set of changes deliver on our commitments to guarantee Medicare and cement the critical role that primary care plays on our health system.

The doctors and medical professionals of Australia can expect a considered and calm approach to policy from my government. There’ll be no sudden changes, no knee jerk reactions, only clear, consistent decision making in consultation with you, that helps you deliver first class services to Australian patients.

The States’ hospital funding will grow by around $4.2 billion or 22.8 per cent over the next four years. The current 3-year funding agreement is underway and for the first time patient quality and safety has been linked to the funding. 

The government also values the role private health insurance plays in our health system and the Minister for Health is exploring sensible opportunities for reform of private health insurance to ensure its value for Australians and long-term sustainability.

We are trialling significant reforms in primary care, as you know. Our Health Care Homes model supports people with chronic illness and focuses on coordinated care, with flexibility for the GP team to look at new ways to deliver that care. The focus is firmly on the patient, enabling them to stay as well as possible at home and out of hospital.

And when we launched our policy I met a patient named Michael who sadly has now lost his fight with cancer - and I will always remember his words - “Every day I am not in hospital is a great day”.

This is a model that healthcare professionals have been calling out for,  for years. We have listened to your concerns and we are determined to ensure that the right system is in place that supports both practitioners and patients.

We will continue to prioritise mental health — this is a very, very important focus for my government.

Professor Ian Hickie from whom I have learnt a great on the subject as I’m sure many of you have, speaks of the mental wealth of nations. It is a very apt phrase - because it reminds us that we all have a vested interest in each other’s mental health, as indeed we have a vested interest in each other’s health. But mental health comes at such a great cost, not only to the person suffering, but also to their family, communities and of course the health care system. And it has been in large part overlooked for a long time, for a whole range of reasons of stigma that you understand very well.

Nearly half of all Australians experience a mental health issue over the course of their lives, and it doesn’t discriminate. I heard you had a session today on the health and wellbeing of your profession. That is so important. I am a very big supporter of the R U OK Campaign - just three simple words, which can mean so much to a person who needs help. There is a lot of help to be found in empathy and awareness.

We are also trialling innovative ways to support people, including investing in digital trials which will put 24/7 support in the hands of those who need it. And we will be doing more to care for the carers. We’re also investing in regional suicide prevention trial sites, to ensure that those who live outside of our capital cities are supported.

In the work that you do, for which we thank you, there is great hope and promise which could benefit all Australians.

Now the Health Minister Greg Hunt and I are determined to continue our strong track record of investing in medical research and technology.

While we’re a world leader in health and medical research, the challenge in Australia has always been getting the research out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.

The Medical Research Future Fund and the Biomedical Translation Fund will provide around $1.4 billion over the next five years to support our medical researchers and scientists, including through commercialisation.

The first disbursements of $65.9 million from our Medical Research Future Fund were announced in the Budget. They included $5 million to support the internationally recognised Advanced Health Research and Translation Centres, and $10 million in grants for preventive health research.

We have also put in place a Biomedical Translation Fund of more than $500 million—$250 million of Commonwealth funding matched by private sector investors.

The Biomedical Translation Fund is one of the National Innovation and Science Agenda’s most important initiatives. As a key vehicle for commercialising our world-class medical research, it will provide new jobs and export opportunities. And of course it improves the health and wellbeing for Australians and people all around the world.

Today we make the Fund a reality, and I’m pleased to announce the first investment. It has the potential to benefit the people who deserve the highest level of support - our children.

We will provide $10 million for a promising new treatment for peanut allergies in children.

The research by Prota Therapeutics will help develop a new therapy to allow children with peanut allergies to incorporate peanut products as a regular part of their diet.

And what a difference that would make to children everywhere. It’s an example of the innovative projects the Government is backing - projects that are built on the excellent medical research and technology that you at the AMA foster and encourage.

And research is an issue as you know that governments must focus on not simply with great scientists and researchers, medical professionals, but also with patients and their families.

I’ve just left a meeting with Greg Hunt who sends his apologies – I know he spoke to you eloquently yesterday – but Greg and I have just been meeting with the father of a young lady who is suffering from brain cancer and discussing his ideas and his friends’ ideas about how we can do more to promote research into brain cancer and increase the survival rate for brain cancer sufferers. And particularly focus on brain cancer in children - as you know, it has one of the most deadly consequences and incidences.

This is a leadership role in health that falls on government, that needs to bring to bear all of the elements – responsible financial stewardship ensuring that we invest for the future into the research. Ensuring that we maintain and guarantee and reinsure those vital medical services that we all depend on – Medicare, PBS, our hospital system, private health insurance – but it also needs a very, very big heart and I know that all of you with all of your years of academic training, all of your years of clinical experience, all of the science and the study that has dominated your lives, above all else, what drives you is love for your fellow men and women, love for your patients. You’ve committed yourselves to a life of service - undiluted, a commitment of compassion and we thank you for it.

Our health system is the envy of the world.

Our skilled doctors, our nurses, all your allied health professionals work tirelessly to give the best possible care and your government thanks you for that. 

Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your professionalism. Thank you for your compassion. We will match you with a commitment to ensure that you have the resources at every level to continue to deliver the practical love that keeps Australians well.

Thank you very much.