April 06, 2023

MADELEINE MORRIS, HOST: Thank you very much for your time, Minister. I'll come to those matters in your portfolio in just a second. But first of all, can I just get your reaction to the Liberal Party deciding not to support the Voice yesterday? 


MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: We're obviously deeply disappointed at the position Peter Dutton has taken. But not entirely surprised, really. This is a man who walked out on the Parliament's Apology to the Stolen Generations 15 years ago, and for the last several months, has been lobbing up strawman argument after strawman argument, really trying to build a reason to oppose something that is so broadly supported around the country. I mean, every state Premier, Liberal and Labor alike, will campaign in favour of this referendum. I can't think of a business group or significant corporation that hasn't lent its support, faith leaders, sporting groups, so really, this does see Peter Dutton the odd one out on a referendum that should be an opportunity for healing and for moving forward for the country. 


MORRIS: A Newspoll out yesterday found 54% of Australians currently support the Voice, the majority of states do. One state that didn't was Annastacia Palaszczuk's state, Queensland. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday conceded that more needed to be done to inform people about the Voice. Just going by the numbers on that poll that were pretty soft in favour, it does look like you have quite a job ahead of you now to get this through? 


BUTLER: And we obviously have some months. The question has been finalised after deep consultation with First Nations Leaders, involving the Prime Minister himself, that was announced in the last couple of weeks. The Bill has been introduced to Parliament last week, and there now will be a substantial parliamentary inquiry into that process, which then will lead to much more information being released to the Australian people before a vote probably in the final quarter of this year. So there's enormous opportunity now for a community discussion about the way in which this will lead to practical improvement for First Nations people. And as the Health Minister, I can't think of an area that will benefit more than the health portfolio by deep engagement between an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice and the Parliament and the Government. 


MORRIS: Simon Birmingham was on the program just a little bit before, and speaking in favour of the Liberals position, which is for local and regional voices, and he says that the Liberal Party is very concerned that local and regional voices, people in those grassroots communities, aren't going to be adequately represented in the Voice. What's your response to that? 


BUTLER: I just don't think Simon is right about that. Obviously, there will be local and regional voices feeding into that national Voice, all of that detail will become clear. But I think Simon is doing a brave job of defending a position that I suspect he doesn't support. 


MORRIS: And just before I move on to the medical matters - Peter Dutton has taken a strong line here, if the Voice does get through, should he resign as leader of the Liberals? 


BUTLER: That's a matter down the track. I'll just make the point again - I think it's not entirely surprising, but deeply disappointing that Peter Dutton has taken a decision really to put himself on the outer of a process that should be healing and moving forward for the country. It should be a great moment for the country. This has been the subject of years and years of discussion and debate, including with people like Julian Leeser - Peter Dutton's spokesperson on these matters. The words have been worked through, and I think that it’s a really great opportunity this year that Peter Dutton has decided to leave himself distant from. 


MORRIS: Just moving on to the matters which we spoke about in the introduction. A new drug, Trikafta, is going to be listed on the PBS for 6 to 11-year-olds who have cystic fibrosis. Tell us about that and how many people it’s going to benefit? 


BUTLER: There would be about 500 kids between the age of 6 and 11 with cystic fibrosis and the particular mutation that gives them the opportunity to take this medicine, and for them and their families, this will be an absolute life changer. It really will. Not only a life changer in terms of their ability to play and participate in sports and put aside all of the therapy, all of the other medicines they take on a daily basis right now, but it will also, we think, extend their life by decades. I mean, the average life expectancy of someone with cystic fibrosis right now is about 47, significantly, as a result of the progressive damage done to organs by the disease, particularly the lungs. So this medicine is going to be a great thing for them on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, but it also gives them and their families an opportunity to look forward to a long and healthy life which will be decades longer than otherwise would be. 


MORRIS: We don't have much time left, Mark Butler, but I did just want to ask you about the independent report into fraud in Medicare. It found $3 billion worth of waste in the Medicare system. I mean, you must be absolutely alarmed and disturbed about that? 


BUTLER: I think everyone would be alarmed at a time when it's harder than ever to see a doctor and more expensive to see a doctor right now, that any dollar in the precious Medicare system would not be spent as it was intended to. So our commitment to strengthen Medicare, which we took to the last election, includes, obviously, making sure that every precious dollar the taxpayer has put into the Medicare system has been spent properly. The Review that I commissioned over the course of the summer, and I released earlier this week has a series of recommendations to strengthen compliance and integrity in the system and I intend to work through the recommendations as a matter of priority.