As the dust settles on last week’s leadership chaos out of Canberra, which saw mass ministerial resignations, switching allegiances and another change of prime minister, doctors’ groups have welcomed the return of Greg Hunt to the health portfolio.
The health minister had been one of the Cabinet ministers to resign, contributing to moves to force a leadership spill in support of challenger Peter Dutton, the former home affairs minister. But with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull forced to step aside and Dutton swept aside for late starter Treasurer Scott Morrison, Hunt was today sworn back into the role he had vacated only days ago.
The Australian Medical Association said new Prime Minister Morrison had made the right call in reappointing Hunt to the complex portfolio.
“Greg Hunt has been a very consultative minister who has displayed great knowledge and understanding of health policy and the core elements of the health system,” AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said.
“In his time as minister, he has presided over the gradual lifting of the Medicare freeze and the major reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the private health insurance. And he has acknowledged that major reform and investment is needed in general practice. These are all complex matters that would have been challenging for a new minister. It takes months for new ministers to gain command of the depth and breadth of the Health portfolio.”
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt has also been reinstated to the position he held prior to the government’s leadership “madness”, as Turnbull called it.
Senator Bridget McKenzie remains responsible for rural health.
According to the RACGP, Hunt’s return after a days-long absence will see him continue to position general practice as a health policy priority.
“Minister Hunt has worked closely with the RACGP over the past two years, achieving positive results, including investment into general practice research, the removal of the Medicare freeze and the return of general practice training to the RACGP,” the college’s president-elect Dr Harry Nespolon told newsGP.
He said the RACGP will pick up its work with the minister on core patient priority areas including preventive health and chronic disease management.
In a statement this week, Hunt congratulated Morrison and new Deputy Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg as two “great friends” and “outstanding people”, claiming “they possess all the qualities needed to lead our party and our nation into the future”.
Despite his support last week for the spectacularly misjudged challenge by Dutton, Hunt said he was “honoured and humbled” to work as Minister for Health within a unified Morrison Government.
“They represent the next generation of the Liberal leadership team and present an opportunity to move forward as one.”
Resuming where he’d left off, Hunt said the government’s job is to “continue our record investment” in new medicines, hospitals, medical research and mental health.
“We have been able to make tremendous progress in health, listing new medicines such as breakthrough cancer drugs such as Opdivo and life-saving medicine for spinal muscular atrophy in Spinraza on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. All whilst lifting mental health and medical research to being core pillars in our long-term national health plan.
“I particularly look forward to working with Scott on our combined passions of mental health, medical research, further supporting our new hospital agreement and working with our GPs and specialists on strengthening Medicare. I welcome his commitment to addressing chronic illness.”
Hunt also thanked Turnbull and deposed deputy PM Julie Bishop for “their leadership and service to the nation”.
But the Labor Party has slammed Morrison’s elevation to the top job, claiming that as Treasurer he “locked in massive cuts to hospitals”.
In a statement following Friday’s Liberal party room vote, Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Morrison’s record on health sector funding augured badly.
“At a time when health costs are higher than ever, emergency departments are under more pressure and people are stuck on surgery waiting lists, the last thing we need is more of the same from Turnbull’s right-hand man.”
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