Member for Flinders Greg Hunt will replace Sussan Ley as Federal Health Minister in the wake of her resignation after scrutiny over extravagant expenses and travel.
Mr Hunt said he was honoured to take on the responsibility of the cabinet’s health and sport portfolios, as announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney on Wednesday 18 January.
“Health touches the lives of every Australian. It is essential that people can see a doctor when they need to and have medicine when they are not well,” Mr Hunt said.
“My mother was a nurse. My wife is a nurse. All my life I have witnessed the absolute dedication of Australia’s medical professionals.
“I now look forward to working with our excellent nurses, doctors, researchers, and all our healthcare professionals.”
The former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science said he was passionate about improving mental health services through his new appointment.
“Mental health is an issue that is very close to my heart. I want to be a strong advocate for greater understanding and community awareness, and to ensure we have the necessary resources to help deal with this very important issue,” Mr Hunt said.
“And as a sports fan and sports dad, I am also thrilled to be working towards getting more Australians, including indigenous Australians, involved in sport.
“Our love of sport is quintessentially Australian. Sport improves our health, brings communities together and inspires us.”
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) chief Executive Alison Verhoeven welcomed the appointment, adding she hoped Mr Hunt would take a fresh approach to avoid the “hard lessons” learned by previous health ministers.
“Some policy decisions in the recent past designed to streamline the system and save money, for example the freeze on Medicare rebates, have had their own side-effects of significant increases in out-of-pocket costs, and patients delaying seeking medical care as a result,” Ms Verhoeven said.
“Delays in seeking care can lead to higher costs later on for the health system if that patient presents later in a worse state of health through lack of medical attention.
“The positive Health Care Homes primary care reform initiated by the former Minister Sussan Ley will continue, but there are also substantial associated risks with this including the funding of the program, its design and its supporting e-health and data infrastructure.”
Ms Ley resigned from the health portfolio position earlier this year after expense reports revealed she bought an $800,000 investment property while on a taxpayer-funded trip to the Gold Coast.
But Mr Hunt was not without his own history in controversial expense claims.
He claimed a total of $394,731, including $89,418 in overseas travel, in the first six months of last year alone.
Mr Hunt also allegedly charged taxpayers in excess of $20,000 for more than a decade of travel to Queensland for him and his family.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said all six trips to Hayman over a 13-year period were for political events and meetings.
“The other six trips occurred over Mr Hunt’s 15 years in parliament and span his time as a parliamentary secretary and shadow minister,” the spokeswoman said.
“On each occasion Mr Hunt was based in a single location and used this as a base for multiple electorate or portfolio visits, events or meetings over a number of days.”
New South Wales senator and cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos, who had served as the Acting Health Minister since Ms Ley stepped aside from the role 10 days ago, will replace Mr Hunt as Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.
Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.