By now, most of you will be aware that we have a new Federal Minister for Health and Sport in Australia. Greg Hunt was appointed to the position after the resignation of Sussan Ley on 18 January 2017 following an expenses scandal.

Only 6 months after a volatile election that focused heavily on Medicare, the future direction of our health care system is still uncertain. This is one of the largest areas of government spending and, as consumers and taxpayers, we all want to know who’s spending the money and how they are spending it.

So, who is now running the show?

The new guy

Greg Hunt was first elected to Federal Parliament in 2001 as the Member for Flinders in Victoria (where he was born and raised). He has been the Minister for the Environment and, most recently, the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.

Mr Hunt has deep personal associations with Australia’s health care system. His wife is a nurse and his mother a former nurse, while his family have had experience with mental illness. In his previous role, Mr Hunt saw first-hand the advances being made in Australian medical research and innovation.

In Mr Hunt’s first comments as health minister, he said he aims to re-establish the value of GPs in the community and to make ours the best health care system in the world. He expects Medicare to be a key part of this.

The new ministry

Ken Wyatt, formerly the Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health, has been promoted to the new position of Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health. Mr Wyatt is the first Indigenous MP to become a Commonwealth Minister.

Mr Wyatt has held several senior positions concerning Aboriginal health and education for both the Western Australian and the New South Wales Departments of Health. He will be working closely with Mr Hunt to further the progress of national health programs in the Indigenous community.

The new guy’s wing man

Mr Hunt will be supported by Dr David Gillespie, Member for Lyne, New South Wales, in his expanded role and new title of Assistant Minister for Health. He had 33 years’ experience in medical practice before entering parliament. Dr Gillespie was previously the Assistant Minister for Rural Health where he utilised his knowledge of public and private health delivery and small business.

Dr Gillespie will continue to be responsible for rural health but will now also assist Mr Hunt on broader health issues.

What do they need to do?

This revamped leadership team have their work cut out for them. The sudden exit of Ms Ley left many things unresolved, including a series of major reviews and disputes with peak health industry bodies.

The ALP, the Greens and powerful stakeholders are putting pressure on the Coalition Government to urgently revise their stance on many important health care issues, including:

  • The current freeze on rebates to GP’s and cuts to funding for GP home visits.
  • The current trial phase of the new Health Care Homes scheme for people with chronic conditions.
  • The changes to bulk-billing incentives paid to providers of pathology and diagnostic imaging services.
  • The possible legalisation of medicinal cannabis at a national level.
  • The funding model for public hospitals.
  • The rising cost of private health insurance policies and the possible removal of the private health insurance rebate.

What challenges do the team face?

When he announced Mr Hunt’s appointment, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged that health care has always had the highest level of conflicting expectations and demands of all policy areas. Everybody wants a big piece of the pie and there isn’t enough to go around.

A key issue with ministry budgets is the general Liberal Party preference for any new spending to be offset by cuts in other areas of the relevant ministry. For example, with advances in technology, the cost of providing best-practice health services is constantly rising. This includes the costs of new diagnostic equipment and of providing effective digital health information systems. These costs must be paid for somehow so those funds may have to be redirected from other health areas that many people still see as important. It is a fine balancing act.

Decisions like these are guided by the values of the party and, to a lesser extent, of the individual ministers. Mr Hunt will also be constrained by decisions already finalised by Ms Ley.

It is too early to say what impact Mr Hunt will have as our new health minister. We will simply have to wait and see.

What can you do?

Contact your local MP
Tell them about the health issues that affect you and what changes you would like to see in policy decisions. You may also like to contact Greg Hunt, David Gillespie, Ken Wyatt, Catherine King (Shadow Health Minister) or Richard Di Natalie (Leader of the Australian Greens and holder of the Green’s health portfolio).

Members – Parliament of Australia:

Share your opinion online
The Australian Digital Health Agency will be hosting a webcast for consumers and health professionals on Monday, 30 January on health technology and how Australians would like to use technology to improve their health and care. You can also have your say via an online survey that closes Tuesday, 31 January 2017.


  • Koziol M and Aston H, The Age, 2017, Greg Hunt takes on ministry in limited reshuffle, viewed 18 January 2017
  • Gordon M, The Age, 2017, Greg Hunt is minister for damage control in Malcolm Turnbull’s minimalist reshuffle, viewed 18 January 2017
  • Australian Government Department of Health website – List of Current Issues