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Turnbull appoints new health minister

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Greg Hunt has immediately sought to turn around the Turnbull government’s troubled reputation in the health portfolio, pledging his support for Medicare.

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Hunt hit the ground running after being appointed Minister for Health and Sport today, vowing to advocate for mental health, describing it as “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,” he said.

The son and husband of nurses, he was looking forward to working with the medical profession.

Health has traditionally been known as a difficult portfolio but is especially so for the coalition in the wake of the 2016 election that launched Labor’s so-called Mediscare campaign.

That campaign, sparked by the government’s freeze on Medicare rebates that has left GPs furious, almost cost Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the election.

Former minister Sussan Ley was criticised for not doing enough to refute Labor’s claims, but Hunt pledged his support for Medicare shortly after taking on the portfolio, saying he believed deeply in its importance and that it was key to Australia’s successful healthcare system.

He takes over after Ley resigned from the frontbench in the wake of an expenses scandal, with Turnbull lauding his strong policy, analytical and communication skills.

“During his time as the environment minister, he demonstrated an ability to grapple with extremely complex policy issues and engage a very diverse range of stakeholders and interest groups, including state and territory governments,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King said Hunt already had a lengthy to-do list, which includes lifting the deeply unpopular rebates freeze.

“Malcolm Turnbull has changed his salesperson when it comes to health but he hasn’t changed a single one of his policies,” King told reporters in Melbourne.

“The new health minister inherits cuts and policies that are making healthcare less affordable for Australians across the country.”

The Royal Australian College of GPs and the Australian Medical Association are seeking urgent meetings with the new minister in a bid to lobby for an end to the Medicare freeze, which isn’t due to be lifted until 2020.

AMA president Michael Gannon, who spoke with Hunt on Wednesday morning, believes Hunt’s experience as a senior, long-serving cabinet minister will benefit the portfolio.

“That’s what I’ve called for publicly and privately, to have a minister for health who goes into the expenditure review committee, who goes into cabinet, and is a champion for the health portfolio and the health of Australians,” Gannon told AAP.

Arthur Sinodinos will take over Hunt’s previous portfolios of industry, innovation and science and his cabinet secretary role will return to the prime minister’s office as has been the previous practice.

Ken Wyatt will become minister for aged care and indigenous health while Michael Sukkar will be assistant minister to the treasurer.

The new ministers will be sworn in by the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove on Tuesday.

– AAP

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