Hunt will help steer a 10-year plan to create an environment in which cutting-edge medical research is turned into products whose development attracts the smartest minds to Melbourne along with vast capital investment, unlocking jobs and productivity.
“I always said as [health] minister, Melbourne was one of the three greatest medical research precincts along with Boston and Cambridge,” he said. “We are world-leading with them in research and treatment. We are also very good at innovation, but we have the capacity to join them as world-leading.”
”The prospects for Melbourne are almost unlimited as a city … It creates jobs and wealth and enormous health and career outcomes for Australians.”
Hunt pointed to recent investments by CSL and Moderna as positive signs of future growth. But he said faster clinical trial approvals, improved talent acquisition, and better linkage between researchers and the private sector could spur huge uplift and would mean new drugs, treatments and medical devices would be produced in Melbourne.
As the Liberal Party prepares for a byelection in Melbourne’s outer-eastern suburban seat of Aston, Hunt said the party should pick a woman with “deep community links” to the electorate, which takes in suburbs like Rowville and Knox. While declining to endorse a particular candidate, only three prospective candidates – oncologist Ranjana Srivastava, healthcare leader Amy Bach, and former Victorian MP Cathrine Burnett-Wake – have some degree of association with Aston.
Hunt, who represented the Mornington Peninsula-based seat of Flinders for two decades, contended the Liberals needed to emulate the British conservatives, who elected a woman, Liz Truss, and a person of Indian background, Rishi Sunak, as their most recent prime ministers.
“This is a very important evolution for the Liberal Party,” he said. “The work is being done, people heard the message of the electorate at both the state and federal levels in Victoria and they’re responding.”
In a full-throated defence of the Coalition’s management of COVID-19, Hunt said: “I think the period of government we’ve just been through, as history evolves in terms of what we did with the economy and health and safety, is likely to be increasingly appreciated”.
“Australia’s response, and I still get this from people around the world, was clearly one of the most effective of any country for 2020 and 2021. We had one of the lowest death rates in the world, one of the highest vaccination rates at 98 per cent, and at the same time one of the lowest unemployment rates.”
Australia’s vaccine rollout was one of the greatest national achievements in decades, he claimed, saying the government learnt lessons each day and expressed no regrets about the procurement of vaccine.
“We secured all the possible vaccines at the earliest possible time,” he said, adding the government beat its initial target for full first-dose vaccination coverage by more than a month.
“Donald Trump was not selling vaccines to Australia. The priority for the US vaccine makers had to be for the US because we had incredibly low rates and they and catastrophic scenes.”
A federal government-commissioned review found “Australia’s procurement activities were consistent with other high-income countries.”
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.