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Greg Hunt: Inside Health Minister’s decision to leave politics

Three days after Australia detected its first case of coronavirus on January 25, 2020, Health Minister Greg Hunt was grilled about the rapidly escalating situation.

The number of positive infections had grown to five and many more were being tested.

“Those numbers will literally change by the hour,” Mr Hunt told Sky News host Laura Jayes.

Mr Hunt had been in an urgent national security meeting the day before and was under pressure about why the government hadn’t acted more quickly to stop direct flights from Wuhan.

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“Why did it take so long to stop those flights?” Why wasn’t it done earlier?” Jayes asked.

“Australia has declared this to be a disease with pandemic potential and so we have followed the expert advice at every step,” he answered.

Camera IconHealth Minister Greg Hunt revealed he wanted to spend time with his family. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

“But was that expert advice in hindsight now wrong because we now have five confirmed cases?” she pressed.

“Well what we have is a situation of a contagious disease which has cases around the world and we have some of the strongest border protection measures in place around the world ourselves,” he responded.

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Less than two months later, when daily case numbers had soared into the hundreds, Mr Hunt was receiving 1000 messages a day, working up to 20 hours straight.

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Camera IconGreg Hunt said his children had told him it was his last chance to be a proper dad. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

The 56-year-old has barely had a chance to slow down since, overseeing Australia’s coronavirus response and the trouble-plagued vaccine rollout.

Time for family

Mr Hunt had actually told Prime Minister Scott Morrison that he wanted to take a step back and spend more time with family before the last election.

Flinders
Camera IconGreg Hunt arrives at his election party in Rye with wife Paula. Mark Stewart Credit: News Corp Australia

But Mr Morrison told him he needed him to stay on.

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“We called upon him one last time, not knowing, in full what those three years might bring,” the Prime Minister told parliament on Thursday.

What came next was the biggest challenges of Mr Hunt’s career as he became one of the people Mr Morrison relied upon most throughout the pandemic.

The father-of-two lives with his wife, Paula, a former nurse educator with specialist training in operating theatres, and his two children, Poppy, 16, and James, 12, in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

Paula told NCA NewsWire they were now looking forward to making their family “whole”.

n03ml511 Greg and Paula Hunt welcomed James Anthony Alan Hunt, brother to Poppy (4 yo). James arrived at 8.51 last night at The Bays Hospital in Mornington. He weighed in at 7lb 3 oz (3.3kg) after a short labour. Paula is doing fine. Sister Poppy is very excited. Dad says he is somewhat startled.
Camera IconGreg Hunt with his then newborn son James, wife Paula and Poppy, aged 4 at the time. Credit: News Limited

“Greg and I have been together for 18 years and during that time he has shown unwavering commitment to the electorate and the Australian people,” she said.

“To say he has worked tirelessly would be an understatement.

“Every day I admire his endurance.

“His focus on dealing with the challenges, his energy and compassion are still to date running at 11 out of 10.”

She said that no problem was too big or small for her husband to take on.

Margin Call.. Melbourne Cup
Camera IconPaula said it was now time for their family to be whole. David Geraghty / The Australian. Credit: News Corp Australia

“Greg’s open door policy, approachability is a testament to his generous nature,” she said.

“I know Greg feels honoured to have served the Australian people, his team along with past and present Prime Ministers have enabled him to do his best work.

“What a privilege it has been.

“With our children growing up so fast and so many years that have passed, it is their time now to have their father back and for our family to be whole.”

Mr Hunt admitted that his children had only this past Sunday told him it was his last chance to be a “proper dad”.

He said his wife had done an incredible job raising them, mostly on her own.

“She has raised two beautiful children, largely as a single mother, and I’m so immensely proud of Poppy, who is going into year 11 and James, who was about to go into senior school,” he told parliament.

n15ml305 c1 funding for equestrian trail, Greg Hunt with daughter Poppy on Kitty led by Alex Karavis, 071001 tanya fry
Camera IconGreg Hunt with his daughter Poppy. Credit: News Limited

“They are both getting awards this week, and again I’m not there.

“But, they said to me, on Sunday, they looked at me, and they said, Dad, this is your last chance to be a proper Dad. And it’s time to come home, Dad.”

His long career in parliament

Mr Hunt was first elected to parliament, 20 years ago in 2001 at the age of 35.

It was the night he reconnected with Paula, who he’d kind of known over the years because she was the sister of one of his old school friends.

They got married two years later and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was the best man at the wedding.

“Greg is my closest friend in this place,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters on Wednesday.

Mr Hunt’s first roles as a young MP in the Howard government were as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Greg Hunt and Wife at launch of the Peninsula Short Film Festival on Monday night.
Camera IconGreg Hunt has been in parliament for 20 years. Credit: Supplied

He was shadow environment minister for six years, before he became Environment Minister under the Abbott government, when the ‘carbon tax’ was killed off.

He then took on the health portfolio in 2017. Mr Morrison said there was a discussion after the 2016 election about who should take on the job.

“When I was asked about this I said there is only one choice, and that is Greg Hunt,” he said.

“Because it one of the hardest put folios to deal with.

”So you want a health minister who has a big brain and a big heart and I have had the great fortune to have a person who is excelled in those attributes more than most.”

Many have paid tribute to Mr Hunt since news of his decision first broke on Wednesday.

Among them is former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth.

“There was no better person on either side to have this portfolio this pandemic,” he tweeted.

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