Television Interview with Greg Jennett – ABC Afternoon Briefing – Wednesday 15 February 2023


SUBJECTS: Skin cancer checks; sun safety.

GREG JENNETT: On a lighter note, the end of summer has brought together a gathering of people in Parliament House who’ve suffered from skin cancer. Now, a few guest outsiders also came in and here’s where it becomes more serious. A bunch of politicians also stepped forward collectively, all sharing their experiences with a condition that’s discovered in 17,000 Australians a year.

Now, Labor frontbencher, Jason Clare was there. He’s a co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Group, and a guest joining them today was media personality, Deborah Hutton. Both joined us in the studio a little earlier in what I suppose can be characterised as a lighter look at a very serious condition.

Well, Deborah, Jason, welcome to the studio. I won’t say you’re the oddest combination that we’ve ever assembled here, but it may not be immediately apparent what a woman of distinguished taste, fashion and beauty actually has in common with a 50-ish politician. No offence, Jason.

DEBORAH HUTTON: What a great intro.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I’ll just take the microphone off and walk out the door.

JENNETT: But there is something seriously that you share in common around melanoma and skin cancer. Deborah – more than a couple of years on, since you first discovered yours, what’s the story that you’ve come to share in Parliament House?

HUTTON: Well, I think the fact that it is my story. I’m an Aussie who grew up in the sun. You know, we have this great culture where we spend our life outdoors and I’m a product of the 1960s – we didn’t have, you know, hats and sunscreen and stuff.

And as you get older, all that work we did in the sun and all that laying around and baking like rotisserie chooks, it’s all starting to come out, and I’ve had two serious bouts with skin cancer, one about twelve years ago and one two years ago, and had significant surgery with an infiltrating BCC that I was lucky enough to get. And what that’s really led to me is like, there’s just such a call, there’s such a crisis in this country with skin cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.

So, I just really came – I wanted today to share my story because I’m very fortunate that I have a profile which is built with my face. It’s been around for a long time and I think people were just a bit shocked that when they saw the photograph that I posted about my surgery, and it really was just a wake-up call for many to get their skin checked. And I thought, hang on a moment, this is something that’s vitally important and we need to know – it needs to be something that each of us needs to be conscious about every year to get our skin checked.

JENNETT: And Jason, you’re in a very similar boat. Of course, this cancer doesn’t respect background or profession, and as you gathered here today, it became apparent that among Members and Senators – parliamentarians in this building, you’re not alone either in your melanoma story.

CLARE: No. A quarter of the cabinet have had surgery for skin cancer in the last couple of years. So, five of the 20 Cabinet Ministers. Two out of three Aussies will get some type of skin cancer in their life. It’s coming at you. And so, I’m trying to use my profile as a pollie to encourage people to get a skin check. That’s what I did. I noticed a mole had changed colour on my leg and so talked to my doctor, we got it cut out. If I didn’t do that, I’d be dead. So that’s why this is important. It’s the end of summer, and so today is a good opportunity for us to send that message to more people to get a check.

HUTTON: Absolutely. But also, to sort of say that you can’t – some of these cancers are not detectable to the eye, they’re not visible to the eye. So one of the ones I had, one of the biopsies I had, was when they said “we need to do a biopsy” and they said, “no, we need to do two”. I’m like, “what are you talking about?” And this is the thing, you can’t self-diagnose.

JENNETT: Right? So early checks and detection is obviously something that you’re both supporting publicly in your presence here. But in your case, Deborah, what was it that prompted you to go in? Had you felt something? If it wasn’t visible, how did you come to be checked?

HUTTON: Look, because of my first skin cancer – like it was twelve years ago, it’s something – I’m on the radar now, and after you’ve had three skin cancers removed, the rest of your life, it’s a fact that the rest of your life you’ll be getting stuff cut out. My uncle looks like a patchwork quilt. My mother is covered in skin cancers, it’s in the family and so I have, without a doubt, I go in once a year, but now I go in every three months because it came back in the same area and so that’s what I do. And they, sometimes they go, oh, we’ll just keep an eye on it. And I go, oh, I don’t know about keeping an eye on it, let’s keep a really close eye on it, because it is about early detection; it’s all about early detection. They’re the easiest cancer to spot, the easiest to remove, and as soon as you get onto it, early detection, 98% success rate. So why shouldn’t we be getting our skin check regularly?

JENNETT: And Jason, I suppose there’s a multitude of reasons why people might be slow to get checked out. I wonder if affordability might be a concern for some people, do you think?

CLARE: Certainly, if they’re going to the dermatologist, it might be. One of the problems has been COVID. A lot of people didn’t go and get a check over COVID. So we’re starting to see people come back now, but –

JENNETT: – despite the backlog, and the difficulty with GPs –

CLARE: But what the doctors are telling us is the cancers that are presenting are more advanced than they were a couple of years ago, because they’ve been growing on people’s bodies for a long time. There’s never going to be enough dermatologists to check everyone’s skin across the country, and GPs are critical here, too, so the training for GPs to spot a melanoma or a skin cancer is going to be a critical part of success here.

JENNETT: Yeah, I think that was a point made by regional and remote MPs. Anne Webster was one who made that point. So we’ve talked about detection. Why don’t we talk about being sun smart and prevention in the first place? Debra, there have been a few articles, and I think a lot on social media around Sydney in particular, about some councils being cool on the idea of cabana protection on beaches. Do you think they should be banned? Do you think anything’s at odds there with the SunSmart message?

HUTTON: Look, the thing is, you’ve got to be an idiot not to understand you need some kind of protection, right? So you’re putting sunscreen on, you’re wearing a UPF 50-plus hat, you’re wearing a rashie, if you can. You’re sitting under an umbrella and that’s fine.

So, yes, look, there’s this new sort of cabana-style, sun protective things that they take to the beach. I was at a local beach recently and they were covered in them and I was like, okay, you could hardly see the sand. It’s fine. I sit under an umbrella, but it’s a little umbrella. I don’t have a family of six, so I get that there’s an absolute need for it. I think it’s kind of a double-edged sword. I think it’s important that we have protection and to recognise that – there’s a lot of UPF, you know, sun protection materials out there. So if you’re going to sit under anything, make sure you’re sitting under something that’s actually going to do its job. But, yeah, it’s – it’s – it’s a tough one. I think that was a Bondi kind of focus thing.

JENNETT: It does sound like it’s a concern for those beaches which get really, really crowded in summer. You’re not the Local Government Minister, so you probably don’t get a big say in this, Jason Clare, but what do you think – should be some tolerance for these shades?

CLARE: I bought one this summer myself. I’ve become paranoid about this ever since I was diagnosed. So, whenever I’m out in the sun, it’s sunscreen, it’s rashies, it’s cabanas. But someone told us today that we’re doing a better job at the beach in terms of covering up, with cabanas and rash shirts, but it’s that incidental sun that you might get walking to the car or spending a bit of time outside, for tradies and farmers in particular, there’s a message here and they’re busy working today and they’re not watching ABC 24, but if you know somebody who’s out at work today in the sun, when they get home, tell them about what you saw in this conversation, ask them to get a skin check. I know from my own personal story. When I put a photo up of the scar on my leg, I had one politician come up to me, closed the door, opened his shirt – I didn’t know what the bloody hell was going on – and he showed this big scar down his chest and he said, “thank you”. The work that Deborah has done in telling her story has saved thousands of people’s lives, and I just hope that telling our stories again here today, there’ll be someone watching that will go and get a check.

JENNETT: Well, of course, you capture what audience you can, where you can, and you’ve both done that today. Hopefully, those who are watching ABC News Channel can spread the message because of what you’ve told us. Deborah Hutton, Jason Clare, great to have both of you here with us.

HUTTON: Thank you so much. Thank you.