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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 11525


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (12:29): Australia has an important pedigree in medical and health research. Our researchers are some of the best in the world, and Australia is a centre of excellence for medical research. We have a history of important medical research achievements such as the application of penicillin, developed by Howard Florey; the cochlear implant, invented by a team led by Professor Graeme Clark; and spray-on skins, developed by Dr Fiona Wood, just to name a few. We have exported our excellence to the world to improve people's lives and we have shared our achievements. There is little doubt our medical and health research is valued and recognised internationally, but we can do better. We can do more to create a less inhibitive and obstructive regulatory environment for our researchers, so they can actually get on with research. We can do better at attracting and retaining the right people with the right skills and experience.

I have had the good fortune to meet with medical researchers and discuss the great work that they do at some of Australia's pre-eminent research centres, predominantly those located in my state of Victoria. These include eminent researchers like Professor Geoffrey Donnan AO of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Melbourne Brain Research Centre and Professor Brendan Crabb at the Burnet Institute, right on the border of my electorate of Higgins, who are undertaking critical work that will have application not only in Australia but around the world. We also have the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Cabrini Health, Baker IDI Institute and so many others. I also had the good fortune to meet with many female researchers when I launched, along with my colleague opposite Amanda Rishworth, the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Maths, Science and Engineering in June this year.

One of the greatest threats to medical research in this country is the current government. Labor's apparent cuts that we again see raised in the press threaten growth in this important research area. And the Labor government has form. In 2011, the then Minister for Health and Ageing and now Attorney-General threatened to cut funding for medical and health research by $400 million before she was forced to retreat on that by an overwhelming backlash. Again, Labor is threatening the important work in medical health and research, with the Treasurer refusing to rule out funding cuts to fill Labor's $120 billion black hole. In question time on 13 September the shadow minister for health and ageing demanded the Treasurer rule out cuts to health and medical research grants—yet the Treasurer refused to do so.

On Tuesday, the member for Melbourne also raised the issue of funding cuts with the Treasurer during question time. The Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Melbourne, Jim McCluskey, wrote to the member detailing the university's concerns about the security of research funding. The member asked:

Treasurer, can you guarantee that science funding will be protected in this financial year? … can you rule out any deferral, freezing or pausing of ARC, NHMRC or other science grants in an attempt to get the budget to surplus?

But the Treasurer did not. The University of Melbourne, one of our nation's most successful research institutions, is rightly concerned about the intentions of Labor, whose priorities are all wrong. So why is medical and health research in Labor's sights? To pay for the waste and mismanagement Labor has forced upon this country in the past five years. Labor threatens to hurt important medical research programs because of its economic incompetence. The next generation of vaccines, treatments and, critically, researchers may be lost all because of Labor's fiscal ineptitude.

This is in clear contrast to the previous coalition government. From 1996 through to the end of the Howard government there was a fivefold increase in the Commonwealth government's investment in health and medical research. Every dollar spent on health and medical research is estimated to generate $5 in long-term economic benefit. In the past decade alone, Australia's health and medical research sector has produced three Nobel Prize winners and five Australians of the year. The coalition recognises the barriers to health and medical research, and the government's funding cuts is only one such barrier. The overregulation of the medical research industry is another critical barrier. When Labor formed government in 2007 it professed a one-in one-out approach to regulation, yet this has not occurred. The Labor government has introduced more than 18,000 new regulations and removed fewer than 100.

It is clear that there is much more work to be done in this area. This overregulation of the medical industry is also threatening our medical health and research improvements and contributions that can be made, as has been told to me by so many researchers. There is a better way, and the better way is to elect a coalition government which will restore hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.