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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 2304

Mrs PRENTICE (10:25 AM) —Research is of fundamental importance to society. In particular, Australia has a proud history of delivering world-leading innovations, inventions and cutting-edge technology. From the Hills hoist, Victa lawnmower and Cochlear implant to the black box, Australian research has set high standards in improving lives all over the world.

Our researchers are of exceptional calibre, and change lives for the better. By providing the government with advice on research matters, and administering programs such as the National Competitive Grants Program and the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, the Australian Research Council plays a vital role in the development of research in Australia. The ARC also provides Australian researchers across all disciplines with international benchmarks with which to measure themselves, promoting excellence in research through providing both domestic and international standards for comparison.

My electorate of Ryan is home to the University of Queensland, one of Australia’s Group of Eight research intensive universities. The University of Queensland consistently ranks well above world standards across the board with respect to research. The University of Queensland is host to the Diamantina Institute, directed by Professor Ian Frazer. As we all know, Professor Frazer, a local resident, was Australian of the Year in 2006 for creating the world’s first preventative cancer vaccine—the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine began to be administered in Australia in 2006 under the common name of Gardasil. It has changed the lives of girls and women around the world, and indeed changed the future of the Australian health industry with the virtual elimination of an entire strain of cancer. This development, which will not only achieve huge savings for the health industry in Australia but also, importantly, prevent the pain and stress families may have otherwise suffered through a fight against cervical cancer, is truly invaluable.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Frazer on his recent appointment as chief executive of the new $345 million Translational Research Institute, which will be the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, able to research, trial treatments, and manufacture drugs all in the one location.

Professor Frazer’s work on the HPV vaccine dates back to 1989—almost 20 years before it was widely administered. This in itself shows the importance of continued funding of research. Ensuring that funding of the Australian Research Council is, at the very least, indexed in accordance with inflation is an important part of ensuring that our Australian research community is not short-changed. These projects take time—years and decades—but they change lives forever.

Another researcher in my electorate who is changing lives is Professor Mark Kendall. Professor Kendall is a researcher with the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, also based at the University of Queensland. Professor Kendall and the AIBN are currently developing a needle-free vaccination, focusing on the delivery of biomolecular stimuli to cells in the skin using physical methods.

On a recent tour of the institute, researchers showed me a device the size of a fingernail that has the power to administer vaccinations without the use of a syringe. The device—a micronanoprojection array patch—is a patch with thousands of tiny projections, invisible to the naked eye, that are covered in biomolecules. When placed against the skin, these projections deliver the biomolecules precisely through to the target cells. How remarkable is that! Imagine the difference such a breakthrough will have in developing countries.

Tragically, at the moment 14 million people around the world die annually from infectious diseases, many of which can be prevented by vaccination. With the development of a micro-nanoprojection array patch so many current barriers to mass vaccination could be simply eliminated. Barriers such as climate control, transportation, fragility of the syringes, the simple size of a vaccination device, needle-stick injuries, ease of administration and even needle phobia could all be eliminated. Imagine a world where, if a swine flu epidemic breaks out, health administrators can send a vaccination out in the post. This world is not too far away as a result of world leading research in Australia, indeed in Ryan. To achieve this world, researchers need access to generous funding and funding needs to be managed. That is the Australian Research Council’s role.

I am also privileged to have living in my electorate the President-elect of the Australian Society for Medical Research, Dr Paul Dawson. The Australian Society for Medical Research is one of the nation’s peak professional bodies, representing approximately 160,000 researchers around Australia. I recently met with Dr Dawson to discuss the issues that he regarded as most important to his industry. Funding was his top priority. As Dr Dawson rightly pointed out, Australia is faced with an ageing population. With an ageing population comes increased costs and burdens on our health industry that this government and state Labor governments around the country are clearly already struggling to manage. Continued support for research is as vital as it is valuable. The Australian Society for Medical Research estimates that for every dollar invested in research and development, an average of $2.17 of health benefits is returned—more than double—with a minimum of 57c and a maximum of up to $6.

It would also be remiss of me whilst discussing the Australian Research Council not to mention the outstanding result achieved by the University of Queensland in the recent Excellence in Research for Australia initiative. The University of Queensland has recorded above world standard results across the board in every field assessed. This has placed the University of Queensland third amongst Australian universities and is clearly a reflection of the outstanding dedication, commitment and hard work being conducted by both those on campus and the specialised research institutes encompassed by the University of Queensland. Additionally, UQ has been confirmed as Australia’s most comprehensive university, being active in 24 out of a possible 25 fields of research.

As well as the University of Queensland’s outstanding ERA results, the findings show that Australian universities across the board are achieving significant feats in research. Whilst all of our Group of Eight universities ranked above world standard, it was heartening to note that our younger universities are also making inroads into a wide range of disciplines, giving the sector an important layer of diversity. The success of these younger institutions is reflective of the success of their young researchers and lecturers. As noted in the Australian last week, selection committees that hire new lecturers are being impressed by both the quantity and the quality of publications coming from the applicants. As the paper simply puts it:

… most lecturers in Australia are more highly accomplished in terms of publications than their forebears …

Whilst this is heartening news for the sector and the motion before us today is an important step, in light of the up-and-coming nature of our researchers the question must always be: can we do more? We face a challenge to ensure that future funding streams are sufficient to maintain the momentum behind research institutions which create social and economic dividends for taxpayers, industry partners and investors. These examples are just part of Australian research, yet they alone achieve so much and provide so much positive change in people’s lives around the world. The continued funding of the Australian Research Council, indexed for inflation and forward estimates, is a vital component in Australia continuing to be a world leader in research. I support this amendment.