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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2139

Senator MASON (Queensland) (16:51): The coalition supports the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2010. It essentially appropriates an extra year of funding for the Australian Research Council for the 2013 year as well as providing for indexation of the funding in the forward estimates. Other than that, the bill makes no substantial amendments to the ARC Act.

However, it is worth briefly giving some context to why research matters. Research is the engine of innovation, productivity and, of course, growth. In a modern advanced economy, research is essential to maintaining the edge over our competitors and improving the lives of Australians. Virtually every technology we use, every convenience we take for granted, has its roots in research. We might not see or think much about research, but its benefits are all around us. Spending on research is, quite simply, one of the best investments a government can make. In purely monetary terms, it produces a better return on every dollar spent than just about every other way the government can spend money. It advances human knowledge, produces countless direct benefits and spin-offs and, when commercialised, brings a wealth of benefits to our country, our economy and our people.

In all fairness, I am starting to sound like my friend Senator Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, in expanding the benefits of research. In a sense I raise this because of mooted cuts to the budget of the National Health and Medical Research Council, the NHMRC. I know that Senator Carr and I am sure Senator Evans as well—being responsible for tertiary education—would agree with me that the funding of research is critical. It is a pity that the government is considering cutting those funds. I am hoping that Senator Carr, Senator Evans and others in the government that care about these things will make sure that Mr Swan and the bean counters do not get away with too much. I think it is fair to say that with research you cannot just cut it and then pick it up the next day, because when you cut it people leave, contracts are broken, relationships are destroyed and expertise often goes overseas.

Just the other day I was at the well-named Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania where they are doing great work in the areas of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. They have 150 researchers there and it is one of the Australia's great medical research institutes. I am really concerned about what might happen to that institute among others if those cuts that are being mooted in fact occur.

One of the great interests of former Prime Minister Mr Howard was medical research. Senators will remember that, between 1995 and 1996 and up until the 2008 budget, the coalition provided a fivefold increase in medical research funding with funding increasing to about $700 million annually. It was one of Mr Howard's great passions. I was told when I was at the Menzies Research Institute that the then Prime Minister spent nearly an entire day at the institute looking at the projects and the medical research being undertaken at the University of Tasmania. That is a long time for a prime minister to spend in one spot looking at one particular project. To the coalition, this is very important research not just for the researchers in Tasmania but for the Australian people.

I know the budget is being delivered tonight and I know there are financial constraints on the budget. I accept that and I think the country knows that. Suffice to say that cutting medical research at this time would be the wrong move because the benefits it brings to all Australians has great multiplier effects. I am hoping tonight that Mr Swan does not take an axe to that. I commend the bill to the Senate.