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Thursday, 1 July 1937

Senator BRENNAN (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This is a measure of the utmost simplicity, but as it has been put to me, its force consists in that it stands for one of the greatest of human pursuits - the pursuit of knowledge. Its title declares its purpose.

It is a bill to enable and to regularizethe expenditure of money upon organized research into medical problems. It provides simply for the establishment of a fund into which shall be paid money received from two sources, viz.. the money appropriated by Parliament from year to year, and money received from private donations, or bequests, or other external sources.

The fund will be administered by the Minister on the advice of the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the money shall' be expended in the assistance of Commonwealth or State departments, universities, institutions and persons engaged in medical research, as well as for the training of persons in medical research.

The National Health and Medical Research Council is the most representative and 'authoritative body which could have been brought together in Australia. The Commonwealth Director-General of Health is chairman, and two other officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health are members. The council includes also the Chief Medical Officer of each State, a nominee of the College of Surgeons, va nominee of the Association of Physicians, and a nominee of the British Medical Association. The four universities having medical schools jointly nominated one representative, and the Minister has appointed a prominent layman and a prominent laywoman. The council has already submitted a scheme for research which is excellently adapted to Australian conditions. The first report of the council refers to this scheme, in the carrying out of which the council does not consider that any new institutions or buildings are at present necessary. Consequently the money available, under the fund established by the bill will be devoted to the encouragement of research workers in Australia, and to the training of young medical graduates and other science, graduates in various aspects of medical research.

While it has been' possible in the past for' Australian research workers to make contributions to research of considerable value and magnitude, these have been spasmodic, and our unfortunate experience has been that a large number of young brilliant medical graduates who went abroad to pursue medical research, have become so distinguished for their work in laboratories and institutions there that they have accepted financial inducements to remain overseas. Thus their services have been permanently lost to Australia. The sequence of these has been continuous and their numbers have been considerable.

Our design under this new system to be instituted following the passage of this bill, is to offer such encouragement as will induce the majority of these workers to remain in Australia. I need only mention that, following Lord Nuffield's magnificent gift of over £1,000,000 to the University of Oxford for the purpose of establishing new avenues of research at that great university, two of the most prominent positions on the inaugural staff have been allotted - one to a New Zealander and one to an Australian.

I have said that Australia can point to a record of material contributions to knowledge in the past. Reference may be "made to some of these. The control of miner's, phthisis has been largely built up on work done in Australia. The knowledge relating to hydatids comes almost exclusively from Australia. Contributions to the surgery of goitre have advanced the treatment of this disease very greatly during the last twenty years. Contributions of the late Dr. Harris to genito-urinary surgery are recognized all over the world. The work done at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute on snake venoms is now recognized in all countries as classical. This list might be extended, but it is more important to invite attention to the fact that some of our very serious and pressing problems have not yet been touched. With all the medical knowledge available to us, we cannot be sure that we hold any golden key in relation to the great variety of diseases which fill our hospitals. We must have, on the one hand, better knowledge of the treatment of the early conditions of ill health, enabling us to arrest them before they proceed so far that hospital treatment becomes necessary; and, on the other hand, we must have the dissemination of knowledge of simple laws, of health so that the people themselves will render to their medical services that cooperation between patient and doctor without which treatment is largely useless. It may not seem to the observer that a close study of the enzymes and fermentation agents stored up in the sweetbread of the ox has much relation to practical problems, but, as was pointed out in the House of Representatives; it was from much long and patient work in this field that insulin was discovered. A prolonged and difficult research into the chemical substance produced by various methods of treatment of rare chemicals derived from coal tar may seem to be a chemical problem very remote from problems of human disease; yet it was by this route that we secured modern treatment of syphilis, of sleeping sickness and of malaria, and by the same route we are gradually approaching real knowledge in respect of the production of. cancer. The bill, we hope, will permit of the establishment of a concerted programme of research which will include three main phases: social research, clinical research, and laboratory research. Gradually, we hope to build up such a progressive accumulation of knowledge as will have important benefits for the Australian people. The necessary correlation between these various aspects of research work will be ensured by the composition of the body which will have the supervision of the programme - the National Health and Medical Research Council - the personnel of which I have already described. I commend the bill to the Senate.

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