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$5.6 million in federal funds for public health research

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Brian Howe Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services

4 November 1992


Research into asthma-related illness in Sydney's western suburbs and the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are among public health projects to receive more than $5.6 million in Federal Government funding.

The Federal Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services, Brian Howe, today announced $1.7 million for new projects and $3.9 million for continuing projects under the Public Health Research and Development Grants Program for


These include 23 new and 19 continuing projects, nine new seeding grants, one new and 18 continuing fellowship awards, two new and one continuing post training fellowships, and 19 new and eight continuing scholarships.

"This Government is committed to supporting further research and development in the area of public health, " Mr Howe said.

"The August Budget included an extra $1.5 million a year over the next two calendar years to foster continued development in the field of public health research.

"It will allow the National Health and Medical Research Council to immediately address elements of its research strategy concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

"It will also allow new research to be undertaken on a wide range of issues. "

New projects include:

. Dr Jalaludin from the Western Sydney Area Health Service will conduct research into ambient air pollution and asthma morbidity in Western Sydney;

. Dr Hanna will address immunisation and immunity in young Aboriginal children in North Queensland;

. Dr Woodward from the University of Adelaide will look aat cancer and low-level radiation in Radium Hill uranium miners;

. Professor Ewan of the University of Wollongong will examine community perceptions of an environmental health risk using lead as a case study.


Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Justice Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Commonwealth-State Relations

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Mr Howe said the Federal Government had increased funding to the National Health & Medical Research Council by 100 per cent in real terms since 1982 - from $30 million to more than $111 million in 1993.

"The Government's record in supporting health and medical research is exemplary and by world standards, Australia's health and medical research effort is an outstanding success," he said.

For further information: Ross Gardiner, Mr Howe's Office (06) 277 7680 Ron Sullivan, HHCS (06) 289 8014.

Note: A full list of grant recipients is attached.










Dr Horvath and Members of the National Health and Medical Research Council.

It hardly seems 12 months since I spoke to you last - but it is exactly that - and this 114th Session of the Council sees us rapidly approaching the two year m ark of the current triennium.

Twelve m onths ago, I talked about "Making it Better - strategies for improving the effectiveness and quality of health services in Australia".

That paper suggested that the NHMRC may be the appropriate organisation to play the lead in the development of outcome m easures in health care, in the establishment of a national guidelines program and in the promotion of community discussion on resource allocation principles.

I was pleased to see that the 1992-93 Federal Budget allocated funds for a national approach to quality m easurem ent and that best practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatm ent and management will be developed.

It is envisaged that this work will link in with other initiatives in this field, to add to the developm ent of guidelines for outcome m easurem ent and quality assurance in health care delivery.

$3.3 million will be provided to this initiative over the next three years.

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When I spoke about the national guidelines program , I was careful to say that guidelines should not be seen as m andatory "cookbooks" which bind health professionals to last year’s knowledge, but rather as a m ethod of structuring what is known, and getting authoritative information to health professionals as rapidly as possible.

I am happy to note from your agenda th at the Health Care Committee is continuing apace in this area, and th at you will be considering draft guidelines on the control of infectious diseases hazards in health care establishments, and also guidelines for the prevention of transm ission of viral infection in dentistry.

I am pleased to announce $5.6 million for public health research, $1.7 million for new projects and $3.9 million for continuing projects under the public health research and development grants program for 1993.

This will allow the NH&MRC to immediately address elements of its research strategy concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

New projects include research into asthm a related illness in Sydney’s Western Suburbs, im m unisation in young aboriginal children in North Queensland, cancer and low level radiation in uranium m iners and the environm ental health risk of lead.

I am also pleased to see from the Agenda that you are continuing your involvement with the developm ent of national health goals and targets.

The process of developing goals and targets is, at its most fundamental, a means of directing the attention of the health system towards gains in health for the population generally.

Of course, for this vision to be realised, the goals and targets m ust be accepted and supported by the key people and bodies throughout the health system.

Careful thought needs to be given to the further stages of priority setting, and development of im plem entation strategies. The NHMRC input to such consideration is vital.

Those initiatives aside, I want to tu rn now to health and medical research funding, because there is clearly considerable concern within the medical research community about the funds available for 1993.

It goes without saying that the Government is firmly committed to support for medical research. Since we have been in office, we have increased su p p o rt in real term s by over 100 per cent - from $30 million in 1982-83 to a

commitment of $109 million in 1992-93.

There are not many programs that can claim a sim ilar record!

In the last Budget, as an initial response to the NHMRC Research Strategy, the Government provided an additional $3 million in calendar years 1993 and 1994 - to be shared equally between medical and public health research.

The Government will also provide $1 million in each of the next 5 calendar years as additional su p p o rt for mental health research.

This funding is additional to more than $4 million provided for indexation.

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To illustrate the benefits of the large increase in funding between 1983 and 1992, the num ber of project grants supported has increased from around 600 to over 900, and the num ber of large-scale program grants from 14 to 19. The m ajor institutes have received increases in funding, and new forms of grants to su p p o rt new researchers have been introduced.

Australian medical and health research has an impressive record - one which the Government is keen to foster. We want to continue to reap the benefits of a strong medical and health research base - not only in economic term s -

but, fundamentally, in terms of a healthier population.

Notwithstanding the increase in funding in 1993 for medical research including mental health research, I am advised that the Medical Research Committee is faced with some hard decisions concerning its recom m endations for grants in 1993.

The reasons for the smaller than expected capacity to fund new grants are complex, relating both to increased cost pressures from such things as superannuation, and a higher level of pre-committed funds.

However, despite these difficulties, the Federal Government is sensitive to the needs and concerns of medical researchers.

Following the release of the Federal Budget, I have been examining ways of further supplementing research grants.

As a result of representations I made to the M inister for Finance, there has been a review of the D epartm ent of Finance’s indexation calculations, and the M inister for Finance has agreed to an additional $460,000 being added to the medical research funding base for 1992-93.

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I’m sure this will be welcome news to the medical research community.

The question of supplementation for increasing claims for superannuation is currently being discussed with the Minister for Finance. I am hoping for sympathetic consideration of the claim.

To further assist the medical research community in its difficult task, I have also agreed to some additional funds being provided by my departm ent this year.

I am sure that they will go some way tow ards addressing your concerns about funding levels.

I am informed that at a meeting of Dr Horvath, representatives of the MRC and Mr Hamilton last week, there was recognition of the complexities involved in managing the Medical Research Endowment Fund and in forward planning. Some of the issues which would bear further examination are:

the balance between short and longer term grants;

the level of commitment in the forward years;

the impact of decisions to supplem ent grants in addition to providing outturn funding; and

the capacity to respond to unexpected expenditure increases.

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I have asked the Department and the Council to examine these methods closely so that, for the future, there is an improved degree of stability in the forward planning of medical research within the funding levels determ ined by Governments which, as I have noted, have been generous.

I am very pleased that, despite concerns about funding issues, the NHMRC is continuing with its new initiatives in both Aboriginal health and women’s health.

I want to draw attention to these initiatives because they are steps in the right direction, in term s of m ajor public health initiatives.

While there have been num erous Commonwealth and State Government initiatives to improve Aboriginal and T orres Strait Islander health, they have usually not been subjected to rigorous evaluation.

There is a need for systematic, soundly-based research on both the epidemiology of diseases in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - regional differences, rural-urban differences, changes over time - and on multidisciplinary, interventions aimed at improving the health of these people.

I am pleased to see that the Aboriginal health research initiative is moving and that, initially, you have advertised for expressions of interest for research projects and training program s to be undertaken in collaboration between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and experienced health researchers.

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This is a first step towards setting up a netw ork of research projects in the Aboriginal and T orres Strait Islander health area with a view to:

. training Aboriginal and Torres S trait Islander people in research methods so that they can participate fully in health research;

. providing funding for research projects of interest to the Aboriginal and Torres S trait Islander community; and

. providing training opportunities for individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health research.

It is im portant to note that the research projects will be proposed and then controlled by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities themselves - this is the right approach - and I believe th at this ownership, by the communities, of the research which will be undertaken, will not only enhance the quality of the research but also ensure a more likely acceptance of the results.

A second initiative of the NHMRC which I would like to highlight and which I understand is also listed for consideration by Council today, is the development of a National Women’s Health Strategy and implem entation plan.

This Strategy will make sure that all research takes into account the policies, principles and priorities outlined in the National Women’s Health Policy.

Research is one of the five key action areas under the Policy and the NHMRC will seek to ensure that research resources are allocated equitably with regards to women’s health.

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I congratulate the Working Party which developed the Strategy. You, in essence, are the research arm of the National Women’s Health Policy - still as relevant today as it was in 1989 - and we have some considerable way to go in term s of research into women’s health, b u t also the way in which the NHMRC involves women in its Committee

structure and how women are treated in the course of all health and medical research.

This is what I like about the Strategy you will be considering today - it questions our approach to the research and provides a set of principles to go by. It defines, for example, what women’s health is. This is im portant and has come under scrutiny recently in some quarters a bit too close to home.

Only when we appreciate a social approach to health - the complex biological, social, economic and environmental factors which influence health, do we truly understand what women’s health means and how roles, responsibilties and position in society, as well as biology, define, and adversely affect, the health of women.

The Strategy will address equitable gender representation on all NHMRC committees, the extent of gender bias in the delivery of health care in Australia, women as researchers, the inclusion of women in clinical trials, consultation with women in the community on research proposals and the development of a women’s health data base.

I commend you for this comprehensive approach and look forward to the development of the Strategy.

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In closing then, whenever I cast an eye over an NHMRC agenda I am impressed at the diversity of issues being considered. This session is no exception.

Apart from the issues I have already mentioned, you will be considering a code of practice on radioactive w aste disposal, scope for prevention in the mental health field, and epidural use of steroids in the m anagem ent of back pain.

That list is by no means exhaustive, and I hope you have the stam ina to get through it all. I notice headlouse infestation is also on the agenda. I hope everyone doesn’t start to itch during those deliberations!!

I am looking forward to meeting you all more informally over dinner tonight, but in the meantime I wish you all a successful Session.

It gives me great pleasure to now declare open the 114th session of the National Health and Medical Research Council.