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Friday, 13 September 1985
Page: 523


Senator MISSEN —Mr President, I hope that the Minister representing the Minister for Health has some information about my question which was addressed originally to Senator Grimes. If she has not had a chance at this stage to consult the brief, may I defer the question since I have been waiting a long time to ask it?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask his question?


Senator MISSEN —I will ask the question and hope that the Minister can answer it now or later. I ask the Minister: Why has the Government allowed Australia to slip to being 23rd out of the 24 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of the proportion of the health dollar-one per cent-allocated to medical research? Why has the Government shown absolutely no concern about the fact that, as a result of this situation, young scientists are not going into medical research, experienced researchers are being forced overseas or into other fields, in 1985, out of 452 research projects highly recommended for funding, only 285 could be funded with available moneys, and projects which are essential for preventing serious and expensive health care problems in Australia have had to be shelved? Does the Government agree that if the current funding situation continues it will inevitably result in an irretrievable decline in our medical research capacity, technological skill, innovative capacity and ability to respond to urgent unexpected public health problems such as the acquired immune deficiency syndrome? Does the Government also agree that in the long term this would be disastrous for the health of Australians?


Senator RYAN —I am pleased to inform Senator Missen that I have been provided with information to answer his question. In reply to the series of questions he has asked, I make it clear that the Government firmly believes that strong medical research is vital. That is why our Government has increased funding to the National Health and Medical Research Council by 72 per cent since it took office. I am unaware of information suggesting that young scientists are not going into medical research or that experienced researchers are going overseas. Obviously, not every application can be funded, particularly as the number of applications has increased from 746 in 1980 to 920 in 1985. As a result of this Goverment's increased funding of medical research, however, the number of grants supported by the NHMRC over the last five years has increased from 509 in 1980 to 734 in 1985. It is clear that our Government has considerably increased funding for medical research. Senator Missen will be aware that in the 1985 Budget the NHMRC received $50.781m for medical research, an increase of 14.9 per cent over the previous financial year. In addition, the Government has provided $750,000 specifically for research into AIDS.