20 April 2011

Update on Campaign Against Medical Research Funding Cuts

Last week we reported on the ‘rumours’ (i.e ‘leaks’) suggesting that the Australian government is considering slashing a potential $400 million ($133 million annually, or around 19%) from the funding provided via the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which currently distributes around $700 million each year to university, and other public sector, researchers.

As also reported, a campaign organised under the banner Discoveries Need Dollars has conducted rallies over the past week in every mainland State and Territory capital city, which have so far been attended by over 12,000 people.  The simultaneous Twitter campaign caused #protectresearch to trend not only in Australia, but also in the US and Canada.

In Tuesday 19 April 2011, Discoveries Need Dollars representatives met with senior members of the Federal Government in Canberra.

It appears that all of this campaigning is paying off.  News Limited media outlets have reported that the proposal to cut funding to the NHMRC has been rejected.

This may not be the end of the battle.  Australia still faces a very tough Federal Budget this year, with recent reports indicating lower than predicted economic growth, mainly due to natural disasters, putting a A$13 billion hole in the budget.  In the current political environment, the government will almost certainly seek to plug this hole in the short term, for fear of the electoral consequences of running a budget deficit.  Let us be clear about this, however – Australia’s economy has continued to grow at around the same rate as the US economy despite the Queensland floods creating a A$9 billion clean-up bill, plus flooding elsewhere in the country, the effect of cyclone Yasi, and the economic impact of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

The negative spin in the media notwithstanding, it appears to us that the Australian economy has proven extremely resilient in the face of a series of traumatic, expensive and unpredictable events.

Nonetheless, we expect billions of dollars in cuts to be made.  While the extreme cuts to the medical research budget may have been averted, this does not mean that there will be no cuts.  In fact, we believe that there should be a long-term plan to secure adequate funding growth to maintain important medical research programs in Australia, and to provide the level of certainty and security necessary to attract and retain the best researchers.

Discoveries Need Dollars is organising a petition.  If you are an Australian citizen concerned about potential cuts, you may wish to consider signing the petition – and perhaps circulating a copy around your friends, families and/or workplace.  Note, however, that it must be returned in hard copy form to the organisers by 29 April 2011.  A copy of the petition, and further details, can be found on the Discoveries Need Dollars website.


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