The George Institute for Global Health Response to 2014 Australian Federal Budget

The George Institute for Global Health welcomes the federal government’s announcement of a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) as an ongoing demonstration of its commitment to the importance of medical research.

This may be the most significant development in Australian medical research since the establishment of the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 1936. Certainly, the creation of a $20B fund, as proposed, has the potential to transform Australia’s contribution to medical science and healthcare solutions in the 21st Century.This fund will generate investments in health research of a size similar to those of some of the largest research funding bodies in the world, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The MRFF therefore represents an initiative that is of enormous importance, even on a global scale.

If this fund is used judiciously and focuses on research into the major causes of premature death and disability - including heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic pain - it has the potential to radically improve the health of millions of Australians. Beyond investment into disease areas, there is also an opportunity for funds to be invested into health systems research, a crucial component of overall health reform. In this regard, there would seem to be real merit in ensuring that a major component of the research supported is designed to deliver early benefits to the most important stakeholder group, namely all those Australians who, through the Medicare co-payment, will be direct investors in the MRFF.

Whilst we welcome this significant investment in medical research, we also note the challenges associated with other aspects of the budget, particularly for people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and those that will be financially challenged by the introduction of GP co-payments and changes to the PBS. It will be important to ensure the MRFF develops significant programmes relevant to these disadvantaged groups. We also note the reduction of funding for preventative health initiatives, as well as the reduced investment in public-private partnerships in health through this year’s cancellation of the CRC program. To balance this, it will be important to ensure the MRFF devotes resources to research on practical strategies for disease prevention, as well as to invigorating private sector investment and engagement in medical research.

As the policy changes in this budget are implemented, it is vital that medical research organisations and their collaborators provide the best possible scientific evidence to understand the impact of the changes, and guide further government’s decisions. As an organisation committed to tackling Australia’s top health priorities, The George Institute will continue to provide world class research evidence relevant to the prevention and management of chronic diseases and injury and to the health system reforms required to ensure financial sustainability as well as clinical excellence. We will support the government to ensure this landmark investment delivers the greatest benefits for all Australians.