Monday, 21 June 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail
I rise to discuss with the Australian people how important it is that we continue to fund investment in our National Health and Medical Research Council. Our medical research fraternity should be congratulated on the wonderful work they have been doing to back in Australia's health. I would like to ask questions of the health minister about how we continue to increase and support the investment in this critical sector of Australia.
The Australian government supports the critical role of health and medical research in improving health outcomes and that has been very clear through the COVID pandemic. I would like to congratulate the Minister for Health for leading what has been an exemplary response to the global COVID crisis. Since the commencement of the Medical Research Future Fund, in 2016-17, the government has invested $1.5 billion in medical research projects through the fund. I was a medical researcher at the time of this announcement, and I have to say that this was regarded internationally as world's best practice. As Australians and as Australian taxpayers, we should feel incredibly proud of our forethought in creating the medical research future fund. It has provided surety, certainty and sustainability for the medical research sector, which results in improved health outcomes for patients right around Australia not just in cures and care but also in prevention.
The NHMRC funds over $800 million worth of competitive research grants each and every year. A total of $3.6 billion has been committed to the NHMRC over the four years from 2021-22. As of May 2021 the Biomedical Translation Fund has made 22 investments totalling $233 million in 21 companies conducting late-stage biomedical research. As someone who has been involved in the Biomedical Translation Fund, I know how important this is to the critical and innovative ideas that Australian researchers are making each and every day. We know that this research helps drive forward improved care for patients, improved prevention for concerns about illnesses that are emerging as we speak.
The government has committed $5 billion to the 10-year Medical Research Future Fund investment plan around four important pillars. The first is patients and investment in improving patient outcomes, with $1.3 billion of additional funding being provided for vital clinical trials activities and new research funding to tackle global health issues, including COVID.
The second is investing in researchers, our people who do the research, with $792 million to build the capacity of Australian researchers through the provision of additional fellowship positions. Again, I have been a recipient of a National Health and Medical Research Fund fellowship position, and I can tell you that the day on which the letter came from the minister for health was one of the best days of my life, because effectively what it was saying is, 'We back you and the research that you are doing.' It is an incredible privilege to receive one of these fellowships, and it is so important to the future of our health care.
The third area the government is investing in is research missions. These are really new and novel, and they're very strategic: $1.4 billion to support crucial Australian missions that have the potential to challenge current ways of thinking and transform medical research by inspiring researchers to be bold and change the face of medicine. We know this because we've heard the minister for health announce these missions, including missions regarding cardiovascular health and genomics—all sorts of missions that are making a change. The Million Minds one also comes to mind. This is changing the way we do health care, and Australians should feel very proud of the work that is being done.
The fourth is research translation: $1.5 billion to harness research and translate it into real-world benefits. This is not just about doing ivory tower research; it's about making a real impact and a real difference to the lives of Australians. It will also support the establishment and extension of data infrastructure to support world-class health and medical research.
Importantly, these investments are consistent with the new Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities 2020-2022, developed by the independent Australian Medical Research Advisory Board, AMRAB, following national consultation in accordance with the Medical Research Future Fund Act 2015. These are independent assessments, and they are very important for the integrity of the system. My question to the minister is: what is the federal government doing to continue to support the excellence of the medical research sector and the health outcomes of this country? I'd like to again say thank you to the minister for health for the amazing leadership he has shown through an incredible health crisis.