By KELLY O’DWYER, Federal MP for Higgins
This month, fathers, sons, brothers and husbands across the country began the now annual ritual of growing a moustache for Movember. Some opportunistic “Mo Bros” are taking advantage of a month where it is socially acceptable to try out a “Handlebar” or “Walrus”.
But most are focused on raising awareness of and funds for two critical men’s health issues – prostate cancer and depression.
This is a good thing, right?
Well, the awareness part is yes. But sadly, initiatives like Movember look set to play an increasing role – not just in raising awareness, but also in health research budgets.
Under Labor, universities and medical research institutes have been subjected to waves of funding uncertainty. Most recently, the Federal Government froze research grants from the Australian Research Council because of short-sighted budget decisions and played games in the national media with National Health and Medical Research Council grants.
Realistic assumptions and hard decisions in the May Budget would have delivered certainty and allowed everyone to plan. Instead, Labor took the “fingers crossed” approach. When it became clear the budget was unrealistically bullish, our researchers and research institutes spent months focusing on contingency plans and exploring offshore jobs, rather than on their research activities.
This pattern of continuing uncertainty reduces Australia’s capacity to attract and retain the best and brightest talent internationally, and undermines our research efforts.
Fortunately, a number of weeks ago, the Government finally unfroze the research grants. Unfortunately, it then proceeded to cut over $1 billion from the Australian university sector – much of it used to support health and medical research.
Extraordinarily, this short-sighted decision came in the same month that the Chairman of the CSIRO and former Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon AO, released a consultation paper on a Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research Funding which called for an increased investment in research over the next 10 years of $2 to 3 billion per annum.
Health and medical research is critical to Australia’s future and should be a strategic priority. It is the classic example of a “high knowledge” area which we should be targeting as part of our modern diversified economy.
Importantly, Australia is good at medical research. Very good.
Thanks to Australian research, we have lifesaving innovations such as penicillin, first used as a medicine by the Australian Nobel Laureate Howard Florey. And the bionic ear, the cervical cancer vaccine and spray on skin for burns—to name a few innovations.
Just this month, we have seen the launch of a vaccine to protect horses and humans from the deadly Hendra virus.
The source? Australian research.
Commercialising research can lead to direct wealth creation and jobs growth. It can reduce spiralling health care costs. And it can save lives.
The Coalition understands this. There was a fivefold increase in funding committed to health and medical research under the previous Coalition Government.
Clearly, the community also understands the importance of medical research – that’s why we turn out in force to support shaving heads for a cure (for Leukaemia) , buy goods splashed with pink (for Breast Cancer) and attend afternoon teals (for Ovarian Cancer). And it’s why we even tolerate a month of moustaches!
But as your husband monopolises the bathroom mirror to check out the progress of his mo, you might just ponder – wouldn’t it be nice if Labor did the right thing by medical research too?
Are any of the men in your life participating in Mo-vember? Do you think Australia should invest more in medical research?