Budget cuts risk public health
"Budget cuts would devastate medical
research, an industry already woefully
Image: MarsBars/iStockphoto

The future health of Australians would be undermined if the federal government cuts funding to medical research, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Professor Doug Hilton, said.

His comments follow Cabinet leaks that suggest the Australian Government plans to cut $400 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) budget. The NHMRC distributes the bulk of Australia’s medical research funding.

The $400 million cut would significantly destabilise Australian medical research, which is already chronically under-resourced, with the NHMRC receiving only $715 million annually.

“If the government is softening up the community by raising the prospect of a $400 million cut, and expecting us to be grateful if the budget is cut by only $200 million, they are sorely mistaken,” Professor Hilton said. “Anything less than the medical research budget being maintained, in real terms, will be met with bewilderment, anger and more voter disillusionment.”

Professor Hilton said any cut to medical research funding would:

  • delay or halt patient access to new treatments, diagnostics and preventive medicines;
  • lead to the loss of medical research jobs and Australia’s best scientists to overseas markets;
  • increase Australia’s healthcare costs; and
  • undermine the long-term investment previous governments have made in large research programs.

He said budget cuts would devastate medical research, an industry already woefully underfunded.

“We will see great Australian minds leave the country for more fruitful overseas opportunities, where medical research is better valued. Australia already struggles to compete internationally to draw and keep the best minds and most innovative research on its shores. Our scientists have worked long and hard to establish Australia’s international reputation as a hub for biomedical research, and this will destroy their efforts by sending Australia back into the research ‘dark ages’,” he said.

The demand for medical research funding in Australia far outweighs current supply. In 2009, for every funded application, two were rejected despite being assessed as worthy of government support. This means crucial research to develop treatments and cures for some of Australia’s biggest killers – cancer, heart disease and stroke – will stop in its tracks.

Professor Hilton said the government was wrong if it thought ‘ordinary Australians’ would happily accept the cut. “While it may not be something that the general public thinks about everyday, medical research is behind the increases in the average lifespan and quality of life that we enjoy in Australia.

“I can guarantee there is not a single person in Australia who has not reaped the benefits of medical research. This cut will mean that ordinary Australians will be denied the benefits of research-driven improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of our biggest disease challenges: cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and neurodegenerative disease, to name a few.

“To be blunt, years of healthy living, especially for the elderly, will be reduced and lives will be unnecessarily lost. It’s a real shame that the government is even considering risking the lives of ordinary Australians when our economy continues to be one of the strongest in the world.”

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.