Making the political most of medical research funding

Health Minister Greg Hunt was in fine form when he spoke to the conference dinner of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes

The sort of fine that occurs when there are buckets of research money to mention and great achievements by people in the audience to applaud. The rivers of research gold that flow from the National Health and Medical Research Council and Medical Research Future Fund gives the minister bully pulpits just about every day and he speaks from them with gusto.

Shadow minister Chris Bowen, not so much, so he worked with what he had  – policy 

Addressing the conference, he celebrated work funded by the NHMRC and said there should be more of it; “if we are to have an honest discussion, we cannot pretend that we are taking medical research as seriously as we might as a country if applications to our premier funding body are being rejected for budgetary reasons.”

Mr Bowen had another message that goes down well with researchers unhappy with ministerial influence over the MRFF. He set out concerns with the setting of priority areas, awarding grants without a competitive process and “patchy reporting” of funding announcements.

“One of the things I am interested in considering is how to better combine the government’s role in determining priority areas with the rigour of NHMRC processes.
For example, as the current government has already done in limited instances, governments could identify research priorities to be funded by the MRFF, and then ask the NHMRC to identify the most efficacious bids for research in that field.”

Sound familiar? It will to everybody who remembers Warwick Anderson’s farewell address as head of the NHMRC, at the National Press Club, where he said the then PM had assured him the council would have charge of the “vast majority” of MRFF money before warning, “vested interests are already circling like sharks” (CMM April 16 2015.


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