Research cuts: Long-term pain for short-term gain

Melbourne’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor James McCluskey said it was believed the government was considering cutting $400 million over the next three years from the funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Professor McCluskey said if the reports were correct, the decision would be disastrous for Australian science and education, as well for the economy, given the thousands of jobs – directly and indirectly – involved in research.

“The medical research community has spent a decade rebuilding its capacity and restoring its reputation on the world stage of medical research.

“These funds are largely spent on the salaries of dedicated scientists working on research, which saves lives, improves health and discovers new treatments for major diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

“Scientific research is not like producing widgets. You cannot halt research for a few years then pick it up again without severe penalty. It took 20 years to perfect the Bionic Ear.  Ian Frazer’s cervical cancer vaccine took over 25 years to develop, but it has saved thousands of lives,’’ he said.

Professor McCluskey said once researchers were made redundant they inevitably left the sector, especially those early in their careers; some would move overseas, contributing to the `brain drain’.
“The jobs that will be lost cannot be placed on hold or removed without catastrophic consequences for the whole sector. The impact of the proposed cuts on morale, confidence and resolve of the medical research sector would make any prospect of rebuilding our research capacity very challenging.

“The University of Melbourne strongly urges our government, and the opposition, to reconsider this proposal and preserve the remarkable medical research community it has fostered over several generations,’’ he said.

Melbourne’s Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty said other countries like Singapore were investing heavily in research and were eager to hire bright young Australians, adding, “Top scientists will not stay where they cannot function effectively.

“I value the Australian tradition of a fair go, including for those with real intellectual ability. It would be very dispiriting to see an ALP administration abandon that vision and drive yet another generation of young scientific stars into exile,’’ he said.

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