Achieving health outcomes sans intergenerational inequity

Over the past couple of weeks, the Coalition’s shambolic and dishonest position on the GP Tax has underlined the uncertainty around the proposed Medical Research Future Fund.

A number of prominent Australians who previously advocated for the Fund are now voicing their concerns about its fate.

I share their concerns, and I suspect their annoyance, that the Abbott Government cynically sought to tie the Fund to its unpopular GP Tax.

Support for the Fund, to the extent that it represents making the case for increased funding for our world-class medical researchers, is to be welcomed.

But support for this vital cause, and support for the proposal Minister Dutton has put forward are two very different things.

One fundamental question makes this point: precisely what is the Fund?

The fact is no-one, including the Minister for Health, knows anything about this ‘signature policy’ – other than it would principally be funded by the GP Tax.

It’s not just Labor MPs who are in the dark.

Along with my colleague Anna Burke MP, I’ve been hearing from experts in the field. They’ve made clear their uncertainty as to exactly what is proposed.

All welcome increased investment.

But they raise the obvious questions: how does this fund relate to the present NHMRC? What governance arrangements would be put in place?

And given recent debates within the Coalition Party Room: what’s left of the Government’s vision for the Fund, or any agenda to support medical research?

These questions must be answered. Otherwise, all we’re really talking about is a shift in resources from present need to future innovation.

Or, as Ross Gittins has suggested today, a cynical device to enable to break its election commitments not to cut health funding.

In any event, this lack of consultation says a lot about the Abbott Government’s commitment to funding medical research. It’s hard not to be cynical when there’s no detail, no consultation and not much of anything other than a fig leaf to cover the sins of this Government’s Budget.

The feedback we have received loud and clear is that the medical science community wants to be involved in medical research policy formulation and implementation.

As they should be: policy-making can only be improved by expert input.

It was in this spirit that in Government, Labor commissioned the McKeon Review, and began a response to its comprehensive report. The Review received over 300 submissions, many of which were from key stakeholders in health and medical research.

In Opposition, Labor is continuing this approach.

Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King, have put Anna and I to work so that we can ensure all stakeholders have their voices heard in this vital conversation – and not lose sight of the purpose of medical research: to achieve better health for all Australians.

Labor gets that medical research isn’t an end in and of itself – it’s a means to a healthier society.

This is why Labor rejects the GP Tax – in any form. Linking this to increasing support to medical research is deeply cynical and plain wrong. We strongly oppose the notion that the sick today should pay for the health advances tomorrow – so much for intergenerational equity!

Labor understands that we need a career path for current and future medical researchers, from undergraduate to postgraduate, to ensure current levels of research can be built upon.

The Abbott Government’s proposed changes to university funding and fee deregulation will make this task vastly more difficult. They will impede current and future students from pursuing an education in medical research.

I’m concerned that the Abbott Government’s medical research announcement has distracted and delayed rather than actually achieve anything in this area.

Labor will continue to reach out and work with the medical research community to put together a comprehensive policy response which rises to the challenge of achieving better health for all of us.

About Andrew Giles

Andrew Giles

Andrew Giles is the Federal Labor Member for Scullin in Victoria. Prior to being elected in 2013, Andrew was a principal lawyer at Slater & Gordon, practicing in employment law, where he helped people uphold their rights at work and resolve the issues they face in their workplace.

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