15 April 2011
On Tuesday 12 April, hundreds of Garvan researchers joined over 1,000 researchers from other research institutions from around Sydney in a rally to protest rumoured threats to NHMRC funding in the upcoming federal budget.
Rallies staged in Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth attracted almost 8,000 researchers. The various Rallies for Research grew out of the ‘Discoveries Need Dollars’ campaign, initiated by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne.
Professor Judy Black from the Woolcock Institute was event MC, and speakers included Mr Bill Ferris, Garvan Chairman; Vanessa Yenson, cancer survivor and PhD student; Dr Emma Parkinson-Lawrence, President Australian Society of Medical Research; Professor David James, Leader of Garvan’s Diabetes and Obesity Program; Professor Bob Graham, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute; Professor David Karpin, former chairman of Royal Melbourne Hospital and stroke patient; Bettina Arndt, social commentator and medical research patron; Nick Vasta, Type 1 diabetes patient; Professor Phil Robinson, Children's Medical Research Institute; Professor Paul Mitchell, University of Sydney; and Professor John Shine, Executive Director of Garvan.
The opening address delivered by Garvan chairman, Mr Bill Ferris, follows:
"So I want to emphasise two “big picture” issues.
First, is to remind people of the rasion d’etre, the mission of the medical research sector. Ours is not a modest mission: it is to improve the quality and length of life for all Australians.
Our researchers have shown that obesity is a major contributor to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The direct medical costs to the health care system from just these obesity related illnesses, diabetes and cardiovascular, are estimated at $10 billion per annum - to that you can add a figure for the lost productivity from the sick days and carer costs. You can then add the costs to the health care system for mental illnesses, cancers, infectious diseases, metabolic disorders like arthritis and you come up with quite alarming numbers.
The most important way we will reverse these costs is via evidence based preventative measures and discoveries from medical research.
The current National Health and Medical Research Council spending for medical research represents less than 1% of the annual state and federal health budgets. This is what the Government is proposing to cut!
Without understanding the causes of disease, how will we ever reduce the load on hospitals and solve escalating health problems and costs? Cutting research just does not pass the common sense or economics 101 test. And it certainly does not address what I believe should be the number one national priority of our time, the health of our people.
My second big picture issue is this; with about 35,000 employees, of whom 15,000 have PhDs, medical research is one of the few knowledge intensive sectors we have in this country. And it is an internationally competitive one, now ranking in the top few countries worldwide in terms of significant discoveries. This ingenuity and capability of our young scientists, if nurtured, will represent an enviable and renewable resource for Australia, long after the mining boom has come and gone.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe our medical research sector is a strategically important national asset and capability. It has demonstrated this in dealing with emergency threats like SARS, swine flu and infectious diseases. It will continue to find smarter ways to diagnose, treat and cure the many diseases of our modern society.
It is a sector of which all Australians can and should be proud. It is a sector that deserves accolades, not cuts. It is a sector that today we ask all Australians to think about and to make their views known to Government.”
To see video footage of Sydney’s Rally for Research, click here.