The Coalition’s plan to introduce a cap on withdrawals from the Medical Research Future Fund is a “breach of its own promises” and will serve to “undermine medical research” in Australia, according to shadow industry minister Ed Husic.
In a speech to the virtual Collaborate Innovate 2021 event, Mr Husic positioned the upcoming federal election as a contest between the federal government’s focus on being tech adopters and importers and Labor’s promise to boost local research and innovation, such as through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
Mr Husic pointed to comments from Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year that Australia has to be the “best at adopting” technology and “making it work for us”.
“Is that where we have landed? The best ambition we have as a nation is to become the best customer on an app store. But against that lacklustre ambition, look at where we are,” Mr Husic told the conference.
Legislation currently before Parliament will from 2022-23 place a cap on the maximum amount which can be withdrawn from the MRFF at $650 million to “provide confidence that the government will meet its spending commitments in the MRFF 10-year investment plan”.
But Mr Husic slammed this move as a “major breach of its own promises” and that it will serve to “undermine medical research efforts in this nation”.
“Worse still, when the money from that fund was there to distribute, the government couldn’t help itself – handing out the money in ways that would raise questions,” he said.
“It’s not only inconceivable that after making so much noise about its funding promises that it’s paring the fund back, but bizarrely, obtusely, the Morrison government is doing so in the aftermath of a pandemic that demands greater – not less – focus on, as the government describes, ‘critical medical research’.
“It reflects a genuine lack of belief in Australian know-how, combined with an absence of any motive or purpose for innovation activity in this country. It seems the Coalition is only interested in innovation if it is a lure for media coverage. Once the TV cameras are switched off, so goes their interest.”
Innovation in the pandemic recovery will form a key plank of the Opposition’s election campaign, Mr Husic said.
“Where we currently stand, Labor firmly believes the moment presents us with a big opportunity to do things differently. To do better than before, to reshape, to improve,” he said.
“We believe we have the talent and know-how in this country to help fulfil that ambition. What our innovators need is the faith of a government that is on their side, with the resources and initiatives that’s testament to that faith. This is something only a Labor government can, and has, delivered.”
Mr Husic’s speech came a day after Melissa Price’s own speech at the same conference, her first as science and technology minister, where she backed the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) as the “backbone” of Australia’s commercialisation efforts.
The shadow industry minister also threw his full support behind the CRCs.
“The endurance of the CRCs is to be celebrated, never taken for granted contributions, especially when governments square up to attack their funding support,” Mr Husic said.
“Rightly, much has been said about the economic contribution of CRCs. However, I bridle at the notion that governments pursue innovation for their own sake or merely to chase a dollar. When it comes to government support of innovation activity, we should weld economic ambition with social purpose, to see a dividend that improves the quality of life for people in this country – and beyond.”
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