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Fears research fund could cause private donations to dry up

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Medical researchers have warned of a worrying decline in private donations to support their work following the Federal Government’s announcement of plans to establish a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund.

Research organisations including the Garvan Institute have reported that private donations have dropped since the Fund was announced in the Federal Budget because donors thought their support was no longer needed.

Garvan Institute Chief Executive Andrew Giles told the Courier Mail that since the Budget regular donors had contacted him to say that they would no longer make contributions “when you are already getting money from the Government”.

He and the leaders of other medical research organisations such as the Walter and Eliza Hall Medical Research Institute and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have been forced to explain to donors that it will take at least three years for any money from the Fund to begin to flow, and thast they needed their continued support.

Mr Giles described the Fund as a “double-edged sword” which had created the mistaken perception that private donations were no longer required, when the opposite was the case.

The Fund remains mired in uncertainty. Not only is it yet to be established, its prospects remain clouded by the continuing stand-off in Federal Parliament over Budget measures, and key details such as the criteria to be applied to allocate funding had not been finalised.

QIMR Berghofer Director Professor Frank Gannon told the Courier Mail he was unsure if any donors had yet withdrawn their funding, but he bemoaned what he said was a “confused situation”.

Adding to the complicated picture, the Government expects it to take almost a decade for the Fund to reach its target size.

Ultimately, the Government wants the Fund to be worth $20 billion, enabling it to dispense about $1 billion for research.

But in its first year, it is not expected to hand out more than $20 million of grants, rising to $179 million in 2017-18.

Adrian Rollins