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Labor leadership change pushes research to top table

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Medical research has been elevated to a Cabinet-level issue as part of the fall-out from Labor’s tumultuous leadership struggle.

In a reshuffle following his re-election as Labor leader, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expanded the responsibilities of Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to include medical research.

The move is viewed as part of a broader strategy by the Rudd Government to directly challenge the Opposition across a range of policy areas.

Last month the Coalition seized the initiative in medical research, releasing an election policy pledging to shield the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from budget cuts and drawing on the findings of the McKeon Strategic Review of Health and Medcial Research to promise longer research grants that are simpler to apply for.

The expansion of Ms Plibersek’s portfolio is seen as an attempt to beef up Labor’s credentials in the medical research area ahead of the Federal election.

Ms Plibersek said she was “delighted” to become the nation’s first-ever Minister for Medical Research, and the Government’s commitment to research was underlined by the fact that the NHMRC’s annual funding allocation would increase from $802 million to $814 million over the next four years.

But the AMA has urged the Minister to use her expanded Cabinet role to convince the Government to adopt the McKeon Review’s recommendations and drive further investment in medical research.

In a letter to Ms Plibersek following her re-appointment to Cabinet, AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb congratulated the Minister on her enlarged portfolio, which he said should be used to enhance the nation’s research capacity.

Professor Dobb said that although the Government had increased medical research funding, “much more needs to be done”.

He said the AMA endorsed the outcomes of the McKeon Review, and believed it was essential to boost support for medical research if the nation was to “gain the maximum benefit from the expertise that exists in our hospitals, universities and community”.

“The AMA would strongly encourage you to adopt the Review’s recommendations, including in the suite of policies you take to the upcoming Federal election,” Professor Dobb said. “A robust program of health and medical research is essential to an efficient and properly functioning health system.”

The AMA Vice President said the country’s relative prosperity and proven record of innovation meant, “we should be aiming to be an international leader in investing in health and medical research”.

Adrian Rollins