Labor is deeply concerned that the Medical Research Future Fund legislation opens the way for the $20 billion fund to be used to fund coalition election projects, with no independent, peer reviewed oversight of its distributions.
Instead, the Bill puts control of the distributions from the MRFF in the hands of government ministers. In a telling move, Health Minister Sussan Ley did not even speak on the MRFF Legislation, which is funded through billions of dollars in cuts from health programs.
Despite the MRFF legislation now being at least six months late, the Bill now before the parliament is, at best, sloppy policy, and at worst a deeply cynical example of rank political opportunism.
When the fund was announced the 2014/15 health budget glossy explicitly stated that “Fund earnings will be directed to medical research, primarily by boosting funding for the National Health and Medical Research Council”.
Instead, the Bill, as it now stands, contains no such commitment, and no mechanism for oversight of distributions from the fund by an independent, arms-length, peer reviewed expert committee.
Despite government promises the MRFF would be overseen by an independent Ministerial Advisory Council, the Bill makes no mention of this council, or any requirement the government be required to abide by its decisions.
As it stands, the fund Joe Hockey said could find the cure for cancer could now instead be channelled into Coalition election commitments, provided they meet the very broad purposes as stated in the Bill.
Departmental officials at Senate Estimates this week were unable to give the Senate even a definition of “medical research” that would be funded under the scheme.
Labor believes the health and medical research community should be deeply concerned that these governance structures are not in place and that the government can effectively allocate money from this fund however it pleases.
$20 billion in funding, with no independent oversight of how earning from that money is spent.
Labor will therefore be moving amendments to the Bill when it comes before the Senate, especially as they relate to the disbursement of credits.
Labor is a strong supporter of medical research.
But Labor believes any Medical Research Future Fund must be established in cooperation with the health and medical research community and only invest in the best possible health and medical research.
The Labor motion:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
‘while not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes the bill:
(1) does not achieve the objectives the government itself has set;
(2) relies on cuts to vital health programs; and
(3) does not define medical research and innovation in the way in which the government has itself described it.’