Inquiry backs Medical Research Future Fund


A Senate inquiry has backed the Government's $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund.

The Abbott Government announced creation of the MRFF in last year's Budget, controversially funded through savings measures in the health portfolio.

While many of the savings measures have not secured parliamentary approval, including a GP co-payment and higher PBS co-payments, the Government still expects to reach the $20 billion target by 2020.

At its peak, the MRFF is expected to contribute around $1 billion annually to health and medical research, around double the amount currently invested yearly through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

In a report tabled yesterday, the Committee Chaired by Liberal Senator Zed Seselja delivered one recommendation - that the Senate pass the Bill enabling creation of the MRFF.

The Committee also backed Government proposed amendments to the Bill that will see the creation of an Advisory Board with responsibility for developing the Australian Medical research and Innovation Strategy and the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities.

It acknowledged some stakeholder submissions that called for the Advisory Board to include representatives with expertise in translational research and clinical trials, "to ensure the MRFF can effectively deliver greater value and returns to the Australian people through the translation of medical research into health and economic benefits."

It also said the majority of submitters backed the focus on supporting research with the best prospect of securing a commercial return.

Labor backed the recommendation the Senate pass the Bill but issued a supplementary report in which it called for further amendments, specifically enhancing the role of the NHMRC in the operation of the MRFF.

"Labor Senators do not agree that decisions regarding the projects and programs awarded funding should sit wholly with the Minister of the day. This is inconsistent with the way existing grants are awarded by the NHMRC and inconsistent with international best practice in awarding grants to the highest quality projects based on a process of peer review," it said.

It added, "Labor Senators do support the establishment of the MRFF but will seek to make a number of amendments to the Bills to establish a more robust assessment process. Labor's amendments establish the inclusion of a process of expert review to ensure that the highest quality research is rewarded, rather than – potentially politically motivated and influenced by the 'loudest voices' - decisions being made by the minister of the day and subject to no independent oversight and with little transparency."