A new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act for Victoria

Research Australia has responded to the Victorian Government’s proposal for a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. We have proposed that it adopt the following as principles for service design and delivery:

    • New treatments and services are evaluated for their relative clinical and cost effectiveness and user acceptability, and where found to be more efficacious than existing treatments, are made available rapidly to all people who could benefit;
    • Existing treatments and services are evaluated for their relative clinical and cost effectiveness and user acceptability, and discontinued swiftly (and replaced) where they are proven to be less efficacious than alternative treatments;
    • Promoting the importance of research to achieving the best possible mental health and wellbeing;
    • Supporting people with lived experience, their families and carers, and the mental health workforce to co-design and participate in research;

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Championing research in Primary Care

The Primary Health Reform Steering Group has been charged by the Australian Government with assisting the development of a 10 year Plan for Primary Care. Research Australia has used its submission to the Group’s Discussion Paper to make the case for a greater role for research in the new 10 year Plan.

Research Australia welcomes the Plan’s recognition of the key role research can and must play if reforms are to be achieved. Research Australia has argued for research to be integrated onto the system and to be informed by primary care practitioners (including nurses and midwives, allied health and general practitioners) and patients and carers.

As the national peak body for health and medical research, Research Australia has included case studies from its members of relevant primary care research that demonstrates the expertise available in Australia to support implementation of the Steering Group’s Plan.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Supporting further research in mitochondrial donation

Research Australia’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve’s Law) Bill 2021 has endorsed the cautious and rigorous approach the legislation takes to permitting research into the development of mitochondrial donation techniques. The approach of initially allowing mitochondrial donation as part of a clinical trial is an appropriate recognition of the stage of development of this technology. It ensures that mitochondrial donation will only occur with the informed consent of participants and in a highly regulated environment.

Read Research Australia’s submission.

Budget Update 2021

Summary

The economic impact of COVID-19 continues to dominate the Australian Budget, with tonight’s Budget, the second handed down in just seven months. Like the last one, this is a big spending Budget, but the focus has shifted from providing immediate stimulus to longer term recovery and Australia’s future prosperity. In the health sector, policy reform is focused on aged care and mental health.

Apart from COVID, the biggest health issue the Australian Government has had to grapple with in the last 12 months is aged care. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety provided the Government with 148 recommendations earlier this year. Until tonight, the Government had not provided a substantial response to the report.

This Budget outlines an additional $17.7 billion over five years, seeking to address the needs of aged Australians living at home and those in residential care. This equates to around half of what is called for overall in the Royal Commission’s Final Report. The Prime Minister’s press release states the Government has accepted 126 of the 148 recommendations, we are awaiting the Government’s detailed response to the Royal Commission – particularly the recommendations for dedicated funding for aged care and ageing research. The proposals from the Royal Commissioners in relation to funding for innovation and research have not been funded in this Budget.

Mental Health has also been under the spotlight, including the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. The Productivity Commission provided the Government with a report last year on what could be done to improve mental health, and earlier this year the Department of Health and Ageing consulted on what measures from the report should be implemented, and when.

Tonight’s budget provides $2.3 billion over four years from 2021-22 for the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, including initiatives to be progressed with states and territories for a new national agreement on mental health and suicide prevention. The Government has indicated that it has accepted all the recommendations of the Productivity Commission Report on Mental Health and that the funding announced tonight is only phase one of its response. The only research specific funding announced as part of this package is establishment of an Eating Disorders Research Centre as part of a $26 million package of funding for eating disorders. Further funding for research-related aspects of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations may follow in future budgets. There is $117.2 million for data collection, in part to establish the evidence base for reforms. We will be seeking the advice of key mental health research experts to understand how this data can inform continuous, evidence-based improvement in mental health care for Australians.

While Preventative Health has gained attention from the Government in the last couple of years, the National Preventive Health Strategy is still very much a work in progress and there is only very limited additional funding for preventive health in tonight’s Budget. There is $1.9 million in 2021-22 for preventive health research and scoping activities, including a national health literacy strategy, to inform the National Preventive Health Strategy. Research Australia has previously advocated the need to improve health literacy (and digital health literacy) as a key measure to address health inequity and enable all Australians to better use technology to manage their health.

One of the key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we have become overly reliant on global supply chains for vital materials. This drove a new focus in last year’s Budget on manufacturing, with the announcement of $1.3 billion over five years from 2020-21 for the Modern Manufacturing Initiative. While the Government seems satisfied this is enough, Research Australia believes more needs to be done, and has proposed raising annual Government spending on R&D to 0.75% of GDP, setting a target for Australia to become a net exporter of pharmaceuticals by 2035, and using the Government’s influence as a key buyer of products and services to boost Australian innovation.

A key measure in this regard is a patent box; a tax deduction provided to companies that manufacture in Australia using Australian developed IP (patents). The patent box will only apply to income derived from Australian medical and biotechnology patents, with consideration to be given to the clean energy sector. It provides a concessional effective corporate tax rate of 17 per cent, with the concession applying from income years starting on or after 1 July 2022. Such a scheme has operated in the UK for many years and is designed to support high value manufacturing in Australia, complementing the R&D Tax Incentive. Research Australia has been a long-term advocate of patent box tax treatment, along with CSL and others in our sector, and this is a significant win for health and medical research.

Much has been said recently about mRNA manufacture of vaccines and therapeutics, with the Victorian and NSW Governments both announcing support and Victoria proposing to invest $50 million. In the Budget tonight the Government has announced that it, too, is acting. It will provide an undisclosed amount of funding (commercially sensitive) to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources to work with the Department of Health to develop an onshore mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability in Australia. Research Australia called for  such a commitment from the Government in our Pre-Budget Submission and we have been calling for this facility privately and publicly, to encourage this sovereign capability .

While the MRFF funding proceeds as outlined in the Government’s MRFF 10 year Plan, the funding to the NHMRC’s Medical Research Endowment Account continues to decline in real terms.

Medical Research Future Fund

Funding from the MRFF

The MRFF reached the target of $20 billion of capital in August 2020. Tonight’s Budget sees this balance maintained over the forward estimates.

Forecast spending from the MRFF remains largely as expected over the forward estimates. While only $455 million is available from the MRFF to fund research and innovation in 2021/22 due to lower-than-expected investment returns, the Government is maintaining spending this financial year by providing an additional $175 million for MRFF funding from consolidated revenue (announced in the December 2020 mid-year budget). At this stage the Government expects the investment returns to recover this financial year, with $650 million available to fund medical research and innovation in 2022/23.

MRFF expenditure

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
MRFF Funding 2021 Budget 579.9 455.0 650.0 650.0 650.0

NHMRC and ARC Funding

In Research Australia’s Pre- Budget Submission and our Pre-Election Statement we continue to call for increases in funding for the NHMRC and ARC’s research programs. This Budget sees both schemes continue to decline in real terms, which is of genuine concern to the health and medical research community.

NHMRC Programs

The 2021/22 Budget reveals funding for the NHMRC’s programs continuing to grow very slightly, and only slightly faster than was forecast in last year’s budget. The increase in this financial year is 1,1%, with annual increases of around 1% thereafter. This is lower than the forecast CPI of 3.5%% for 2020-21 and CPI of between 1.75% and 2.5% expected in subsequent years. In effect, NHMRC funding continues to decline in real terms, as it has done for many years now. Research Australia remains concerned about this deficit because research and its outcomes is a long-term commitment.

NHMRC MREA Funding

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
Funding to MREA

2021 Budget

853,864 863,266 875,362 887,588 899,124
Funding to MREA

2020 Budget

853,864 862,412 872,770 884,960 N/A

ARC Programs

The Australian Research Council’s Funding Programs are critical to Australian publicly funded research including to the life sciences and medical technologies.

Over the forward estimates, the funding to the ARC for the Discovery Program increases slightly each financial year and while higher than in last year’s Budget, the funding is at significantly lower levels than forecast in the 2019 Budget. In real terms funding to the Discovery Program declines over the forward estimates. Again, a cause for concern.

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
Discovery 2021 Budget 483,272 489,188 494,922 501,162 509,432
Discovery 2020 Budget 483.272 487.016 487.860 490.610
Discovery 2019 Budget 513.542 525.537 538.350 N/A

The ARC Linkage Program has been singled out by the Government as an important component of Australia’s innovation system, and it was announced that from 1 July 2016 the Program would be open to continuous applications and decision making would be fast tracked.

Funding over the forward estimates is higher than forecast in last year’s budget, but future years fail to keep pace with inflation.

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
Linkage 2021 Budget 323.166 325.454 329.948 334.109 339.622
Linkage 2020 Budget 322.181 323.871 325.240 327.074 N/A
Linkage 2019 Budget 288.788 295.246 301.741 N/A N/A

 While not funding ‘medical and dental research’, the ARC Linkage program remains important to the health and medical research and innovation sectors.

Research Support

In addition to providing funding for the ARC Linkage Program, the Department of Education and Training also provides funding to universities to help cover the indirect costs of research.

In last year’s Budget, the Government used the Research Support Program to provide a vital injection of $1 billion into higher education research in the current financial year.  No further injection is provided in this year’s Budget and funding in is actually lower than was forecast in the 2019 Budget.

Research Support Program

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
2021 Budget 1918.298 930.659 942.775 958.326 974.143
2020 Budget 1918.298 926.490 929.270 938.107 N/A
2019 Budget 920.573 941.748 962.455 N/A N/A
2018 Budget 1,018.879 1,042.302 N/A N/A N/A

Funding for the indirect costs of research funded by the MRFF is now provided from the Research Support Program. With the MRFF providing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to universities over the next few years, beyond this financial year, a substantial increase in the Research Support Program is needed just to maintain the levels of research support funding for research projects at their current already inadequate level. The cuts to the Research Support Program beyond the one-off boost in 2020-21 represent a real and continued threat to the capacity of our universities to undertake vital health and medical research.

The issue of indirect research costs remains unresolved for the whole health and medical research sector and indeed publicly funded research more broadly. Research Australia continues to call for a whole of government approach to the issue of funding indirect research costs. Research Australia proposes that the Chief Scientist lead a review of the funding of indirect research costs to establish a sustainable and equitable funding program. In the short term, the pool of funding for the Research Support Program must be increased substantially.

Research Training

The Research Training Program (RTP) provides funding to universities to support higher degree by research students (mostly PhDs). Funding for the RTP also declined in absolute terms between the 2019 and 2020 Budgets, and have only partly recovered in this year’s Budget.

Research Training Program

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
2021 Budget 1054.981 1069.182 1083.160 1100.967 1119.137
2020 Budget 1054.981 1064.392 1067.585 1077.738 N/A
2019 Budget 1057.595 1081.921 1105.710 N/A N/A

Industry PhDs

The Department of Industry will provide $1.1 million over two years from 2020-21 to create new employment pathways for students and boost financial incentives for universities to enrol students in ‘Industry PhDs’. This measure will introduce an additional weighting in the Research Training Program funding formula for PhD students who undertake an industry placement.

Research Commercialisation

In last year’s Budget the Government committed funding for a scoping study for a University Research Commercialisation Scheme to better translate and commercialise university research outputs. The development of the Scheme is still in train and there is no funding for the Scheme in this year’s Budget. It looks like this might have to wait until next year. Research Australia remains actively engaged in consultation with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on this Scheme.

CRC Program

Funding forecasts for the CRC Program reflect a shift in some funding between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Beyond that, they are slightly lower over the forward estimates.

CRC Program $million

$m. 20-21 21-22 22-23 23-24 24-25
2021 Budget 222,777 189,980 197,815 191,042 193,807
2020 Budget 234,168 189,040 186,378 188,599 N/A
2019 Budget 187,356 192,239 191,223 N/A N/A

The CRC Program is important to health and medical research and innovation with about one third of the CRCs funded over the life of the program being health related.

Conclusion

Research Australia will continue to provide analysis and comment in the coming days and weeks as well as seek further input from across the membership for your reactions and insight into the policy and funding announced for our sector; and how it affects or enhances your research and related activities as a result.

Ends …..

 

 

 

 

 

A Preventive Health Strategy for Australia enabled by research

Following a Discussion Paper released in 2020, the Australian Government released a draft National Preventive Health Strategy for consultation in early 2021.

Research Australia’s response to the consultation emphasises:

    • the critical role of research in supporting the evaluation of existing programs and measures and the development and implementation of new programs;
    • the importance of the proposal to increase funding for preventive health measures to 5% of health expenditure by 2030; and
    • while providing information is an important tool to empower and support people, supporting people to make the best possible decisions also require practical strategies and programs that can support and incentivise behaviour change, and policies that make it easier for people to make healthy choices.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Our response to the earlier 2020 Discussion paper is available here.

University Research Commercialisation

The Australian Government is undertaking a scoping study to understand how to best implement a University Research Commercialisation Scheme to better translate and commercialise university research outputs. It has appointed an Expert Panel and issued a Discussion Paper.

Research Australia’s response to the Discussion Paper addresses the role of ‘Missions’, the use of stage-gating and the role of co-funding by Governments, universities and industry. It highlights the critical need to better align existing funding programs and fill the gaps to provide a more seamless approach to research funding from basic research through to commercialisation.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Critical Technologies Consultation

The Australian Government’s Critical Technologies Policy Coordination Office is identifying critical current and emerging technologies with the capacity to significantly enhance or pose risk to Australia’s national interest, including our economic prosperity, social cohesion and national security. One of the key areas identified is health.

Research Australia’s submission to the consultation on health related technologies has emphasised the opportunity to address supply chain issues in the development and manufacturing of new technologies in Australia.  Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Better Use of Commonwealth Data

The Data Availability and Transparency Bill is intended to improve researcher access to datasets held by Commonwealth Government Departments and Agencies.  Its introduction to Parliament follows a three year consultative development process triggered by recommendations for legislative reform contained in the Productivity Commission’s report on the Availability and Use of Commonwealth Government Data. The Bill is the subject of an Inquiry by a Senate Committee.

Research Australia has been closely engaged with the development of the Bill and is supportive of its passage through Parliament. Our submission includes case studies of the public benefits that can be achieved from the use of health data, and the current barriers to access and use of data.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

 

Response to Health Department Consultation on Productivity Commission Recommendations on Mental Health

Having commissioned an Inquiry into mental health by the Productivity Commission, the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing has now undertaken a consultation on the recommendations contained in the Commission’s final report.

The Consultation was undertaken using an electronic survey, which has restricted the response to each question to a maximum of 500 words. Research Australia’s response to each of the questions posed by the survey is provided in our submission. Our responses emphasise:

    • the critical role of research in supporting the evaluation of existing programs and measures and the development and implementation of new programs;
    • the need to focus on implementation and scalability as part of translating research findings into new and effective preventive mental health programs; and
    • the essential role of data in evaluating the effectiveness of programs and the performance of the mental health system as a whole.

Research Australia acknowledges the contribution of our members to this submission, especially Black Dog Institute, Orygen, SANE Australia and Beyond Blue.

2021 Pre Budget submission calls for renewed investment in R&D

Research Australia’s Pre Budget submission to the Treasurer ahead of the 2021 Budget  focuses on the vital role of health and medical research and innovation in Australia’s  response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the manufacturing and innovation opportunities that health and medical research presents for Australia’s economic recovery.

It calls for renewed investment in R&D by the Australian Government, continued support for universities and medical research institutes with meeting indirect research costs, and measures to support medical products R&D and manufacture. The case for increasing NHMRC and ARC funding is also made. Funding for Government initiatives in data sharing and preventive health are among other measures sought.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.