SPEECH TO THE BURNET INSTITUTE
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER 2014
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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Thank you, Professor Brendan Crabb, for bringing this issue to our national Parliament – and for allowing me the opportunity to say a few words tonight.
To Michelle Hendel, thank you for making me a little bit more proud to be an Australian.
I pay tribute to Alistair Lucas, who recently stepped down as chair.
I spoke with Alistair a few days ago, he’s currently dealing with devastating news.
He is a special, remarkable person – modest and generous.
And I know he will be surrounded by friends and goodwill in the tough battle ahead of him.
On a happier note, it’s a great pleasure to see Natasha Stott Despoja, our outstanding Ambassador for Women and Girls here this evening to lend her voice to this noble cause.
And, of course, I acknowledge my wife Chloe.
Chloe has been a longstanding friend and supporter of the work of the Burnet Institute, she cares very deeply about this area.
And she has been very influential in my thinking about medical research and science more generally.
One of my favourite writers, speakers and thinkers, Martin Luther King once said:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
That’s the principle that underpins your work, and it has long been the foundation of Labor’s approach to healthcare.
Labor believes in universal Medicare because we believe that the health of any one of us, matters to all of us.
We believe everyone should have access to the healthcare they need – not just the healthcare they can afford.
Yet for far too many people in countries like Papua New Guinea, it not just a question of affordability – it’s also very much a question of access.
Right now, the four kilometres that separate Australia from Papua New Guinea represents a 20 year gap in life expectancy – that’s injustice.
More than 1500 mothers in PNG lose their lives each year – that’s injustice.
More than 5,000 babies in PNG will die in the first month of life and another 10,000 will be a sad memory before the time of their fifth birthday – that is tragic, senseless, injustice.
Worst of all – much of this loss is avoidable.
We can prevent these deaths - and because we can, we must.
That is the call of our network of mutuality, the binding thread of our common humanity.
It is the responsibility that we owe our friends and neighbours as a smart and prosperous nation.
That is why all the work you do, and the Burnet Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program in particular is so important.
The project we support tonight will see life-saving care given to women and children in Papua New Guinea through targeted evidence-based community research.
Burnet Institute has long been a national and international leader when it comes to turning medical research into practical action, with meaningful benefits.
You have a distinguished record of helping to achieve better health for poor and vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally.
And we need to urgently address those issues that directly impact on women and their newborn babies in Papua New Guinea - issues that result in such a huge loss of life: anaemia, malaria, TB, malnutrition and postpartum haemorrhage.
Labor believes the Commonwealth has a role, indeed a responsibility, to support this kind of life-saving, hope-giving research.
This is not a question of replacing private sector investment, or crowding it out.
It’s about nurturing Australian genius and investing in Australian brainpower.
Fostering and supporting medical research – specifically, translational medical research – has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people.
I’m passionate about the importance of innovation and research to our nation’s future – and I’m a strong believer in Australia’s scientific potential.
But I do not accept that Australia has to choose between a thriving medical research sector and a world-class universal healthcare system.
No-one wins when we pit practitioners against researchers, but there is no doubt our nation loses.
The McKeon Review which was commissioned by my deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, as health minister, noted the importance of strong healthcare systems which facilitated research through embedding it in delivery.
Indeed, the review said “levies probably do not present a suitable mechanism for funding health and medical research”.
There are many of other ways to fund important medical research – alternative debt finance such as a special-purpose bond issuance program or social bonds akin to those used in the United Kingdom, further and targeted R&D tax incentives or research prizes such as DARPA’s Grand Challenge.
Another way is leveraging private finance and public investment in partnership. Working together, rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul.
We have previously supported equity co-investment arrangements where the Government and investors commit capital to medical research.
This kind of model has been used in other contexts to support the growth of Australian firms like Seek, Bionomics, Pharmaxis and Benthic Geotech.
You all know that medical research is not just about dollars and cents.
It is also about the system which underpins it – research excellence, commercialisation pathways, clinical environments, enabling infrastructure and workforce capabilities.
That’s why, under my leadership, Labor will take the time to get this right.
We will listen to the experts.
Our Shadow Health Minister, Catherine King and I have asked Andrew Giles, the Member for Scullin and Anna Burke, the member for Chisholm to kick-start this process.
They will be sitting down with health sector leaders, with clinicians and researchers as part of a proper and thorough consultation process.
We’re looking forward to hearing more from you and to working closely with you to achieve the important goals we dedicate ourselves to tonight.
I congratulate Brendan, the Burnet Institute and everyone involved with the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program.
You inspire us, you make us proud and we wish you every success on the road ahead.
MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053
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