Research sector welcomes the election but wants a focus on productivity

Researchers have welcomed Tony Abbott’s commitment to protect health and medical research funding from budget cuts. AAP/David Crosling

Universities and researchers have broadly welcomed yesterday’s surprise election date announcement, with Universities Australia chief Belinda Robinson saying it was in the national interest to have greater certainty about election timing.

“Equally important is the central task of lifting national productivity and increasing competitiveness and economic diversification,” Ms Robinson said, adding that universities were central to achieving those objectives.

The research sector has also welcomed an announcement from opposition leader Tony Abbott that an elected Coalition government would protect medical research funding from budget cuts.

“In terms of a cost-benefit analysis, consistent long-term funding of medical research lifts national productivity, improves quality of life and life expectancy and takes pressure off the hospital system,” Mr Abbott said in a joint statement with shadow minister for health and ageing, Peter Dutton.

CRC Association chief Tony Peacock said the organisation was pleased Mr Abbott had made a commitment to not cutting medical research.

“It’s a pity when we are happy about not getting cut, though,” he said.

“Governments can have a profound effect on the innovation environment through not only funding, but program design, implementation and culture.”

Mr Peacock said more attention was being given to science, education and research, so he welcomed the longer lead-time ahead of the election so the Association could fully understand competing policies.

Ms Robinson said investment and certainty for Australia’s higher education sector would help to deliver a stronger economy.

Vicki Thomson, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of Universities said it was time governments stopped viewing the university sector as a standalone sector, and started viewing it as a partner that could help it deliver much needed increases in productivity

“The election campaign is an opportunity for both the government and the opposition to demonstrate quite clearly how it views our role in the economic prosperity of our nation.”

Ms Thomson also welcomed the opposition’s commitment to quarantine health and medical research from budget cuts, but said it was one step in many.

“We would also like to see a commitment from both government and the opposition to a research environment which has a focus on funding for research that has an impact on the lives of Australians and benefits Australian industry.”