Thousands gathered across Australia this week to rally against the potential budget cuts to medical research. But money was not the only concern for scientists. Eugenia Lee reports.
On Tuesday, researchers left their labs and headed to Belmore Park as part of a nation-wide stance against the rumoured $400 million cuts to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) budget over the next four years.
Their message was clear – save medical research to save lives.
“This is not just for medical researchers. This is for the health and life, and long life, of Australian people,” Professor David James, director of the Diabetes and Obesity Program at the Garvan Institute, told the crowd.
Professor James revealed for the first time that before the age of eight, he had lost his father, aunt, and grandmother to cancer – none of whom had the benefit of modern day treatment.
Representatives from other research institutes also expressed concerns that cutting funds would result in higher healthcare costs and a loss of jobs.
The crowd was told that 35,000 employees and 15,000 PhD students would be affected.
In particular, young people are expected to feel the brunt of the budget cut more than others.
Bob Graham, executive director of Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, said cutting the budget would result in a ‘brain drain’ as students and young scientists looked overseas for funding and work.
“Any cuts at all will affect new grants. It will affect all the young people.”
Charmaine Leng, a PhD student at the Garvan Institute, said some of her friends have already gone overseas to find work and the funding needed for their research.
“It’s just hard to explain and express how many discoveries really are on the brink,” she said. “It affects not just us. I mean, we don’t do research for the money; we really do it because we want to help people.”
But she said cutting the budget would only make future research initiatives more difficult for young scientists.
“If my lab can’t get a grant, or friend’s labs can’t get a grant out of the NHMRC, and other grant budgets, there’s no work here,” she said.
Approximately one thousand people attended the rally organised by the Garvan Institute, with researchers coming from as far as Western Australia.
Similar protests were also held in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Canberra to support medical research.
“It’s not just financial, it’s personal,” Professor John Shine, Executive Director of Garvan Institute of Medical Research said. “It’s about the quality of life for us, our parents, our kids, our grandchildren.”
Medical research in the past has contributed to cardiovascular disease, mental health such as Alzheimer’s, indigenous health, cancer treatments, and other preventative medicines.
According to Professor Graham, the proposed cuts, which save the federal government $100 million a year, is less than 0.17% of the total health care budget.
“You may not realise this but the Federal Government generates $100 million every 2.85 hours,” he addressed the crowd.
“Would it be so terrible if the Gillard government just delayed balancing the budget for 2.85 hours?”