HIS EXCELLENCY MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL JEFFERY AC CVO MC
GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA RECEPTION IN SUPPORT OF RESEARCH AUSTRALIA AND PRESENTATION OF
Doctor Chris Roberts, Chairman, Research AustraliaMr Peter Wills, Founder and Deputy ChairmanDoctor Christine Bennett, Chief Executive Office, Research AustraliaDonors and sponsorsLadies and gentlemen
Marlena and I are delighted to welcome you to Admiralty House this evening.
Few causes are more important than those espoused by Research Australia. The growth of youralliance is testament to that, as was the vision of those of you who took a raw idea and turned it into amagnificent reality.
The setting up of an organisation that now enjoys support from more than 150 members and donors isno small outcome when arising from a suggestion made just five years ago.
In its field of health and medicine, Research Australia's interests are all encompassing, embracingbasic scientific research and discovery, clinical and applied research and invention, healthy living anddisease prevention. Underpinning this is the goal to make health and medical research a higher nationalpriority and secure the dollar investment needed to fund both research and implementation of itsfindings.
When, as part of his groundbreaking review of health and medical research in 1999, Peter Willsrecommended the setting up of a body to engage both the community and government in theimportance of Australia's medical research effort, I wonder if he believed it would be realised withsuch widespread support.
A core concept of his report was a 'virtuous cycle of government, industry and research' workingtogether. It is on this tenet that Research Australia bases its message that investment in Australia'sresearch sector will improve the health and quality of people's lives for both present and futuregenerations whilst strengthening the national economy by generating new business and industry.
Pivotal to meeting this challenge is the need for sustained interest at government level, increasedprivate and corporate philanthropy and private industry investment. Undoubtedly, you are all eagerlyanticipating the outcome of the taskforce that is presently looking at ways to encourage moreinvestment by the private sector - both local and international - in Australian health and medical research.
As the Wills Report and the subsequent Investment Review of Health and Medical Research haveshown, investment in Australian health and medical research makes good health and economic sense.
Australia is a world leader in health and medical research - on a per capita basis, our research output istwice the OECD average - yet we have a lower share of private investment in research than some other
A group such as Research Australia has a valuable role in helping instil investor confidence inAustralian research.
Certainly, in terms of the success of home grown researchers we have a most enviable track record. Our numerically small nation is responsible for an impressive list of innovative developments and wehave produced nine Nobel Laureates in science and medicine. The claim has been made that this is the highest proportion of medical/scientist Nobel Laureates per head of population in the world.
One of those Nobel Laureates, Howard Florey, remarking on penicillin, which was first issuedcommercially during the second World War, noted that 'had it not been for the enterprise and energywith which the American manufacturing firms tackled the large scale manufacturing of the drug . there would certainly have been insufficient penicillin by D Day in Normandy to treat all severecasualties.'
It could be easy to overlook that whilst we need the genius of our researchers to develop new means ofcombating illness and disease, we also need the where-with-all of the investor and the entrepreneur totransform discovery into reality.
And the challenge is ongoing. Penicillin is but one example. The development of an immunity to thedrug means we must break new barriers in the search for alternatives. Another challenge is the seriousincrease in chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria. In some parts of the world, malaria is resistant to allfour leading front-line drugs used against it.
The fight against malaria is another area in which Australian researchers have led the world. Australianscientists played a vital role in the recently completed international collaboration to map the malariagenome, and have been at the forefront of unravelling the unique biochemistry of the malaria parasite,and in documenting the crucial molecular events in the manifestation of the deadly cerebral malaria.
This Australian expertise is desperately needed. It is estimated that 2.3 billion people or more than one-third of the world's people, are at risk of malaria. A child dies of malaria every 3 seconds. And as ifthat was not alarming enough, scientists warn that global warming might increase the prevalence ofmalaria and create even more virulent strains of the disease.
And then there is the newer scourge of HIV/Aids. More than 40 million people have Aids and newinfections run at five million a year. Some three million people a year die of Aids. Few catastrophesmore graphically demonstrate the truth of American medical scientist and philanthropist Mary Lasker'sobservation, 'If you think research is expensive, try disease.'
Australia reacted quickly in responding to Aids. High level research programs, including the search fora vaccine, were quickly instituted as were education and support programs. We have also taken aprominent role in the international response, in particular through government partnerships with nongovernment agencies, working throughout south-east Asia and the Pacific.
Interestingly, the concept of corporate social responsibility and the need for public sector businesspartnerships in medical and health issues has been widely recognised in many parts of the world in thefight against Aids.
With the impact of the epidemic on the workforce and markets in Africa and Asia, the fostering ofpublic/private partnerships is seen as a key to combating the disease. Many of the world's biggestcorporations have become influential advocates for improved campaigns to counter Aids and manyhave installed in their own companies extensive health and information programs.
Of course much more needs to be done, but without the involvement of these partnerships across alllevels, any hope of progress would be much bleaker.
Indeed there is enormous value in joint research projects with other nations. We should not miss theopportunities to broaden and deepen our ties as partners, not just for our individual and joint benefit,but to also contribute meaningfully to improving the global condition.
In looking at Australian achievements in health and medicine, there is one area in which we havebecome an undoubted world leader but from which we can take little comfort. This is obesity. If thecurrent trend continues, it is estimated that by 2010, 70% of Australians will be above their healthyweight range.
Particularly distressing is the incidence in children. Research at the University of Sydney reveals that aproportion of overweight teenagers, are, by the age of 15, showing signs of vascular and liver cellillnesses previously only detected in adults. An increasing number of obese children are contracting Type 2 diabetes. Given that Australia has also led the world in diabetes research, this is a cruel irony.
The culprits are many and varied; sedentary lifestyles, television, reliance on the motor car, longerworking hours, less recreation and convenience foods. This is another problem whose only solution liesin a coordinated approach from all sectors of society.
So these and other challenges will require our collective endeavours. In some areas we have theresearch, yet we need the collective effort to put our knowledge into practice. In other areas there is stillmuch research to be done. It is only on the basis of the top class research at which so many of ourpeople have excelled that we can start looking for solutions.
One cannot ignore the potential of centres such as Singapore's "Biopolis" which I visited in 2004 - a multibillion-dollar, high-tech medical research institute working on a number of areas, including cancerand genome research. The really significant feature of the Biopolis is not the venue, as such, but thefact that Singapore is spending $390 million in total on scholarships in order to attract world-classPhDs to staff it.
As the Research Australia public opinion poll released in January this year found, Australians endorsespending money on medical research. That 72 per cent recognised that health and medical researchmade a difference to their lives is a telling figure, as was the finding that only 22 per cent would prefertax cuts rather than putting surplus government funding into medical research.
Despite these figures, I must say I wholeheartedly agree with your strategy to further alert Australiansto the contribution health and medical research makes to their lives. It is disconcerting that more than50 per cent of Australians do not know the names of any of our Australian Nobel Laureates and thatmany have little conception of the extent to which life saving medical breakthroughs have emanatedfrom our own research labs.
I commend your strategies to reverse this. I commend too those from our business sector who havejoined with you. Julie White from the Macquarie Bank Foundation put the role of corporatephilanthropy in perspective when, speaking of the corporate world's obligation to work for thebetterment of the communities in which they operate, she said in one of your recent newsletters, thatsocial support is now recognised as a shared responsibility.
Moreover, as she pointed out, there are benefits to corporations engaging in the community in that theygain greater insight into the society in which they operate.
I applaud all those who have chosen to support Research Australia and I am delighted to havepresented the plaques to supporters of this most worthy endeavour.