Hopes Brighten for Embattled Australian Medical Researchers

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—After a week of nationwide protests, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 19 April sought to reassure scientists that her government was rethinking a rumored $423 million (AUD $400 million) cut to medical research over 3 years, starting in the 2011-12 budget. "For those who have reacted and even gone out and demonstrated because of their concerns, I'd say the moment to judge is on budget night," she told ABC news. "There's never been more money invested in medical research in this nation's history than there is today, right now, under this Government." 

The issue has become a political football, with Peter Dutton, the opposition health minister, telling a rally in Brisbane on Tuesday that the medical research budget should not be cut but rather raised by $212 million (AUD $200 million). The government had allotted $746 million (AUD $710 million) in 2010-11. "My call today to Julia Gillard is to match our spending commitment to medical research," Dutton told the crowd.

Early this week, medical researchers met with senior members of the government. According to Doug Hilton, director of Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, "The government have certainly heard the voice of the sector and community; it's very clear talking to them that they are committed to medical research." The moment of truth will come on 10 May, when the 2011-12 budget is released.