No evidence that MRFF will affect philanthropy

No evidence that MRFF will affect philanthropy

3rd July, 2014

There’s been talk in the media recently of a drop in donations to Medical Research Institutes (MRI) due to the Federal Budget announcement of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Some stories have reported that regular donors have decided to stop donating to MRIs as they think the MRFF will provide all the funding our institutes need. This surprises me – I have seen no data to support this, and even the anecdotes I have read or heard suggest that once donors gain a better understanding of the situation they jump straight back on board in supporting our institutes’ important work. That’s because of a few facts:

  • The MRFF has not passed through the Senate yet. Until it does, there is no additional funding to health and medical research in Australia from the government.
  • The MRFF is going to be a slow burn in terms of funding to medical research due to its structure as an endowment fund. For the first five years it will only offer incremental increases in funding. It is after the first five years that we see a jump in funding, until it eventually reaches $1billion per year to health and medical research within the decade.
  • If the MRFF does go through we will continue to need donations from the community – their donations fund buying expensive equipment, support niche research and pilots that would never have a chance of being funded elsewhere, and to other important areas of work. This gives the community an opportunity to directly support the research that they connect with.
  • In the USA and UK where there are large endowment funds similar to the MRFF in the form of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust respectively, philanthropy has actually grown. This makes sense, philanthropists want to invest in research that has an in impact, and this should happen here too.

The MRFF is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to change how research is funded in Australia; to give job security to Australian researchers; to keep our best and brightest working in the health and medical research sector here; to ensure Australia benefits from the economic impact our discoveries can have; to keep Australian-specific medical issues on the research agenda; to give Australians access to clinical trials that could lead to life improvements and lives saved.

The MRFF is a good paradigm for getting things right, for getting research done in Australia in an efficient way. It should attract more donations to medical research – the experience of the USA and UK shows this to be the case. I know the Medicare co-payment is controversial, even among our own health and medical research community, but the MRFF is an opportunity too good to miss and we must support it. As  McKeon Review author and CSIRO Chairman Simon McKeon said at the National Press Club last month, it would be a “tragedy” if the MRFF does not come into existence.