The current government has slashed funding for major research initiatives in both the scientific and medical fields. Australia was once regarded as a nation of innovators and inventors, but an ill-judged change in priorities has seen many of our finest minds heading overseas. We have to take a long-term view when it comes to R&D, rather than seeing budgets in this area as targets of opportunity for times when public belt-tightening is politically fashionable.
Pure and applied research may often seem impractical, but the constant progress of scientific and medical discovery is an essential part of being ready for an uncertain and unpredictable future. Besides the many known problems that innovation and research has solved or is in the process of solving, it has been demonstrated again and again that a nation that invests in knowledge and discovery is a nation that is better defended against the unknown and unknowable problems of the future.
As for the known problems, it would be the height of silliness to choke off funding to alternative energy research given the current concerns about the environment, as well as the geostrategic configuration of the world in which we live.
Health and medical funding have also become casualties of short-sighted fiscal policies, which is especially sad in an area where we were once world pioneers.
Our slow and moribund attitude to technological development has alienated some of our best and brightest technology innovators. Faced with a lack of funding and an institutionalised lack of understanding, we have seen an increasing number of tech startups seeking friendlier conditions offshore.
Technological research and development should be focused into areas that have direct benefits for Australia, and the fruits of that research is best placed to benefit Australia when it is home-grown.
We need to start putting money back into Australian brain power so that we become one of the best environments in which to create. This will mean that we will be exporting great ideas, resources and innovative design to the whole world, and to the direct advantage of Australia and its people.
There is a growing drug problem on the Northern Beaches. Frontline medical workers and police are increasingly overstretched by the rise in drug arrests and drug related crime over the last few years.
Current preventative and treatment programs are demonstrably ineffective – a good example is the 80% relapse rate for people who attend drug rehabilitation programs. Apart from the personal tragedy that is involved with ruined lives and futures, the financial and social consequences of drug and alcohol addiction are enormous.
We need better support and community outreach programmes for the victims of drug and alcohol abuse, and we need to recognise that these victims include the users themselves. We can no longer afford to treat substance abuse as a purely criminal matter, and nor can we consider the need to help affected people as a burden on the state. We need to see addiction and abuse prevention and treatment as an investment in our future. Every person we fail to save represents the loss of a potentially productive member of our society, as well as a devastating loss to a single network of family and friends.
Australia should be a world leader in mental health care and it is lamentable that we are not. We must therefore look across the seas to Scandinavia, Canada and Portugal, where deeply compassionate, empathic, but most importantly, effective programmes have successfully re-integrated some of their most disaffected citizens back into the community.
There is also an urgent need to address the epidemic of suicide. I think we need a broader and more intelligent approach, looking not just at crisis intervention and prevention, but also developing an understanding of the myriad causes and factors involved. The cost in precious Australian lives is simply unacceptable from a moral, emotional and pragmatic point of view.
Former ACCC chairman and mental health advocate Allan Fels has stated that mental health is an “economic issue,” and that there is a direct relationship between the efficacy of mental health care and GDP. Mental health is one of those rare opportunities to simultaneously address needs that are moral, emotional and pragmatic – an opportunity that I believe we can do a better job of taking up.