Labor has accused the government of using research funding for “pork barrelling” purposes in marginal seats in Queensland.
Can only a university in the tropics research tropical medicine?
Federal Labor says $42 million promised to James Cook University (JCU) during the election – and delivered in the budget – to study tropical diseases is just pork barrelling.
A senate committee heard on Thursday the north Queensland university effectively tendered against itself to get the funds from the Australian Research Council (ARC).
Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr said JCU was evaluated as below world standards for medical research, and suggested there were more appropriate candidates for the cash.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that because it’s in the tropics … therefore it must be good at tropical (research)?” he said to ARC chief executive Aidan Byrne.
“That’s not necessarily true but it is an institution that has a focus on tropical research,” Professor Byrne replied.
He later said JCU was above world standards in immunology and microbiology research.
Senator Carr said the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was one of the UK’s top research institutions.
“You’ve been to London haven’t you?” he asked.
Prof Byrne said he had.
“Would you describe that as tropical?” Senator Carr asked.
Prof Byrne replied: “On one day it was freezing, on the other day it was very hot.”
The JCU website says the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine is about to be launched as the latest incarnation of a centre established in 1913.
It will be based in Townsville, Cairns, the Torres Strait and Mackay – all in coalition-held marginal electorates.
Senator Carr demanded to know where to find “pork barrelling” in research funding guidelines.
“I don’t believe we have pork barrelling in the guidelines,” Prof Byrne said.
Senator Carr: “I would have thought we’d be looking for the best location for our research … based on excellence not just a question of whether or not it meets a political criteria for the government in terms of marginal-seat strategies.”
Coalition MP Warren Entsch, whose seat of Leichhardt is one of those containing a JCU campus, lashed out at Senator Carr and defended the university.
JCU had a renowned mosquito research facility because the tropics were on its doorstep, he said.
Also the UK’s main research on tropical medicine was now done in Liverpool, not London.
“But in order to work actively in a tropical region, they have field stations for their scientists and researchers in Africa,” he said in a statement.