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Investment in science and early R&D urgently needed says Shorten

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Sustained public investment in science and research and development critical for Australia to improve its record in innovation and generate jobs said Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten today.

Meeting with scientists and public health staff of the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Sydney, along with Senior Shadow Spokesperson on Higher Education and Research, Senator Kim Carr, and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Matt Thistlethwaite MP, Mr Shorten said that the path to future jobs depends on proper funding of science and research and called on the government to recognise this in the upcoming budget.

Mr Shorten said the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Vision CRC had done remarkable things and was an example of the future of Australian health care, research and jobs - highly skilled researchers, solid investment in research and Australian ingenuity, combining to answer questions about health care both in Australia and around the world.

Senator Carr, the former Science Minister, said Australia’s CRC program had been an incredible success, not just in research and development but also the public benefit that it had delivered to Australia and the world.

Professor Brien Holden, CEO of the Institute and Vision CRC says that government support of science is vital to Australia’s economic future. “The CRC program enabled our collaborations with global researchers and industry to produce what is now the most popular contact lens material used globally,” he said.

“The benefits of that success have been enormous: $1500 million invested in research, around $300 million in royalties – reinvested in further breakthrough research, education of more than 180 PhD students, delivery of eye care to over 3 million people in need and training to over 130,000 eye care personnel globally,” Professor Holden added.

“Our latest technology, Extended Depth of Focus contact lenses, created by Dr Ravi Bakaraju at the Institute, has just received U.S. FDA clearance, a great thrill, as it will be the first product brought to market by our own spin-off company and a direct result of the investment from the CRC system.

“The Australian Government needs to invest in innovation if we are to compete internationally. The gap from early creation of invention, through the development process to commercialisation, is critically important.

“The world is now facing a major vision challenge from the epidemic of myopia. The prevalence and level of myopia is rising dramatically. Without substantial investment in the science to address the issue by 2050 half the world will be myopic and high myopia could become the leading cause of blindness.

“Understanding myopia and the development of interventions to stop the progress of myopia are now critical. There’s an urgent responsibility to take action but also an opportunity for Australia to take the lead in this area.

Professor Holden also said that continued foreign aid was crucial for Australia to help eliminate poverty and boost global productivity. “Investment in aid has allowed Brien Holden Vision Institute to help develop sustainable systems of eye care in more than 54 countries,” he said.

“Recent cuts has led to us having to lay off 45 dedicated, talented professionals in blindness prevention. This will mean that over the next five years more than 4.5 million people will lose both access to eye care and education to produce the eye care practitioners that are badly needed, tackling vision impairment in developing communities will therefore be put on hold.”

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