The University of Newcastle in partnership with the Lowitja Institute has received just under $3 million in federal funding to establish a new committee to help improve health outcomes for First Nations people.
The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant is part of the Federal Government’s National Critical Research Infrastructure initiative, that will provide $650 million over 10 years.
In a sector-first, national infrastructure will be established to oversee First Nations health research.
The University of Newcastle is partnering with the Lowitja Institute to lead on the development, spearheaded by Assistant Dean Indigenous Strategy & Leadership, Associate Professor, Michelle Kennedy.
“All research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be deemed safe and respectful by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Wiradjuri woman and NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow, Associate Professor Kennedy* said.
“However, there has been limited state-based infrastructure and no national infrastructure to support this.”
The funding announcement follows calls for immediate investment in this space.
“This project will use a co-design process to establish the much-needed body and contribute to transformative change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health,” Michelle said.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Medical Research Ethics Committee (NAHREC) will be Aboriginal-led and governed.
While there are ethics bodies existing at a state level, the core business of the NAHREC will be to assess applications from researchers undertaking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research with a national or multi-jurisdictional reach.
A discussion paper will soon be launched by the Lowitja Institute – Australia’s only national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled institute for Indigenous-led health research – as a roadmap to this important work.
Deputy CEO of the Lowitja Institute, Paul Stewart said the committee will work to ensure research has a community-first approach.
“The Lowitja Institute has been working for many years to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at the centre when it comes to national health research processes – so that research is led by, for and with our peoples,” Paul said.
“We are excited to partner with the University of Newcastle to help improve health outcomes for First Nations people by streamlining culturally safe health and medical research.”
The federal funding comes after the latest Productivity Commission revealed only four areas of the government’s Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage are on track to be met by 2031.
Federal Minister for Health, Mark Butler said the work being done by the University of Newcastle is a step in the right direction.
“We cannot close the gap in life expectancy and health outcomes, unless we consult First Nations people about the policies – and research projects – that affect them.”
“Better outcomes come through consultation, and the co-design process that the University of Newcastle will undertake in developing a dedicated First Nations ethics committee will lead to better outcomes.”
Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon was also supportive of the trailblazing project.
“The University of Newcastle has always punched well above its weight when it comes to world-leading research and this innovative study is further proof of that.”
“I’m delighted to see our talented researchers recognised by the Medical Research Future Fund, further cementing Newcastle as the home of innovative health and medical research.”
“This funding is testament to the extraordinary work of Michelle Kennedy and her team to deliver health research that’s appropriate, engaging and meaningful for First Nations people.”
*Associate Professor Michelle Kennedy is a National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) early career research fellow and a member of the HMRI’s Equity in Health and Wellbeing Research Program. Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.
IMAGE | Associate Professor Michelle Kennedy presenting at Lowitja Conference 2023.