NHMRC Strategic Plan 1991-1993

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This plan sets the broad directions for the NHMRC for the remainder of the current triennium (1991-93), identifies linkages with other key elements in the health field and indicates the major health issues NHMRC would like to address.


The NHMRC Strategy is shaping the Council's activities in the present triennium.

Substantial consultation and wide-ranging input have contributed greatly to the Strategy and have assisted its evolution into its current form.

To maintain its relevance a strategic plan must promote public discussion and feedback.

This plan sets the broad directions for the NHMRC for the remainder of the current triennium (1991-93), identifies linkages with other key elements in the health field and indicates the major health issues NHMRC would like to address.

Feedback on the Strategy is welcome, and should be directed to:

The Secretary


GPO Box 9848


Appendix B to the Strategy sets out guidelines for NHMRC's approach to consultation. I have made specific comment on consultation as an introduction to those guidelines.

It should be noted that the strategy for the health and medical research program is substantially expanded in a separate NHMRC document 'Strategy for Health and Medical Research'.

Dr Diana Horvath

Chairman of Council


STRATEGY 1991-1993


The National Health and Medical Research Council was established in 1936 to advise governments on matters relating to health and on funding for health and medical research.

Members of the Council are drawn from various walks of life and serve on a part-time basis. The composition and membership of the Council are shown at Appendix A.

The Council operates through a network of expert committees, the members of which also serve on a part-time basis.

The secretariat to the Council and its committees is provided by the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services.


The charter for the NHMRC is set out in the Order in Council which establishes the NHMRC as follows:

(a) To inquire into, and to advise and make recommendations to the Commonwealth, the States and Territories and the Australian community on matters relating to:

(i) the improvement of health (including legislation, administration and practice in that field);

(ii) the prevention of disease (including the merits of methods of disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment);

(iii) health care, medical care, dental care, health research and medical research; and

(iv) ethical issues in relation to health,

(b) to advise and make recommendations to the Commonwealth on expenditure of money on health research and medical research and in connection with projects of health research and medical research generally; and

(c) to advise the Minister on the application, and on matters connected with the application, of the Medical Research Endowment Fund for the purposes of the Medical Research Endowment Act 1937.

In the performance of its functions, the Council shall, in particular -

(a) sponsor and support investigations and recommend priorities (including priorities in the matter of funding) in the fields of health care, health services, health research and medical research;

(b) co-ordinate the work, and assess the recommendations, of NHMRC committees (including the principal committees); and

(c) review, at intervals of not more than 3 years, the effectiveness of the Council's activities in the performance of its functions.

The Council's Broad Approach

The Council views 'health' in the same light as the World Health Organization: 'Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infinity'.

Knowledge of 'best practice' in health (i.e. health activities that are appropriate, effective, efficient and equitable) - both personal health and public health interventions - derives from health and medical research. NHMRC inspires and funds research, distilling this knowledge into consensus statements which answer questions of 'best practice' and guidelines for a healthy environment. Collection and analysis of health data, such as that undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health, provides information about Australia's health.

In order to fulfil its role, NHMRC is required to:

  • develop and maintain a national network of expertise,
  • contribute to and have access to relevant knowledge around the world;
  • maintain the trust and respect of the health care community and the Australian people in order to be able to work as an honest broker.

In so doing NHMRC recognises that there are many professions engaged in the delivery of personal health care, whether in institutions or in the community. They all may engage in research activities pertinent to their respective areas of practice. Hence, phrases such as 'service providers', 'clinical practice' and 'clinically-based research' are intended to include reference to doctors, nurses, dentists, and allied health and scientific professionals and their related areas of health practice and research.

Consultation and Communication

The NHMRC places great emphasis on appropriate consultation in its processes. Committees, working parties and expert panels are constituted to ensure that relevant professional and community interests are represented. As well, the processes of formulating guidelines, standards and advice, themselves involve consultation as widely as possible and as relevant to the issue. Processes for NHMRC public consultation are being developed.

Equally important is appropriate communication of the outcome of NHMRC deliberations. A Communications Committee has been established and has prepared a communications strategy for NHMRC.

Guidelines for consultation and for representation of public interest perspectives on NHMRC Committees working groups etc. are attached. (Appendixes B and C)

Major Issues

NHMRC has responsibilities for advising on issues across the total spectrum of health and provides a national focus for dealing with the major issues affecting the health of the Australian people. Over the 1991-93 Triennium particular attention will be paid to:

  • Inequalities in health status - as and between different population groups (particularly Aboriginal people) ~ with a view to identifying ways of reducing inequalities. This involves identifying ways of taking further steps to changing behaviour (of both professionals and communities) to effect best practice.
  • Improved understanding of chronic conditions - both causality and means of influencing outcomes. The particular focus will be on diseases for which there is currently neither cure, nor satisfactory treatment.
  • Ageing - improved understanding of the ageing process, impact on population health of the nation, and means of re-orienting health services and individuals to ensuring healthy lifestyles for older people and for changing approaches to care.
  • Environmental health - develop a range of strategies to understand better the links between ecologically sustainable development and human health, including the effects of environmental contamination and to intervene where appropriate to prevent adverse effects on human health. A particular concern will be to understand better the effects on health of the urban environment and how a better urban environment might be healthier. Inter-sectoral issues will need to be assessed carefully.
  • Research - assess the needs for and means of providing improved infrastructural support for the nation's medical and health research. In addressing these priority issues, NHMRC will be mindful of the social circumstances of the 1990s and hence provide advice relative to:
  • defining the relationships between the different service providers.
  • defining the relationships between providers and consumers of health services (both at an individual and group level).

These involve matters of law, ethics and social practice.

The NHMRC resources which include a range of professionals involved in health care delivery, representatives of consumers. the community and industry and health and medical researchers, enable NHMRC to deal with these and other issues in a unique way. It is the only national organisation with access to such a broad range of health expertise.

NHMRC closely co-ordinates its work with other national bodies in relevant areas including the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission and the Australian Institute of Health.


NHMRC operates at two broad levels:

  • the Council which provides general direction and advises on major issues,
  • committees which provide expert advice on a range of issues and which generally make use of sub-committees, working parties and expert panels.

There are four programs of activity within the NHMRC, as follows:

  • health care
  • public health
  • health and medical research
  • ethics



The health care program advises on 'best practice' in health care delivery and is managed through the Health Care Committee (HCC). Its focus is clinical practice and the patient.

The functions of HCC are as follows:

(i) To inquire into and advise the Council on matters relating to health care and the provision of health services;

(ii) to inquire into and advise the Council on the merits of methods of disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment:

(iii) to receive, and make recommendations to the Council in relation to appropriate reports of expert groups and specialist working parties and community groups.

(iv) to prepare reports, submissions and any other documents relating to the functions of the committee for distribution by the Council: and

(v) to advise the Council on means of providing information to the Australian community on matters relating to the functions of the Committee.

Major Themes

  • NHMRC has a major national role in the development of standards of provision of health care.
  • NHMRC is uniquely placed to develop guidelines for clinical practice in areas such as diagnostic imaging, birthing options, mental health practice, and informed decisions about medical interventions.
  • This work will be undertaken jointly with relevant professional organisations and involve community and consumer groups.
  • Work on the development of guidelines for informed consent to a range of procedures will continue. This is an important area of public concern and relates to research, health practice and public health. Whilst the NHMRC will focus on the health and ethical concerns there will be legal, social and administrative implications.
  • In the context of the better management of chronic conditions, a national action plan is being developed to address the complications of diabetes.
  • As part of developing an improved understanding of the ageing process, mental and dental health issues facing the elderly are to be considered.
  • The introduction of health technologies and provision of advice on their most appropriate distribution nationally will be undertaken through the Australian Health Technology Advisory Committee. This concentrates national expertise in best practice, evaluation methodology and economics.
  • Preventive measures including screening and periodic health cheeks are of increasing importance as the community accepts the need for a greater emphasis on preventive health care. NHMRC is well placed to recommend guidelines for the scope of various screening programs, their frequency and best practice in their conduct, analysis and evaluation.
  • The development and maintenance of networks of health care experts, service deliverers and users of health services is a major continuing requirement.
  • NHMRC will encourage the most rigorous methodologies in evaluating all aspects of health care.


  • The Public Health Program develops policies, guidelines and standards to minimise the harm to the community through environmental health hazards. In meeting this objective the Public Health Committee (PHC) provides the mechanism to promote uniform action by all jurisdictions to implement the advice and recommendations which come from its detailed scientific assessment of issues of public health concern.

The functions of PHC are as follows:

(i) To inquire into and advise the Council on matters of public health, preventive medicine and the improvement of health, including environmental factors on health, and the health of minority groups including Aboriginal people;

(ii) to advise the Council on the legislation and administrative procedures that should be introduced by the Commonwealth, the States or the Territories to implement the matters referred to in paragraph (i);

(iii) to receive, and to make recommendations to the Council on reports of expert groups and working parties in matters relating to the Committee's functions;

(iv) to prepare reports, submissions and any other documents relating to the functions of PHC for distribution by the Council; and

(v) to advise the Council on means of providing information to the Australian community on matters relating to the functions of the Committee.

Major Themes

Chemicals Safety

  • The safety of chemicals used in agriculture and in veterinary practice is the immediate responsibility of NHMRC. Measures to increase the efficiency of the clearance and review process for these chemicals and to improve the availability of information to the public are planned for the triennium, along with the development of a national policy to reduce harm to the community through the use of domestic chemicals.

Food and Health

  • NHMRC will continue to study the longer term relationship of food and health and provide input to the National Food Authority inquiries as necessary.

Environmental Influences

  • Air, water and soil quality, the 'sick building syndrome', disposal of wastes, radiation protection standards and improvement in understanding and reporting of communicable disease are all high on PHC's agenda for the triennium. The development of national standards and guidelines is the highest priority. More effective coordination with other relevant agencies (particularly the Australian and New Zealand Environment Council) with the aim of more timely introduction of nationally accepted standards is a high priority initiative.

Ecologically Sustainable Development

  • The development of a national strategy on ecologically sustainable development, health impacts of longer term climatic change and international developments including the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development, provide a basis to promote the intersectoral impacts of the environment and human health. Securing recognition of the importance of the direct and indirect effects on human health within the environment debate (and inclusion of health in such processes as environmental impact assessment) is a key priority for PHC during this triennium.

Disease Control and Prevention

NHMRC will contribute to upgrading the national surveillance and

response systems for communicable diseases and examine the national immunisation strategy.


The health and medical research program advises on the research that should be funded to ensure broadly-based, scientifically sound research into health issues and the maintenance of a highly skilled health and medical research workforce in Australia.

The program is managed through the Medical Research Committee (MRC) and Public Health Research and Development Committee (PHRDC) whose functions are set out below:

(a) Functions of MRC

(i) To advise and make recommendations to the Council on the application of the Medical Research Endowment Fund;

(ii) to monitor for the Council the utilisation of assistance provided by that Fund:

(iii) to assess on behalf of the Council the quality and scope of medical and dental research in Australia and to develop plans to advance such research;

(iv) to advise the Council and the Commonwealth with regard to research undertaken, or to be undertaken, in relation to the improvement of health or the prevention of disease, in institutes and laboratories administered by the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services*, and

(v) to provide to the Council advice on research matters relevant to the functions of the other principal committees of Council.

(b) Functions of PHRDC

(i) To develop guidelines for the funding of research in the field of public health;

(ii) to advise the Council on recommendations to be made by the Council to the Commonwealth in respect of research in the field of public health;

(iii) to advise and make recommendations to the Council on the allocation of funds for the conduct and promotion of research in the field of public health: and

(iv) to advise the Council on means of providing information to the Australian community on matters relating to the functions of the Committee.

Major Themes

  • All research funded through NHMRC is ultimately directed towards improved human health. In order to achieve this strategic objective, it is necessary to ensure nationally that there is a broadly-based research capacity involving basic biomedical research, clinicallybased research programs and research focussed around populations. A crucial component of this strategy is ensuring that Australia has a highly skilled research work-force. This is achieved through training and career initiatives.
  • Broadly, health and medical research is directed towards meeting the health needs of the community. Currently some 46% of medical research funding is in the areas which are the major killers and disablers of the Australian population - cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, musculos- skeletal disorders, respiratory disease and mental ill-health. The research focus will shift over time and care needs to be taken that its broad direction is appropriate to known and anticipated health problems. Additionally, the particular health needs of disadvantaged groups, especially Aboriginal people, and some major health problems affecting women, need to be investigated. Special mechanisms are required to ensure that these needs are met.
  • While the major economic purpose of medical research is to reduce the direct costs of medical expenditure, and indirect losses to the economy from decreased productivity due to ill health, opportunities for returns to Australia from commercial development of discoveries can also arise. Initiatives will be undertaken to improve liaison between researchers and Australian industry and to support development of research results of potential commercial significance.
  • With the increasing sophistication of research techniques involving expensive equipment and consumable items, there is a need to ensure that the research infrastructure is maintained appropriately to enable Australian medical science to remain internationally competitive. The allocation of funds for equipment will need to be rationalised to ensure that major items are provided in such a way as to ensure their most effective use.
  • There are issues to be dealt with over the forthcoming trienniumrelating to the best mix of research funding, e.g. between clinical, biomedical and public health research, between support for large institutes and individual researchers in small teams, and between research proposed by research experts and that which might be commissioned to meet particular objectives.


The NHMRC ethics program provides advice on ethical issues in health care, public health and health and medical research. This is a new program and will be managed through the Australian Health Ethics Committee, (AHEC) with the following functions:

  • (i) To inquire into, advise and recommend on ethical, legal and social matters which arise in relation to public health, health care practice and health and medical research involving humans.
  • (ii) To develop guidelines where appropriate to assist in suitable ethical conduct in the health field and to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988.
  • (iii) To promote community debate, and consult with individuals, community organisations, the health professions and governments on health ethical issues.
  • (iv) To monitor the workings of Institutional Ethics Committees and advise on these.
  • (v) To monitor international developments in relation to health ethical issues and liaise with relevant international organisations and individuals as appropriate.

The ethics program will consolidate work in the ethics of health and medical research formerly undertaken by the Medical Research Ethics Committee. Ethical issues arising in health care practice were formerly dealt with through HCC. Bioethical issues were the responsibility of the National Bioethics Consultative Committee which will become part of the NHMRC ethics program. While being formed from these elements, the ethics program will provide fresh perspectives on each and consider ethical issues which arise in public health.

The program will be developed through a wide and intensive process of consultation with governments, health and medical researchers, community groups and individuals.

Major Themes

  • The increasing demand for and cost of health services require that greater attention be paid to questions about the ethical implications of the allocation of available health resources. Some of the major ethical issues arising from this have already been identified by NHMRC. AHEC will address these issues and give detailed consideration through a working group which will undertake tasks which include facilitating informed public debate and consultation with the community. Enquiry into this topic will be dealt with at a number of levels and over the triennium a number of papers and reports will become available for public discussion.
  • The Institutional Ethics Committees (IECS) are important mechanisms to ensure that the highest ethical standards are maintained in health and medical research. A high priority for AHEC will be to support the work of IECs and to strengthen the network. Strategies will be devised and implemented through a standing subcommittee of AHEC which will specifically focus on IEC related issues. These will include the operation of the Clinical Trials Notification Scheme, guidelines and reporting procedures for the protection of privacy in medical research, and methods for informing and supporting IEC work.
  • There is increasing public concern about the protection of privacy in modern society where information is gathered for a range of purposes but can be manipulated and used for different purposes. The Commonwealth through the Privacy Act 1988 has strict rules concerning the use and release of information gathered by Commonwealth agencies. NHMRC guidelines issued under that Act enableaccess to information in the conduct of medical research. AHEC will monitor the continuing relevance and effectiveness of these guidelines in concert with the Privacy Commissioner.

- Guidelines for the conduct of research involving Aboriginal people are being developed and this process will continue well into the triennium.

- Guidelines already developed in the use of genetic registers for research, will continue to be monitored and further developed as issues emerge.

- As awareness and concerns about ethical issues and ethical implications in health care practice become more widespread and sophisticated, institutions in particular have perceived a need for ethics committees to be set up and available to assist in the resolution of ethical dilemmas. Sometimes IECs have been approached to provide such advice. Specific consideration needs to be given to the roles of IEC and ethics committees and methodologies for providing assistance in the identification and resolution of ethical dilemmas in health care practice. This matter will also be addressed by AHEC in the course of the triennium.

  • The success of AHEC will depend to a significant degree upon its capacity to consult effectively and flexibly with a wide range of audiences within and outside NHMRC structures. Consultation about ethical issues is highly complex in a pluralist society. It is often impossible to gain consensus on ethical matters which include moral and social issues as well as individual value judgements. AHEC has produced guidelines to assist with its consultation and will monitor their practice and efficiency over the triennium. The committee recognises that consultation should not be aimed at achieving a single agreed position on matters where significant diversity exists.


NHMRC will facemany challenges over the coming triennium. It must retain its traditional values of excellence and continue to identify and respond to emerging issues.NHMRC is one contributor to an increasingly complex health scene. It is uniquely placed to provide expert advice in the health arena through its considerable network of resources.A particular challenge will be to develop or maintain effective relationships with other bodies including

- professional colleges, representative associations and the scientific academies,- national science and technology advisory bodies such as the Prime Minister's Science Council,, and the Australian Science and Technology Council,- the proposed Council for Aboriginal Health, - peak community, union and industry bodies. A major influence on NHMRC strategic direction will be the development of the National Health Strategy. In particular, it is envisaged that NHMRC will be responding to the development of that Strategy in such areas as equity and health, prevention and health promotion, the effectiveness of health research and delivery to meet the needs of targetted groups and the health workforce.Finally, NHMRC faces special challenges in ensuring that its advice is timely and relevant to the Australian population. It will strive to ensure that its messages are received and understood by those to whom they, are directed, including the professions and the broader community.


Composition and membership -


Dr D.G. Horvath

Secretary to the Council

Dr J. Loy

Chairman of each of the

Professor R.A. Smallwood

principal committees - Health

Ms R Layton

Care Committee, Australian

Professor D.I. MeCloskey

Health Ethics Committee,

Dr A. Adams

Medical Research Committee, Public Health Committee and Public Health Research and Development Committee

Professor K. Donald

One nominee from each State

Dr P.S. Morey


and Territory health

Dr R. Simpson


authority, and one nominee

Dr D. Lange


of the Commonwealth Department

Dr K. Kirke


of HHandCS

Dr P.J. Brennan


Dr J. Sparrow


Dr A. Plant


Ms G. Biscoe


Dr A. Adams


A person with knowledge of the health needs of Aboriginal communities nominated by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

Ms N. Mayers

A person expert in the training of health care professionals

Professor G.B. Ryan

A person with knowledge of professional medical standards, including postgraduate medical education

Professor S.E. Dorsch

A person with knowledge of the medical profession

Dr B. Nelson

A person with knowledge of the nursing profession

Assoc. Professor R. Pratt

An eminent scientist broadly familiar with the issues in health and medical research and not otherwise involved with the Council

Professor P.I. Korner

A person with knowledge of trade union practice

Ms P. Staunton

A person with knowledge of business practice

Ms M. Jackson

A person with knowledge of consumer needs

Ms J.D. Graham

A person with knowledge of community and other social service needs

Mrs J. Roberts

A person with knowledge of environmental issues

Ms A.E.G. Reeves

Three other persons with expertise relevant to the functions of Council

Professor M. Neave

Professor M. Charlesworth

Professor S. Encel



At its 111th Session in June 1991 NHMRC received a report by the Administrative Review Council (ARC) on processes for review of NHMRC decisions and advice.

In brief, ARC recommended that there should be enhanced opportunities for public consultation in the development of advice on health care practice and advice on national regulatory standards.

NHMRC agreed that there was a need to develop guidelines for public consultation.


In view of the wide-ranging activities of NHMRC it is a challenging exercise to develop guidelines which fit all circumstances. For example, some NHMRC committees handle material which may be provided on a commercial-in-confidence basis, whilst others address ethical issues where consensus achievement is difficult if not impossible in a pluralist society. Nevertheless, the task has been approached with vigour and commitment to the notions of consultation.

What has resulted (Attachment 1) is a set of guidelines which will have general application to all NHMRC activity. If they judge it necessary, the Principal Committees of NHMRC have been requested to develop supplementary guidelines for approval by NHMRC, which relate to their individual activities, and which are not inconsistent with the over-arching guidelines. The Australian Health Ethics Committee and the Public Health Committee have developed supplementary guidelines which have been endorsed by NHMRC (Attachments 2 and 3). If the other principal committees (Health Care Committee, Medical Research Committee and Public Health Research and Development Committee) develop individual supplementary guidelines which are endorsed by NHMRC those guidelines will be widely disseminated.

Consultation is already widely undertaken by NHMRC. The now-endorsed guidelines represent an extension of a long-standing process. This extension will develop and expand over the 1991-1993 triennium and beyond, and the initial phases will no doubt be characterised by trial and error.

Obviously, resource implications will also impact on consultation processes and regard must be had to the 'art of the possible'.

Feedback on the application of guidelines is encouraged, and should be forwarded to the Secretary of Council.

Bibliography on Consultation

In developing its position on consultation NHMRC developed a draft working document Consultation: An Appraisal of Community Perspectives which includes a useful bibliography related to consultation issues. Copies of this draft working document are available on request from:

The Publications Officer


GPO Box 9848

Canberra ACT 2601

- phone 06 289 7646 fax 06 289 6957.

Dr Diana Horvath

Chairman of Council


'Consultation is ... a process of obtaining diverse views, not necessarily everyone's views.' P. Kazan, 1990.


As an advisory body, NHMRC must ensure adequate consultation takes place as issues are developed, so that a range of views are sought and assessed in the advice formulation process.

It needs to be recognised that consultation, if properly carried out, demands a commitment of resources and adequate time to allow affected groups to undertake their own processes.



  • Consultation should take place in the first instance through the substantial networks represented by the composition of Council, principal committees and standing committees.
  • The possibility that it may be desirable or necessary to curtail or dispense with consultation should be borne in mind - e.g. in cases where urgent guidance is required or where prior consensus has been achieved. The nature of individual cases of minimised or no consultation should be included as part of a final report and the approach explicitly endorsed by the Council in approving the report.

Planning for consultation

  • At the threshold of a task, the chair of a group or committee should ensure that the requirement to consult is specifically addressed, and a strategy, program and timetable for consultation formulated and carried through. Such a program should include specific groups, or persons who are to be invited to contribute, and specific strategies developed to cover, if necessary, special consultation requirements for special groups.
  • Committees or groups should ensure that appropriate expertise on consultation is either reflected on or available to the committee or group.
  • Committees or groups should ensure that appropriate information exchange networks are developed with existing community and consumer groups or organisations, Federal and State government departments, principal and other committees of NHMRC, and various program areas of state and federal departments to assist with the planning and to investigate current consultative activities relevant to the issues under consideration.


  • Committees or groups should regularly publicise and invite comment on issues under consideration and in doing so should ensure that information is provided in a style and language which is most accessible to the target audience/s and presented in a form which is culturally appropriate.
  • Committees or groups should give consideration to deploying a range of strategies to present and receive information, e.g. by utilising -

- broadly based and varied television and radio programs

- national daily newspapers

- magazines

- suburban and community language newspapers

- newsletters

- community education programs such as seminars and workshops

- mechanisms for consultees to contribute in a language other than English, including oral presentations by audio tape, teleconference or video

- a discussion paper to issue a working group's initial views or refined product

- round table or consensus conferences

- skilled and acceptable facilitators to be deployed to generate consultation with targeted groups.

  • Particularly in regard to activities with potential regulatory impact, NHMRC will advertise in the national press on a regular basis listing current areas of activity and for each topic, inviting contribution to a designated person and address, in a stated time-frame. An advertisement will also be placed in the Commonwealth Gazette. This practice will be brought to the attention of major industry and consumer groups.

The consultation agenda

  • Information about the reasons for the consultation should be available and provided to persons before they are asked to participate.
  • Where possible, thoughtfully constructed target groups should be involved in the planning of the consultative process to ensure that:
- the agenda is agreed to by all relevant parties and that consultees have a clear understanding of.

- the role of the committee

- the scope of the consultation

- the expected outcomes of the consultation process

- the most appropriate consultation model for each reference and for each identified target group will be implemented. - the provision of adequate time and resources for the development of submissions and for feedback to consultees of committee recommendations and reports is allowed:

- a minimum of 66 days should be allowed for public comment, noting that in regulatory areas this might be broken up into at least 30 days for comment on matters before a committee and a further 30 days for comment on subsequent draft recommendations.

- an evaluation process is in place to assess whether there has been accurate representation of community views at all stages of a consultation.

Reporting on consultation

  • All committee or group documents should include a report on the nature of the consultation undertaken, provide a summary of submissions received and comment on any action taken on submissions and how the consultation process has contributed to outcomes. Such reports could be contained in either the body of the report or an appendix and be made available to consultees.


Planning for consultations

1. Planning for consultation processes should be included in scheduling work programs.

2. Consultation should occur across a broad cross-section of interests. Attention should be given inter alia to:

  • identifying those groups best equipped to deal with a particular issue;
  • the involvement, when appropriate, of special needs groups including: people with disabilities, people from non-English speaking backgrounds. people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island descent, women, and those people who live in rural and remote areas.

3. Working parties and committees should reflect various and relevant expert and community needs.

4. Information exchange networks should be developed with existing community organisations and State and Federal government departments, e.g. other principle committees of the NHMRC, peak consumer and community groups, State health services, the National Better Health Program, the National Health Strategy and the various program areas of the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services.

5. Through linkages with existing networks the committee should investigate the extent of current consultative activities relevant to the issues under consideration.


1. There should be regular publicity of activities and invitations to comment on issues under consideration.

2. When publicising its activities and inviting comments on issues under consideration, the committee should ensure that:

  • information is provided in a style and In the language/s most accessible to target audience/s,
  • information is presented in a form which is culturally appropriate.

3. Consideration should be given to employing a range of strategies to present and receive information, e.g.

  • access television and radio, national daily newspapers, magazines, suburban and community language newspapers:
  • publish newsletters; .
  • sponsor community education programs. e.g. seminars and workshops,.
  • provide opportunities when necessary for consultees to make submissions in a language other than English or in an oral rather than a written form, e.g. audio tape, teleconference or video tape,*
  • issue media statements and background material to draw attention to issues;
  • utilise existing networks, e.g. state health promotion units, the National Better Health Program, community organisations, the specialist press and the Communications Committee of the NHMRC.

4. A mailing list should be maintained and regularly updated to include all identified target groups.

Setting the agenda

1. Information about the reasons for the consultation should be provided to groups before they are asked to participate.

2. Where possible, target groups should be involved in the planning of the consultative process to ensure that:

  • the agenda is agreed to by all relevant parties and that consultees have a clear understanding of.,

- the role of the committee

- the parameters of the consultation

- the expected outcomes of the consultation process:

  • the most appropriate consultation model for each reference and for each identified target group will be implemented*;
  • the provision of adequate time and resources for the development of submissions and for feedback to consultees of committee recommendations and reports is allowed;
  • an evaluation process will be in place to assess whether there has been accurate representation of the community view at all stages of the consultation.


1. All reports should include an outline of the nature of the consultation undertaken, a summary of the submissions received and comments on action taken on submission.

2. Reports should be distributed to consultees within an agreed timeframe.

  • Guidelines for consultation with special needs groups are available from the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), the Disability Advisory Council of Australia (DACA) and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF).


As National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines and standards have a significant impact on consumers, industry, and the operations of State and Territory agencies, it is recognised that a common public consultative process should be built into the development phase of all guidelines and standards.

Such a process should not involve the commitment of unreasonable financial or staff resources. In addition, recognising that the scope and subject matter covered by NHMRC guidelines and standards is very broad, the particular process adopted should have a degree of flexibility.

Against this background, the following guidelines are provided for activities associated with the Public Health Committee:

  • Public consultation should be considered as part of the development of guidelines and standards, and not simply at the conclusion of the process. This aspect should be considered by working parties when developing the approach to particular issues.
  • As a general principle, draft guidelines and standards developed by working parties and committees should be circulated for public consultation.
  • Depending on the content of the standards or guidelines, informed public consultation may involve either public advertising, and/or direct consultation with affected organisations and groups. A decision on the most appropriate course is to be taken by the Secretary of the Public Health Committee in consultation with the Chairman of the relevant committee or working group.
  • In all cases, the period allowed for the public to respond to requests for consultation should be no less than 30 days.
  • When specialised guidelines or standards are developed the relevantcommittee or working party will arrange for:

- their review by affected organisations in draft form for a period of at least 30 days;

- the committee or working party to review those comments.

  • All committees and working parties should advise PHC on the issues raised during the public consultative process, when making specific ecommendation to the Public Health Committee.

Council directed that these guidelines be brought to the attention of all relevant committees and working parties.


At its 112th Session, (October 1991) NHMRC adopted the following resolution:

NHMRC, in recognising the Importance and valuable contribution to the work of the Council by persons with a knowledge of public interests (including consumer. community and environmental interests) as well as by persons with other non-medical or non-scientific based disciplines, considers that In the planning and Implementation of activities In Council (e.g. standing committees, sub-committees, working parties and panels), specific consideration should be given to including persons from such Interests or disciplines.

© Commonwealth of Australia 1991

ISBN 0644241586

This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the Australian Government Publishing Service. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction rights should be directed to the Manager, Commonwealth Information Service, Australian Government Publishing Service, GPO Box 84, Canberra ACT 2601.

The objective of the National Health and Medical Research Council is to advise the Australian community on the achievement and maintenance of the highest practicable standards of individual and public health and to foster research in the interests of improving those standards.

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