Prime Minister Tony Abbott with Professor Ricky Johnstone, on a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott with Professor Ricky Johnstone, on a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Photo: Eddie Jim

Federal government cuts to research funding are more extensive that has been admitted with $6 billion in combined cuts to higher education and preventative health programs also to be taken into account, Labor claims.

It says the impact of lower funding could slow or stop vital research on infectious diseases such as the deadly Ebola virus.

Other efforts that Labor says will be affected are the fights against bowel or colourectal cancer, which could stop completely. These  had been under way at the CSIRO.

An assessment by the opposition obtained by Fairfax Media suggests the actual value of the saving to government will be $6.1 billion, with nearly $5 billion of that coming from cuts to higher education, which Labor says will "indirectly impact on research".

The claims came on the same day that Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought to position his government as the best friend of scientific research and development.

During a visit to Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre on Tuesday, Mr Abbott admitted there would be funding reductions for universities, but he claimed research itself would expand "massively" under his government.

"We want to get our higher education changes through – that's what we want to do," he said when asked if research funding would be cut even further if higher education changes remain blocked in Parliament.

"We want to get our higher education changes through because they will be good for universities, they will be good for research, they will be good for Australia, but what we are doing is we are modestly reducing government funding but at the same time we are liberating – we are liberating – our universities to achieve what they can because if there is one institution that ought to be capable of looking after its own affairs it is a university, which is, by definition, a bastion of our best and brightest.

"But I want to stress here at the Peter Mac – this is a government which is dedicated to science, which is devoted to research, and wants to massively increase Australia's research effort."

Much of that claimed "increase" would come from the proposed "medical research future fund" to be funded in large part by the controversial $7 GP co-payment. 

That funding, however, remains unlikely as crossbench MPs express firm opposition to the new tax and Labor and the Greens remain intent on defeating it.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said Mr Abbot's claims were ridiculous.

"How on earth can the Prime Minister pretend he's a friend of science and research when he's secretly cutting $1 billion from research programs?

He said the medical research fund was "straight from a script of Hollowmen – it was dreamed up the week before budget to try to soften the blow on Tony Abbott breaking his election promises not to increase taxes".

"You don't fund the search for the cures of tomorrow by imposing a tax on the patients of today. As any scientist will tell you, we won't find the cures of tomorrow without world-leading mathematics, quantum computing and nano-technology to support our medical researchers and it's a disgrace that the Prime Minister is cutting investments in this critical research."

Under Labor's analysis, there is a total of $836.2 million in direct cuts to research, led by cuts to the CSIRO and the Research Training Scheme, and the abolition of Commercialisation Australia.

It says other savings will also hit research, including the 20 per cent cut to undergraduate places in universities and a more than half-billion-dollar cut to the student start-up loan scholarships scheme.

Last weekend Education Minister Christopher Pyne said university research cuts could not be ruled out if Parliament continued to block budget measures.

Follow us on Twitter