Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Bills

Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2019; In Committee

1:40 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

I will deal with a few issues here. I note Senator Carr's remarks at the end there. As I said before, the government recognises the important role collaboration plays in maximising the impact of research projects and ensuring the success of those projects; but it should be done against strict guidelines, safeguards and practices, including in relation to sensitive matters.

Senator Carr commented that, when he was the minister, he always provided extra money for any decisions or special initiatives that were undertaken. I would make the passing observation that, when the Labor Party were in government, they provided extra money lots of times and for lots of things. That's why the budget ran a prolonged and consistent deficit that has taken much effort to bring back into balance. Sometimes you have to make decisions about what you can do within existing resources, too.

I will turn to grants, and some of the comments that have been made about me, in a second. But, firstly, I will deal with the amendment and the question that is before the chair. I thank the opposition for their indication that they will not support the Greens' amendment. Nor does the government. As has been canvassed here, the minister is the responsible and ultimate decision-maker on grant funding under the ARC Act and is accountable to the parliament and Australian taxpayers for the use of funds.

Minister Tehan has declared an intention is to improve the public's confidence in taxpayer funding to university research whilst also being focused on promoting the benefits and outcomes of grant funding, including through transparent and wide-reaching announcements that raise awareness of such valuable research. The minister has made some commitments and taken some action in that regard. On 19 October 2019, in response to representations from the sector, the minister asked the ARC to notify applicants—in practice, mostly universities—of their successful and unsuccessful outcomes under embargo in advance of any formal announcement by the government. This is a similar practice to what occurs at the National Health and Medical Research Council with its grants program. This embargo process ensures administering organisations are advised of their outcomes very soon after the minister has approved the grants, and in advance of any official announcement, so that they can share their outcomes with the research team and partner organisations within their applications. That provides universities, researchers and their collaborators with certainty about the outcomes of applications sooner than ever before, allowing successful researchers to commence their research projects, maintain their partner organisation commitments, undertake recruitment and proceed with employment contracts. Equally, it allows unsuccessful researchers to proceed with alternative plans for their research careers, including preparing applications for new ARC scheme rounds or seeking alternative sources of research funding and/or employment. This is part of our commitment to ensuring taxpayer funding for research addresses our domestic challenges, whether they be in in health, social cohesion, environment, economy or security, and drives ideas that help to facilitate growth.

I note that some have reflected upon decisions I made back in my time as minister for education. I will again place on the public record the research grants that I declined to approve—because I did note, in Senator Ayres' contribution in particular, that I don't think his characterisation of those grants bears factual analysis or reality. The grants that I declined to approve were—I'll just read the titles and funding amounts—Rioting and the Literary Archive, $228,000; A History of Australian Men's Dress 1870-1970, $325,000; Beauty and Ugliness as Persuasive Tools in Changing China's Gender Norms, $161,000; Post-Orientalist Arts in the Strait of Gibraltar, $223,00; Music Heritage and Cultural Justice in the Post-Industrial Legacy City, $227,000; Greening Media—

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