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'll take Senator Carr's interjection because, yes, indeed, I noted that Senator Ayres described that about being the impact in relation to the car industry. I think that is misleading in what that research project was seeking to do. It did have a correlation to regions in which the car industry closed, yes, but it was far from looking at the economic, social or other broad impacts of closing the car industry. It was particularly narrow in its application. I'll continue with the list: Greening Media Sport, $260,000. I assume that's the project Senator Ayres was referring to when he said I rejected a project—

Senator Pratt interjecting—

I will deal with that interjection in a second too, Senator. I assume that was the project Senator Ayres had in mind when he said I had rejected a project related to the response to climate change, which, again, I think is grossly misleading. I can assure the Senate that every research project that came across my desk that dealt with how we might reduce emissions, how we might support adaptation or any such measures received my approval, as did any dealing with Indigenous studies. And again I completely reject Senator Ayres's characterisation that any of the grants I did not approve related to Australian Indigenous studies; they certainly did not.

To finish the list: Price, Medals and Materials in the Global Exchange, $392,000; Legal Secularism in Australia, $330,000; Soviet Cinema in Hollywood Before the Blacklist 1917-1950, $336,000; Writing the Struggle for Sioux Modernity, $926,000; and The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music, $464,000. Having put those on the record and dealing with Senator Pratt's interjection, no, it was not the titles. Of course, information in terms of a proposal summary was provided and then, in considering—not approving—those, I sought further information at the time from the Australian Research Council before making a final determination on those matters.

My view, as I said at the time, is that those grants would have been inconsistent with the expectations of the broader Australian community. But in the end, as minister, had I approved them I would have to defend that use of taxpayers' money and I did not believe that that would be consistent with what the Australian community would expect. I want to deal, importantly, with a few of the consequences of that. In no way did not approving those grants make any change in the dollars spent on research. There was no change to the ARC budget as a result of that. For the grants that were not approved, those dollars would have been spent and will by now have been spent, no doubt, on alternative research projects. In no way did I direct where those alternative dollars should go to. I simply indicated that I was not willing to approve those particular projects.

I note arguments about why I didn't make the rejection of those projects public at the time. I have no doubt that, if I had gone out and made rejection of the grants public at the time, Senator Carr or others probably would have accused me of political grandstanding. I was seeking to make sure that in no way were we being seen to attack any part of the research community or undermine the credibility of the research grants process. In fact, I was seeking to uphold the credibility of the research grants process by ensuring that, as minister, the only grants I was seeking to approve were those that I believed would be consistent with the expectations of the Australian community.

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