Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Australian Research Council; Order for the Production of Documents
At the request of Senator Carr, I move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) in evidence to the supplementary Budget estimates hearing of the Education and Employment Legislation Committee, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Research Council (ARC), Professor Sue Thomas, revealed that the former Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham, had vetoed the funding of eleven humanities and social sciences grants,
(ii) the projects and scholars affected were not notified that their proposal had been deemed successful only to be denied funding by the former Minister; rather this intervention was deliberately and callously kept secret,
(iii) some of scholars involved have had their careers, professional reputation and employment status materially affected by this political interference,
(iv) there has been no comprehensive and detailed public explanation of the reason for the exercise of the ministerial veto, despite this being the practice of the past Labor Government, and
(v) the number of projects in the humanities and social sciences being funded by the ARC has fallen by 35% for Discovery project grants, and 51% for Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA) between 2016 and 2018;
(b) condemns this political interference in the normal independent, rigorous and peer review process;
(c) acknowledges the universal condemnation of the Government's position from universities, the learned academies, the research community and ordinary Australians;
(d) urges all political parties, members and senators to commit to the Haldane principle that politicians should not make decisions on funding of individual research projects;
(e) calls on the Federal Government to provide a full and public explanation of why the then Minister for Education and Training arbitrarily rejected these eleven grants recommended by the ARC; and
(f) calls on the ARC to actively encourage the scholars whose grants were rejected to submit them again for the forthcoming grants rounds.
The government is committed to providing Australian research with funding that will be both valuable for taxpayers and transparent for researchers. Australians should expect nothing less when the government expends their money. To strengthen the process—
The Greens support this motion. There should be no political interference in research grants, full stop. The Liberals need to back off on the so-called national interest test, which is just a smoke-screen for inserting political priorities into the independent research approval process. What's truly in the national interest is for academics to continue the centuries-old tried and tested process of peer review. I do encourage Labor to go one step further and support my bill to remove all ministerial veto from research grants, to listen to universities and the academic community and to send a clear signal to academics and experts that they can be trusted to make research decisions, no matter who the government is.
That there be laid on the table by the Minister representing the Minister for Education, by no later than 9 am on 15 November 2018, the most recent incoming ministers brief from the Australian Research Council.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
The former minister for education, Senator Birmingham, did not explain why he vetoed 11 grant applications for humanities and social science research projects recommended by the ARC. He still has not done so, apart from sneering at project titles. The applicants only found out what happened when the ARC confirmed the former minister's decisions at Senate estimates. They are all eminent scholars, but the arbitrary rejection of their work affects their reputations and career prospects. The present minister, Mr Tehan, has proposed a national interest test for applicants, without explaining why a further test is needed beyond that already contained in the application process. As all the research community has recognised, political interference threatens the independence and integrity of the peer review grants process. It is an established principle that politicians should not decide on funding of individual grant projects. The government should recommit and prevent further harm to the standing of Australia's research institutions. (Time expired)
The government does not support this motion. It is imperative that departments and agencies are able to provide frank, fearless advice to government. Tabling briefs to ministers or the government would undermine the confidence of officials to provide this advice and would prejudice the decisions of government.