Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Australian Research Council
That the Senate:
(a) notes that:
(i) the new National Interest Test for the Australian Research Council research grants will allow the Government of the day to influence an independent research approval process,
(ii) narrow political agendas should not be allowed to determine long-term research priorities, and
(iii) the Australian Research Council already has a rigorous peer review process for assessing grant applications and applicants are required to demonstrate the benefits and impact of their research; and
(b) calls on the Federal Government to remove the National Interest Test from research grants administered by the Australian Research Council.
Labor's exposure in Senate estimates of the secret political manipulation of the Australian Research Council has rightly shocked the Australian research community. The government's response to engage in the denigration of researchers and to impose an Orwellian-sounding national interest test has been rightly unanimously condemned by scholars and universities. The so-called national interest test is nothing more than an instrument for the further political manipulation of an independent, peer reviewed process, nor is it needed. Scholars already have to prove the national benefit and impact of their research proposals. Labor have announced that if a minister of a Shorten Labor government decides not to fund a grant recommended by the ARC, we will explain ourselves to the public through the parliament providing reasons. We will lift the veil of secrecy and will enshrine our commitment in legislation. We will remove the national interest test. Only Labor will restore integrity, confidence and trust to the Australian Research Council, and it will regain the esteem it held when we were last in office. (Time expired)
The government opposes this motion. The government has worked with the Australian Research Council to implement the new national interest test. Applicants will be asked to provide up to 150 words in plain English on the extent to which the research contributes to Australia's national interest through its potential to have economic, commercial, environmental, social or cultural benefits to the Australian community. Introducing a national interest test will give the Australian public confidence by providing greater transparency on Commonwealth spending.
The national interest test proposed by Minister Tehan is straight out of Yes Minister. The farcical proposal is a Liberal tactic of inventing a problem and then trying to solve it. Academics and researchers see right through it. The test's whole purpose is to allow ministers to further interfere in the already independent, rigorous, peer reviewed process for narrow political reasons. The Australian Research Council already requires researchers to demonstrate the benefits and impacts of their research. If the minister had spent five minutes talking to the research community, he would know that. Narrow political agendas should not be allowed to determine long-term research priorities. We shouldn't allow political interference in the Australian Research Council grants, no matter who is in government.