Ample outrage: Greens and Labor speak up for research independence

Yesterday Labor research shadow minister Senator Kim Carr called on the government to table the Australian Research Council’s new-minister brief to Dan Tehan, presumably to discover if it made mention of previous minister Simon Birmingham’s veto of grants to humanities academics.

If it did we do not know. Bridget McKenzie (acting for Mr Tehan in the Senate) told Senate President McKenzie yesterday the government declined to release the brief, on public interest immunity grounds. “The release of this information would prejudice commercial discussions that are being made, or will be made, some of which may be between the Commonwealth and the states.”

“This was simply not credible,” Senator Carr responded in the chamber, adding it was part of the government’s “assault” on universities, and undermining research capacity. He was just getting going when his time expired but the Senate got the idea.

Greens education spokesperson and former UNSW academic Senator Mehreen Faruqi was also speaking up yesterday, introducing a bill to end the ministerial veto on research funding. That Mr Tehan has committed to making public any vetoes he may exercise is not good enough for the senator. “We need to take concrete action to protect academic independence and that means taking politics out and leaving it to the experts. … It is patently clear that politicians simply cannot be trusted to put the interests of the community ahead of their own political agendas,” she said.

Senator Faruqi added her bill would bring the Australian Research Council “in line with other research bodies, like the National Health and Medical Research Council. The NHMRC says its legislation “precludes the minister from directing or recommending the allocation of funds to a specific individual or organisation.”


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