ARC Review message: ministers must butt out

“The negative consequences of the perception of arbitrary intervention have been significant both within Australia and with our international partners”

The first review of the Australian Research Council Act is comprehensive in consideration of improving its performance.

But to get anywhere with that, the review had to deal with an issue as much politics than policy, loathed ministerial vetos of national competitive grant proposals. In particular, the six Discovery Programme grants recommended by the ARC but knocked back by then acting education minister Stuart Robert on Christmas Eve (CMM January 25 2022), because they did not meet the then government’s national interest test.

And on this the review panel (Margaret Sheil (QUT), Susan Dodds (La Trobe U) and Mark Hutchinson (Uni Adelaide) are adamant,

“individual grants under the NCGP should not require approvals by the minister, but recommendations and approvals should be made by those best placed to judge the intrinsic merit of the proposals. There should be appropriate checks and balances and the minister should retain the means to intervene in the extraordinary circumstance of a potential threat to national security. Where the minister does exercise directions in relation to the NCGP, these would require transparency and Parliamentary oversight.”

Which Education Minister Jason Clare will likely wear. In an interview after his Universities Australia conference speech last year, he said; “Labor governments have never interfered to veto grants. The only exception I could ever imagine to that would be on the grounds of national security,” (CMM July 11 2022).