Greens act on research independence

Senator Faruqi proposes legislation to prevent political interference in funding decisions

It’s the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence Bill) which Senator Faruqi (Greens NSW) previously introduced in 2018 – the bill lapsed at the end of the previous parliament. But yesterday the Senate sent it to committee.

The Senate’s decision yesterday will be popular with critics of Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert vetoing six Discovery Grants approved by the Australian Research Council.

Mr Robert’s Christmas Eve decision that funding the HASS projects would not be in the national interest, started an uproar that continues across the research community-the Australian Council of Learned Academies has just deplored the minister’s move (CMM February 7).

Senator Faruqi made the case for the minister’s critics in her  second reading speech back in 2018,

“the reality is that it is entirely possible under the current system for the minister to reject a research grant, which has been approved by the ARC, on almost any ground including disagreement with the subject matter or even the political leanings of the researcher. It is not hard to imagine that if we continue down this road, any number of research areas could be vetoed. If the minister is a climate denier, defund all climate work. If the minister is a coal hugger, defund all renewables work. If the minister hates non-Western culture, bam there it goes.”

If the Education and Employment Legislation Committee now holds hearings before the election it will be an opportunity for Mr Roberts critics to make similar points.

But after the poll, perhaps not so much. Labor education shadow Tanya Plibersek says if she became minister she would be , “committed to approving all ARC grant applications that are recommended by a rigorous ARC peer review process and that meet the conditions set out in the call for applications” (CMM January 20).