Research announcements: it’s not all in the timing

Andrew Leigh slammed the government in the Reps yesterday for politicising research announcements – harsh and not entirely fair

Speaking on a routine ARC funding bill Dr Leigh (ex ANU, now Labor member for Fenner) assured the House that, “Australian Research Council funding is seen as being above politics.” At least it was, until “the extraordinary politicisation of ARC grants” by the government in the last few years. He referred to former education minister Simon Birmingham vetoing humanities grants before joining the criticism of Dan Tehan for briefing Coalition MPs to announce recent Discovery Early Career Research Awards, delaying their being made public.

“To allocate grants in conjunction with local MPs gives the false impression to the Australian public that this is pork being handed out by the Morrison government rather than grants carefully assessed by expert scrutiny in the field and allocated purely on merit.”

Dr Leigh has a point, just not an original one, in every government since Federation minister who stayed ministers gave good funding news, whatever its origin, to their backbenchers to announce.

As to pork, that’s not the impression constituents of LNP member for the Townsville seat of Herbert, Phillip Thompson (LNP) would have necessarily got when he announced a DECRA for James Cook U’s Gergely Torda, “to examine whether coral reefs will be able to adapt to the pace of climate change as conditions for their survival deteriorate,” (CMM November 14).

“In Townsville, we understand how important it is to protect this incredible natural wonder. Dr Torda is also a wonderful inspiration to local students that you do not have to leave town to conduct research that can make a difference in the world,” Mr Thompson said.

And there’s more to Mr Tehan’s plan than making nice with his backbench, it is about building a coalition constituency for research. “If I can put a compelling case to my colleagues that we are absolutely instrumental in driving productivity in this nation for the next decade then I think that we can get the support that we need to grow the sector,” he told a meeting of vice chancellors in August (CMM September 2).

UNSW DVC Merlin Crossley makes a good case for a “set day for the communication of funding announcements.”

Minister Tehan makes a good one for building coalition support for research he can appeal to if, sorry, when, the budget razor gang asks him in for a chat.

The two are not exclusive.


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