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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11390

Mr LAMING (Bowman) (15:41): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, I present the committee's report, entitled Australian government funding arrangements for non-NHMRC research, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr LAMING: by leave—Australia enjoys a reputation for producing high-class—world-class—research. Australian researchers have contributed to significant discovery and development, including wi-fi, GPS and the Cochlear implant. The Australian government supports research through a range of funding mechanisms and through universities. Research funding is primarily administered through competitive grants and research block grants, the former comprising an application and assessment process based on merit and peer review.

The context of this inquiry was researchers spend significant time, effort and resources applying for research funding and, with low success rates, it's often implied that this time and effort is wasted. Cognisant of reforms already underway in the Australian research sector, the committee sought to examine ways to simplify application and assessment processes, particularly for university researchers, and this report makes 15 recommendations designed to streamline and improve research funding arrangements.

Four fundamental elements underpin the committee's recommendations. The first is to reduce the voluminous amount of information currently provided in support of grant funding applications. The second is to make use of existing data and information pertaining to researchers and research institutions, the third is to provide documentary uniformity as we can and the fourth is to level the playing field for under-represented research groups, including early and mid-career researchers, women, minority groups, independent researchers and rural and regional universities.

The key recommendation of the committee is that a central online research management system be introduced for all Commonwealth grant programs, and to maximise the efficiency of that system it's recommended that the system be linked to existing data sources so that we prepopulate information whenever it's available. In addition, the committee recommends the introduction of a two-stage application process for research, which emphasises the strength and merit of the research ideas and the track record of those applying, while ancillary information that's unlikely to impact the decision or project ranking need only be submitted once an application is successful.

Improving research funding arrangements is as much about supporting the next generation of Australian researchers as it is about the current funding process becoming easier to navigate. Early- and mid-career researchers are the future of this nation's knowledge base. It is imperative that these researchers can be competitive in the funding environment. The committee considers that a range of strategies put forward in this report go a long way to better support and develop the research capacity of this cohort.

As a final note, I'd like to acknowledge the opportunities for Australian researchers to contribute to more global research endeavours, whether or not that's through international partnerships with our major trading partners—greater international mobility—there are always ways in which our researchers can be better supported internationally. While this issue was probably beyond the scope of this committee's inquiry, it's worth highlighting that potential for greater international collaboration. Australian research is strong enough and robust enough to be able to compete internationally for international dollars and those contributions will in turn align our research funding arrangements. This includes more strategic investment in areas that are national priorities for Australia. Just as I am grateful, as is my deputy chair, for the support of our committee and our committee secretariat, the committee itself is grateful to all the universities, research providers, government agencies and other stakeholders who each committed time to our inquiry. Time spent preparing submissions and appearing at our hearings is something that isn't lost on our committee. Thank you.