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Education and Employment Legislation Committee—Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018—Report, dated March 2022
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March 2022

The Senate

Education and Employment Legislation Committee

Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018

© Commonwealth of Australia 2022

ISBN 978-1-76093-382-1

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.

The details of this licence are available on the Creative Commons website: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

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Members

Chair Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan NATS, QLD

Deputy Chair Senator Louise Pratt ALP, WA

Members Senator Perin Davey NATS, NSW

Senator Mehreen Faruqi AG, NSW

Senator Deborah O'Neill ALP, NSW

Senator Ben Small LP, WA

Substitute Member Senator the Hon Kim Carr ALP, VIC

(For Senator Pratt, 9 March 2022)

Mr Alan Raine, Committee Secretary Ms Aysha Osborne, Principal Research Officer Mr Michael Perks, Senior Research Officer Ms Zara Posa, Research Officer Ms Charlotte Lim, Research Officer Ms Caitlin Grant, Administrative Officer

Committee web page: www.aph.gov.au/senate_eec

PO Box 6100 E-mail: eec.sen@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Ph: 02 6277 3521

Canberra ACT 2600 Fax: 02 6277 5706

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Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 On 9 February 2022, the Senate referred the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018 (the bill) to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee (committee) for inquiry and report by 15 March 2022.1

1.2 The bill was originally introduced as a private senator's bill by Senator Mehreen Faruqi in the 45th Parliament. It was restored to the Notice Paper in the 46th Parliament on 4 July 2019.2

1.3 On 15 March 2022, the committee presented a progress report requesting that the Senate grant an extension of time to report until 21 March 2022.

Purpose of the bill 1.4 The bill would amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (the Act) to remove Ministerial discretion from research grants administered by the Australian Research Council (ARC) by providing that the Minister must

approve a research proposal and its associated expenditure if that proposal has been recommended for approval by the ARC.3

1.5 In her second reading speech, Senator Faruqi explained the rationale for the introduction of the bill:

No Minister should be able to dictate which research projects get funded and which ones don't. The true test of academic freedom is that it must be free from political interference, no matter who is in Government. It should be based only on an independent, rigorous assessment process.4

Conduct of the inquiry 1.6 In accordance with its usual practice, the committee advertised the inquiry on its website and wrote to relevant individuals and stakeholders inviting submissions by 25 February 2022.

1.7 The committee received 85 submissions which are listed at Appendix 1. The public submissions are available on the committee's website.

1.8 The committee held a public hearing in Canberra on 9 March 2022. A list of witnesses who appeared at this hearing can be found at Appendix 2.

1 Journals of the Senate, No. 135, 9 February 2022, p. 4508.

2 Journals of the Senate, No. 3, 4 July 2019, p. 89.

3 Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018,

Explanatory Memorandum, p. 1.

4 Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Senate Hansard, 15 November 2018, p. 8281.

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Structure of the report 1.9 This report comprises three chapters. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the bill and the context for its introduction. Chapter 3 examines the principal issues raised by stakeholders and sets out the committee view.

Notes on references 1.10 References in this report to the Committee Hansard are to the proof transcripts. Please note that page numbers may vary between the proof and official Hansard transcripts.

Acknowledgements 1.11 The committee thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to this inquiry by preparing written submissions and giving evidence at the public hearing.

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Chapter 2 Background

2.1 This chapter provides an overview of the proposed amendments to the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (the Act) and provides some background on the Australian Research Council (ARC) and its grant assessment process.

Overview of the bill 2.2 As noted in Chapter 1, the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018 (the bill) would amend the Act to remove Ministerial discretion from research grants administered by the ARC. It would

do this by providing that the responsible Minister must approve a research proposal and its associated expenditure if that proposal has been recommended for approval by the ARC.1

2.3 Specifically, the bill would repeal subsection 51(1) of the Act and substitute new subsections 51(1) and (1A) that would require the Minister to approve research grants recommended by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the ARC.2

2.4 The bill would further amend section 51 to insert subsection 51(2A) to require that the funding determined by the Minister be no less than the amount recommended by the CEO of the ARC.3 At present, subsection 51(2) requires the Minister to determine funding for the approved research proposals.

2.5 Finally, the bill would repeal subsection 52(4) of the Act which states that the Minister may (but is not required to) rely solely on recommendations made by the CEO.4

The ARC 2.6 The ARC is an independent statutory agency established under the Act. The ARC's purpose is to 'grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community' by funding the 'highest quality research, assessing the

quality, engagement and impact of research and providing advice on research matters'.5

1 Explanatory Memorandum, p. 1.

2 Explanatory Memorandum, p. 1.

3 Explanatory Memorandum, p. 2.

4 Explanatory Memorandum, p. 2.

5 Australian Research Council, Submission 16, p. 2.

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2.7 As the Australian Government's (the government's) main source of advice on national research investment,6 the ARC is responsible for administering the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) framework, which identifies and promotes excellence across the full spectrum of research activity in Australia's higher education institutions.7 The ARC also administers funding for both fundamental and applied research through the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP).8

2.8 The NCGP comprises 13 schemes under two programs: the Discovery and Linkage Programs.9 The Discovery Program focuses on research by individual researchers and small teams of researchers10 while the Linkage Program encourages collaboration between higher education institution researchers and industry, business, and other research partners.11 The grants are awarded competitively through a peer assessment process.12

Grant assessment process 2.9 Prior to submission to the ARC, research proposals typically go through an extensive and time-consuming development process, including the preparation of lengthy applications.13

2.10 Once research proposals are submitted to the ARC, a Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) assesses each funding proposal and makes

recommendations to the ARC CEO about which applications should be funded and how much funding they should receive. The SAC assessors are commonly

6 Australian Research Council, About the Australian Research Council, www.arc.gov.au/about-arc

(accessed 11 March 2022). However, most clinical and other medical research is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

7 Australian Research Council, Excellence in Research for Australia, www.arc.gov.au/excellence-research-australia (accessed 11 March 2022).

8 Australian Research Council, National Competitive Grants Program,

www.arc.gov.au/grants/national-competitive-grants-program (accessed 11 March 2022).

9 Australian Research Council, Annual Report 2020-21, p. 17.

10 Australian Research Council, Discovery Program, www.arc.gov.au/grants/discovery-program

(accessed 11 March 2022).

11 Australian Research Council, National Competitive Grants Program,

www.arc.gov.au/grants/national-competitive-grants-program (accessed 11 March 2022).

12 Australian Research Council, Annual Report 2020-21, p. 17.

13 See, for example, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 2];

Dr Thomas Nicholls, Submission 5, [p. 1]; Emeritus Professor Robert Henderson, Submission 2, p. 1. See also, Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), The University of Melbourne, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022. Professor McCluskey indicated that ARC grant applications are generally 100-120 pages in length and that the planning and writing process can take up to one year. ARC grant applications are also vetted internally by submitting institutions.

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drawn from the ARC College of Experts,14 which is comprised of over 200 Australian experts in various disciplines.15 This process is also subject to a National Interest Test (NIT).

2.11 In line with the Act, the ARC CEO then makes recommendations to the Minister in relation to which research proposals should be approved and the funding that should be allocated to those proposals.16 Subsection 52(4) of the Act states that, in deciding which proposals to approve, 'the Minister may (but is not required to) rely solely on recommendations made by the CEO'.17

2.12 Typically, the Minister approves the proposals recommended by the CEO, but, in line with the Act, the Minister may choose to reject recommended proposals. For example, seven research proposals were rejected in 2005 by the Hon Brendan Nelson MP, nine projects were rejected by

Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham in 2017, and in December 2021 the Acting Minister for Education and Youth, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, rejected six research proposals recommended for approval by the ARC.18

Reforms to the ARC grant funding process 2.13 On 6 December 2021, the Acting Minister for Education and Youth, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, sent a Letter of Expectations to the ARC, outlining his expectations of the ARC in relation to government policy directions that rely

on ARC-funded university research.19 The letter identified four priority areas for reform to be implemented by the end of 2022. These were:

 supporting national priorities;  strengthening the NIT;  fast-tracking implementation of recommendations from the review of the ERA Framework and the Engagement and Impact (EI) assessments; and

 enhanced organisational governance.20

14 Australian Research Council, 'Peer Review: Assessor Roles', www.arc.gov.au/peer-review/roles

(accessed 11 March 2022).

15 Astronomical Society of Australia, Submission 23, [p. 1].

16 Australian Research Council Act 2001, s. 52.

17 Australian Research Council Act 2001, ss. 52(4).

18 Australian Research Council, answers to questions on notice, 16 March 2022

(received 16 March 2022).

19 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

20 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

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Supporting national priorities 2.14 As part of the supporting national priorities reforms, the Letter of Expectations required the ARC to 'ensure its research funding schemes align clearly and tangibly to those areas of Government priority for economic development'.21

2.15 To this end, it stated that at least 40 per cent of funding approvals by value should be for proposals under the Linkage Program.22 Additionally, at least 70 per cent of funding under the Linkage Program should be for projects that align with the government's six National Manufacturing Priorities.23

Strengthening the NIT 2.16 In relation to strengthening the NIT, the Letter of Expectations stated that the ARC assessment process and recommendations should 'demonstrate a clear public interest from the significant public investment in university research'.24

2.17 In line with this direction, the ARC has been asked to look at ways to expand the role of industry and other end-user groups both as members of the College of Experts and in assessing the NIT of high-quality projects.25

Fast-tracking implementation of recommendations from the review of ERA and EI assessments 2.18 The Letter of Expectations asked the ARC to expedite work arising from the review of ERA and EI assessments, including the development of 'more

efficient and robust assessments of the quality and impact of Australian research'.26

2.19 To this end, the ARC has been asked to work with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to develop quantitative metrics focused on

21 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

22 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

23 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

24 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

25 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

26 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

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the impact of research, and to convene an expert working group to develop a revised ERA rating scale.27

Enhanced organisational governance 2.20 In order to support the reform process more broadly, the Letter of Expectations asked the ARC to provide advice on the re-establishment of a designated committee to support the CEO. The committee would bring 'additional

external and end-user perspectives' that would help improve governance, align the ARC's strategic agenda with government priorities, and drive innovation in relation to research funding programs and impact assessment.28

2.21 On 25 February 2022, the Acting CEO of the ARC responded with a Statement of Intent, on which the CEO provided an update on the steps the ARC is taking to implement the Minister's priorities.29

Consideration by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills 2.22 The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills (Scrutiny of Bills Committee) considered the bill in the Scrutiny Digest 6 of 2018. No comment

was made on the bill by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee.30

Compatibility with human rights 2.23 The statement on compatibility with human rights for the bill concluded it is compatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary

Scrutiny) Act 2011.

2.24 The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights made no comment on the bill as it found the bill 'did not raise human rights concerns'.31

27 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

28 The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Letter of Expectations from

Minister to ARC, 6 December 2021, www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc (accessed 7 March 2022).

29 Ms Judi Zielke, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council, 'Statement of Intent',

25 February 2022, https://www.arc.gov.au/letter-expectations-minister-arc/arc-statement-intent#:~:text=We%20will%20identify%20opportunities%20for,and%20the%20university%20sector %20operate (accessed 17 March 2022).

30 Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, Scrutiny Digest 6 of 2018, 20 June 2018,

pp. 23 and 54.

31 Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Human rights scrutiny report 5 of 2018,

19 June 2018, p. 53. The report notes that this may be because the bill does not engage or promote human rights, and/or permissibly limit human rights.

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Chapter 3 Views on the bill

3.1 This chapter canvases key issues raised in relation to the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018 (the bill) and examines specific concerns raised by stakeholders during the inquiry.

General views on the bill 3.2 There was broad support for the intent of the bill to remove the Minister's ability to reject research proposals recommended by the Australian Research Council (ARC). The importance of ensuring an independent process for

awarding research grants in Australia was emphasised by many stakeholders.1 The vast majority of university and research community stakeholders gave their support to the bill.

3.3 Some stakeholders acknowledged the importance of democratic oversight and called for greater accountability and transparency in relation to the use of the Minister's discretionary power.2 Indeed, several submitters argued that should ministerial discretion remain in place, the Minister should be required to provide a public explanation of the decision, including the advice considered when a recommendation from the ARC is rejected.3

3.4 Several stakeholders highlighted concerns about the bill's potential weakening of parliamentary oversight.4 Some stakeholders argued that this could undermine proper ministerial oversight and limit the Minister's ability to ensure the appropriate expenditure of public funds. 5

1 See, for example, The University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 3; Academy of the Social Sciences

in Australia, Submission 14, [pp. 2-3]; Regional Universities Network, Submission 70, p. 1; Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 22.

2 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2; Queensland University of Technology, Submission 24, p. 4;

Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2.

3 See, for example, The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2; Queensland University of Technology,

Submission 24, pp. 4-5; Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, pp. 2-3.

4 See, for example, Australian Research Council (ARC), Submission 16, p. 3; Queensland University

of Technology, Submission 24, p. 3; Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2; Monash University, Submission 57, p. 2; Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), Submission 32, p. 4.

5 Ms Judi Zielke, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council, Proof Committee

Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 76; Australian Research Council (ARC), Submission 16, p. 3; Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), Submission 32, p. 4; Professor Rebekah Brown, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Senior Vice-President, Monash University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 35.

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3.5 In addition, some stakeholders suggested the need for a broader review of the ARC, in response to concerns about its governance and processes6 and in light of recent direction provided by the Acting Minister for Education in his December 2021 Letter of Expectations.

Key issues raised by submitters 3.6 Stakeholders raised several key issues regarding the existing power of the Minister to exercise discretion in relation to the funding of research proposals recommended by the ARC. These included:

 the impact of ministerial discretion;  the importance of peer review;  the need for parliamentary oversight;  transparency, accountability, and timeliness; and  the need for a broad review of the ARC.

Impact of ministerial discretion 3.7 Many submitters highlighted previous examples of where ministerial discretion was used to reject research funding proposals.7 A number of these submitters also noted that decisions to reject research grants have

disproportionately affected the humanities, arts, and social sciences.8 However, the percentage of Discovery Project grants affected by the exercise of ministerial discretion was extremely low.9

3.8 Several submitters drew the committee's attention to the impact that ministerial interventions have had on those involved in the grant process. For example, the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) argued:

The veto damages the careers and lives of investigators and collaborators, as well as students whose research is funded through these grants. It potentially forces people out of their academic careers or compels them to

6 See, for example, Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2; Innovative Research

Universities, Submission 68, p. 3; Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, the Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 1; Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), University of Melbourne, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 27.

7 See, for example, Science & Technology Australia, Submission 58, pp. 1-2; Australian and New

Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (ANZAMEMS), Submission 44, p. 2; Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Cluster at Western Sydney University, Submission 28, p. 4.

8 See, for example, The University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 5; Monash University,

Submission 57, p. 2; Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 2]; Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Submission 18, [p. 1].

9 In 2022, 587 Discovery Projects were approved for funding and six were recommended but not

approved by the Minister. In 2021, 603 Discovery Projects were approved for funding and five were recommended but not approved by the Minister. Source: Selection Reports: Discovery Projects, www.arc.gov.au /grants/grant-outcomes/selection-outcome-reports (accessed 16 March 2022).

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leave Australia to pursue their research, leading to the loss of some of our most talented minds.10

3.9 Similarly, Professor Andrew Francis argued that 'the threat of possible veto that is not based on research excellence will force researchers in potentially sensitive areas to reframe or even redirect their work to safer topics'.11 Professor Francis noted:

In a previous round of vetoes—I forget whether it was the Simon Birmingham ones or the Brendan Nelson ones—I spoke to researchers in climate change and environment work, and they were really discussing among themselves how to badge their research. They wanted to do research in plant responses to different carbon dioxide levels, for instance, but they were worried about the political landscape and whether they could reframe what they were doing, or whether they had to simply drop that research, because the research is sometimes not possible without the funding.12

3.10 Some stakeholders also argued that the ARC could potentially lose professionals and assessors who are willing to provide their time and expertise to assess grant applications because of ministerial intervention.13 For example, Professor Aidan Sims noted:

Ministerial veto has led experts to question whether to continue to support this process: why do so if the minister may later ignore their expert recommendations. This is not speculation. Since last year's vetoes became public, a number of colleagues have asked me why they should continue to assess for the ARC. This reduces the expertise the ARC can draw on to assess grants. Less-expert assessments will lead to less-informed funding decisions, and ultimately to our research dollars being less well spent.14

3.11 Several stakeholders drew the committee's attention to Ministerial intervention leading to a loss of faith in the rigorous peer review process. For example, the committee heard from Professor Francis and Professor Sims, who both withdrew their expertise from the ARC's College of Experts due to the exercise of Ministerial discretion to veto research projects already approved by the College of Experts through a rigorous process.

10 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 2].

11 Professor Andrew Francis, Private capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 12. See also,

Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, [p. 3].

12 Professor Andrew Francis, Private capacity, Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 14.

13 See, for example, Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, [p. 3]; Professor Andrew Francis, Private

capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 14; Professor Aidan Sims, Private capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 14; Professor Richard Holden, President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 48.

14 Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, [p. 3]. See also, Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 9, p. 3.

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3.12 In relation to these resignations, Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Melbourne, told the committee:

…it's a signal that there's now a lack of confidence in the peer review system when it comes to recommendations for funding. They are people who are experts in their field, whose opinion is sought, who've put in hours and hours of work—looking at grants, reading them, looking at the methodology, the logistics, the feasibility, the budgets, the quality of the science and the quality of the people—and then their opinion is rejected. It's not surprising that some of these people would walk away.15

3.13 Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Tasmania, added:

I think this is a really big worry that we should all be worried about. The peer review process fundamentally is built on an understanding that there are like-minded individuals who together, collectively, over a period of time have set a standard that they each keep so they are themselves and collectively accountable.16

3.14 Professor Jane Hall, Immediate Past President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, also emphasised the wider impact of the Ministerial veto:

Those two professors are not the only two who resigned from the college of experts. I think this is evidence of what my colleague Professor Holden was saying about the lack of faith and the chilling effect that it has across our sector.17

Views on risks to Australia's international reputation 3.15 Many stakeholders raised concerns that the existing power of the Minister to reject funding proposals recommended by the ARC was out of step with international best practice and could potentially impact Australia's ability to

attract and retain the best researchers.18

3.16 The Australian Political Sciences Association (ASPA) pointed out that research funding grants administered in the United Kingdom (UK), European Union and North America were determined through a non-departmental government body where 'decisions on which research projects to fund are made independently from government through expert peer review'.19

15 Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), The University of Melbourne,

Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 25-26.

16 Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Tasmania, Proof

Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 26.

17 Professor Jane Hall, Immediate Past President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Proof

Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 43.

18 See, for example, Australian Political Studies Association, Submission 26, pp. 2-3; Professor Brian

Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 24, 28-29; University of Tasmania, Submission 52, p. 3; Dr Thomas Nicholls, Submission 5, p. 1.

19 Australian Political Studies Association, Submission 26, [p. 2].

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3.17 Several stakeholders also emphasised that many comparable international bodies operate under the guidance of the Haldane Principle.20 For example, the ANU submitted:

In the [UK] research funding follows the 'Haldane Principle', under which the Government establishes the assessment criteria, funding envelope and other rules and a process of expert peer-review determines which projects are most worthy. The Haldane Principle has underpinned British research for more than a century and has been reaffirmed by multiple reviews over this period.21

3.18 The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) drew comparisons between funding bodies in Australia and those in similar international jurisdictions.22 This included the National Science Foundation (NSF) and The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States.23 CAPA and NATSIPA noted that both the NSF and the NIH 'independently determine the funding allocation with accountability delivered through annual or biannual reporting'.24

Disproportionate impact on First Nations researchers 3.19 CAPA and NATSIPA pointed out the disproportionate impacts of political interference on First Nations researchers in their joint submission:

The precedence's set by Ministerial vetoes has primarily been towards HASS projects and disproportionately disadvantage[s] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Furthermore, we are concerned that the prerequisite for funding individual Indigenous projects requires ministerial approval. Even if ministerial approval in this process is to be taken as a mere formality, it sends a negative message. It disrespects the

20 The Haldane Principle was established in 1918 in the United Kingdom and guides that minister(s)

set the parameters for research funding, approve processes and rules for funding allocation, but leave decisions about individual projects to the research agencies to determine with the advice of individual researchers. The UK's Higher Education and Research Act 2017 stipulates that the Secretary of State must have regard to the Haldane Principle when determining the allocation of grant research funding. See, for example, Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (UK); University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 4; Australian Political Studies Association, Submission 26, [p. 2]; Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 9, p. 3.

21 Australian National University, Submission 59, p. 6.

22 Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Postgraduate Association, Submission 72, [pp. 5-7].

23 Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Postgraduate Association, Submission 72, [p. 6].

24 Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Postgraduate Association, Submission 72, [p. 6].

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sovereignty of the Indigenous community and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander college of experts within the ARC.25

3.20 Dr Sadie Heckenberg, Past President of NATSIPA, also highlighted these impacts in her evidence to the committee:

How do we push that gate open to be heard in a system where it's not necessarily the minister who looks after Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues that has any particular say in Indigenous research? It's a minister who might not necessarily have any familiarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research—ways and knowings and beings and doings—and so we're seeing once more a colonial system put upon us, as researchers, who are already struggling to find a voice in this system.26

3.21 The Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Cluster at Western Sydney University highlighted the potential adverse effects of the Minister's existing power on Australia's international reputation:

…it may already be acting as a deterrent to talented researchers and scientists to move to Australia, or collaborate with Australian researchers, or for higher degree international candidates to enrol in Australian university programs.27

3.22 Indeed, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian Schmidt stressed that the existing ministerial power to refuse research grants limits the ability of universities to promote Australia as a destination of choice for researchers:

…research is a global talent issue. People around the globe who I talk to, trying to recruit them to come to Australia, have noticed what's going on and have expressed their concerns, to the point of saying, 'I am not going to come to Australia until you sort this out.' Those are conversations I am having with people at the highest level of institutions globally. It is literally affecting my ability to attract talent to Australia…28

3.23 Similarly, Professor Sims pointed to the strong statements from former heads of the National Science Foundation (USA), the European Research Council, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany) as evidence that the

25 Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Postgraduate Association, Submission 72, [p. 8].

26 Dr Sadie Heckenberg, Past President, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate

Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 63.

27 Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Cluster at Western Sydney University, Submission 28, p. 4.

See also, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, p. 2; Australian Linguistic Society, the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia, the Association for Language Testing and Assessment of Australia and New Zealand, the Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association, and the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities, Submission 31, [p. 2].

28 Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee

Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 24.

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'ministerial veto has damaged and will continue to damage international confidence in Australia's research system'.29

Views on the chilling effect of political interference 3.24 Many stakeholders raised concerns about the chilling effect of the Ministerial veto on researchers and their work. For example, Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive of the Group of Eight, told the committee:

There seems to be a preponderance of vetoes in specific disciplines, mainly social sciences. So it is only natural for researchers to feel that they need to be very careful about the proposals they are putting forward because there is the possibility of a veto. So, yes, it has a chilling effect.30

3.25 Mr Paul Harris, the Executive Director of Innovative Research Universities, added:

In particular, as my colleague from the Group of Eight has said, if there's a sense that particular disciplines are being targeted, then we would potentially see that chilling effect in the research community—and we would argue that is bad for Australia. We want all the different ideas coming from wherever they come from across many different disciplines, and we would argue very strongly that the humanities and social sciences are hugely important for the future of Australia and its place in the world.31

3.26 Other stakeholders highlighted the impacts of political interference on researchers, particularly early career researchers. For example, Professor Peter Tregear, Member, Academics for Public Universities told the committee:

I think the word 'chilling' is not inappropriate—and I take Senator Canavan's point that the number of grants might be small, but, given that the number of grants in the humanities is also pretty small in the ARC, this is not something that can be marked as a kind of trivial or incidental impact. The fact is that, in writing these grants—and I should declare: I've

written several and I should say I've been largely unsuccessful, so I know exactly what we're talking about!—you are trying, in a sense, to constantly just sort of self-censor or to try and think about: 'How can I project this into the ARC system and beyond in a way that's going to be successful?' The consequence, particularly in the humanities—and it has already been noted—is that the pathways for getting research grants in the humanities is very narrow. We're not like the States, where there are great philanthropic trusts funding non-science-and-industry research grants. The ARC is

29 Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, p. 3.

30 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, pp. 4-5.

31 Mr Paul Harris, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 5.

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largely it. If you don't get one of these things, or get this support, as an early career researcher, your career is likely to be foreclosed.32

3.27 Professor Deborah Sweeney, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President, Research, Enterprise and International at Western Sydney University, told the committee:

I just want to emphasise the chilling, devastating and demoralising effect it's having on those researchers. Despite knowing that their researchers of high quality went through a college of experts, peer review was recommended for funding. It creates a sense of unknowing what it is about their research that is vetoed and how they will be able to manage to attract funding from other sources or through the ARC, at a later stage, to continue their work.

We have to be careful to understand that this not only affects those academics but the whole team that those academics are leading. Those teams, often, of young researchers, of our higher degree research students, are also demoralised, because they see the effect this is having on their colleagues. So the effect is broad, not just limited to those particular grants and applicants but to the ecosystem of researchers that are surrounding and supporting this work.33

3.28 Professor Koutoulis also spoke to this chilling effect:

Further to my colleagues' comments about the impact on not just individuals but the teams around them, most of these fundings, particularly in the humanities, are for people. These are our early career researchers who will be our future generation, our future leaders, who will take us to those unchartered, unknown territories, and we want them to be prepared.34

Importance of peer review 3.29 Many stakeholders highlighted the fundamental importance of peer review in the ARC's assessment of research proposals for funding.35 Many stakeholders argued that the ministerial veto would undermine confidence in the

independence and integrity of this process.36 For example, Universities Australia argued:

32 Professor Peter Tregear, Member, Academics for Public Universities, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 15.

33 Professor Deborah Sweeney, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President, Research, Enterprise and

International, Western Sydney University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 25.

34 Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Tasmania,

Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 25.

35 See, for example, La Trobe University, Submission 41, p. 2. See also, Academy of Social Sciences,

Submission 14, p. 3; Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), University of Tasmania, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 26.

36 See, for example, Australian Historical Association, Submission 10, p. 2; Academy of the Social

Sciences in Australia, Submission 14, p. 1; Statistical Society of Australia, Submission 19, p. 1;

17

Ministerial intervention into the operations of the ARC threaten the integrity of the research system and Australia's capacity to continue to be a significant contributor to the global research effort. Australian governments, rightly, have and do determine the priorities of funding schemes and criteria, however, where the process of allocating research grants is through a robust peer review system built on academic expertise, governments ought not to exercise the capacity to intervene in the outcomes of the assessment process absent of evidence of a clear and compelling reason that can be defended publicly.37

3.30 Several submitters emphasised the rigorous and comprehensive assessment process that is currently undertaken by the ARC.38 For example, Professor Sims commented that he had not encountered any other funding scheme 'with such strong mechanisms to ensure benefit and value-for-money in research recommended for funding'.39

3.31 Indeed, Professor Francis elaborated on the scrutiny process undertaken by the ARC for each research proposal:

Consider that each proposal for an amount that is usually about $450,000 over three years, will receive approximately a full day's analysis from each of four Expert Assessors chosen by the panel, plus the time that members of the panel take reading and discussing the proposal. Every single proposal receives this attention, and 80% are not able to be funded. The vast majority of most funding received is spent on hiring a junior researcher to work on the project, making the schemes an integral component of Australia's researcher development pipeline.40

3.32 The Australian Academy of the Humanities (AAH) noted the potential adverse effects on the broader public perception of the ARC's peer review processes that may arise from the continued use of Ministerial discretion. For instance, the AAH argued:

A Minister who rejects this expert advice risks eroding trust in the ARC's processes, and jeopardises the range of ideas, possibilities and capacities that Australia needs its research system to develop to support our ability to grasp new opportunities or deal with the unforeseen.41

Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 3]; Australian Political Studies Association, Submission 26, [p. 1]; Universities Australia, Submission 34, p. 1; STEM Cluster at Western Sydney University, Submission 39, p. 2.

37 Universities Australia, Submission 34, pp. 1-2.

38 See, for example, Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 9, p. 2; Australian Academy of the

Humanities, Submission 36, pp. 1-2; Astronomical Society of Australia, Submission 23, p. 1.

39 Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, p. 1.

40 Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 9, p. 2.

41 Australian Academy of the Humanities, Submission 36, p. 2.

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3.33 In addition, CHASS argued against the continued use of Ministerial discretion on the grounds that such a power would undermine 'the rigorous and independent procedures of ARC grant review'.42 CHASS argued that 'allowing non-expert Ministers to deny funding based on application titles and 100-word national interest statements, are a procedural error'.43

3.34 At the hearing, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Melbourne, Professor James McCluskey, argued that the Minister's use of power to reject research proposals signalled a 'lack of confidence' in the peer review system:

The peer review system is an honour system. Most of it's done with people lending their time free of charge. Certainly, all the independent assessments are done as part of a system of good will that exists among academics. So, in a sense, you're corrupting something that's already done, really, in the best interest of the community at no cost to anyone other than themselves.44

3.35 The Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) argued that the ministerial discretionary power of veto compromised academic freedom and research independence:

Ministerial discretionary veto casts a pall over this culture of free inquiry and research independence; it makes researchers wary of exploring new or controversial projects, it diminishes the scope of research topics to those deemed safe or potentially approvable, and it constrains research inquiry in ways that undermine academic communities and institutional research cultures, which are based on principles of independent peer-review and the core value of research independence.45

3.36 The Australian University Heads of English (AUHE) also argued that ministerial discretion to reject funding proposals 'undermines the core purpose of universities as autonomous institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth and new knowledge'.46 AUHE further noted the importance of academic freedom in the production of quality research outputs:

We stress that this autonomy is crucial to the capacity for universities to serve the public good. When researchers can freely apply themselves to the most challenging problems without fear of censorship or interference, it yields the ideas and solutions that allow society to meet challenges of the scale of climate change and spiralling global inequality.47

42 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 1].

43 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [pp. 1-2].

44 Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), University of Melbourne, Proof

Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 26.

45 Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy, Submission 62, [p. 3].

46 Australian University Heads of English (AUHE), Submission 55, p. 2.

47 Australian University Heads of English (AUHE), Submission 55, p. 2.

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3.37 However, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) cautioned against relying solely on the advice provided by academics through the ARC.48 The IPA argued:

The amendment implicitly assumes that the ARC, its panellists, and reviewers are more in tune with the public's notion of the most pressing national research funding priorities than an elected government. But the ARC committee members, and its 'panel of experts', are almost entirely academics - a section of society completely unrepresentative of the Australian people and notoriously out of touch with reality. Their advice is welcome, their research work is appreciated and valued - but that does not mean that the public, through their elected representatives in parliament, must fund exactly what this group wants without any questions.49

3.38 Another stakeholder argued that greater infringements on academic freedom are imposed by other academics who determine 'which researchers and what research is funded', as well as the ability of industry (for example, by the provision of honours and other research funding) to influence peer review processes, as opposed to the use of ministerial discretion.50

Parliamentary oversight 3.39 Many stakeholders recognised a legitimate role for government in determining the parameters of government-funded research programs.51 However, opinion was divided between a majority who felt this role should be limited to setting

strategic direction, establishing guidelines and processes only, with decisions about individual funding applications made via independent peer review (in line with the Haldane Principle)52 and those who saw ministerial discretion as a necessary accountability mechanism.53

3.40 For example, some stakeholders who saw a need for ministerial discretion, suggested that there should be stricter limits on the use of this power. The University of Queensland recommended that ministerial discretion, if retained, be reserved for cases with national security implications or where

48 Institute of Public Affairs, Submission 13, p. 2; Dr Peter Ridd, Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Public

Affairs, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 67.

49 Institute of Public Affairs, Submission 13, p. 2.

50 Name withheld, Submission 82, p. 2.

51 See, for example, University of Sydney, Submission 53, [p. 1]; The Group of Eight, Submission 79,

p. 1; University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 2; Universities Australia, Submission 34, p. 4.

52 See, for example, Australian Physiological Society, Submission 6, [p. 1]; Professor Andrew Francis,

Submission 9, p. 3; Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, Submission 14, [p. 1]; Australian Society of Plant Scientists, Submission 17, [p. 1]; International Australian Studies Association, Submission 30, [p. 2]; Australasian Fluid Mechanics Society, Submission 29, p. 2.

53 See, for example, University of Queensland, Submission 11, [p. 1], Queensland University of

Technology, Submission 24, p. 4; La Trobe University, Submission 41, p.2; Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2; Innovative Research Universities, Submission 68, [p. 3]; University of Newcastle, Submission 64, [p. 1].

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there are concerns about process integrity.54 However, the Queensland University of Technology argued that this approach would be inadequate as it 'could never be exhaustive of all possible legitimate reasons for intervention'.55

3.41 In a similar vein, while suggesting there may be a case for removing ministerial intervention, Mr Andrew Ray cautioned against its removal without a replacement mechanism given that the ARC may not have access to all the information available to the Minister.56

3.42 In response to concerns about the use of ministerial discretion beyond a limited set of circumstances, the ARC stated that several ministerial decisions had actually been made on the basis of due diligence or national security considerations. The ARC acknowledged that there was room for the ARC to improve its communication around these matters:

I also heard several of the people … talk about the fact that they have no concerns about national security or due diligence issues being taken into consideration by a minister in making a decision. Several of the vetoes that we've seen—noting that they're actually not vetoes; they're applications that weren't approved by ministers—were in those circumstances. So I do think that there is a lack of understanding of exactly what's being undertaken… and that it is their concern that any response in this way does lead to a lack of credibility. I think that's something where the ARC needs to step up and improve its communication in relation to that.57

3.43 However, some stakeholders stressed the importance of ministerial discretion to preserving parliamentary oversight and ensuring the appropriate expenditure of public funds. For example, the ARC noted that the bill appeared to undermine the Minister's responsibilities under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and would, in effect, make 'the Minister answerable to the CEO, weakening Parliament's oversight'.58

3.44 Similarly, the Queensland University of Technology suggested that the bill could potentially conflict with the Minister's obligation to 'exercise due diligence in certain extraordinary circumstances that may be difficult to anticipate but not impossible to envisage'.59 Likewise, the Institute of Public

54 University of Queensland, Submission 11, [p. 1]. See also, La Trobe University, Submission 41, p. 3.

55 Queensland University of Technology, Submission 24, p. 3.

56 Mr Andrew Ray, Submission 84, p. 5.

57 Ms Judi Zielke, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council, Proof Committee

Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 74.

58 Australian Research Council, Submission 16, p. 3. The ARC indicated that this may need further

consideration as under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the Minister is required to be satisfied that the proposed expenditure of relevant money is a 'proper' use of relevant money.

59 Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Submission 24, p. 2.

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Affairs (IPA) asserted that the bill, if passed, would effectively eliminate 'oversight of the ARC by a representative of the taxpayer who ultimately funds the ARC'. 60

3.45 While the Australian Catholic University favoured process improvements over the 'ad-hoc' use of ministerial discretion, it highlighted the principle of responsible government as a 'fundamental tenet of Australia's Westminster system of parliamentary democracy'. Accordingly, it argued that the bill would sever the link between funding decisions and accountability for those decisions:

Under this principle, ministers are accountable to the Parliament, and ultimately, to the people for decisions taken within their areas of portfolio responsibility. This includes the actions of departments or agencies within their control. The absolute elimination of ministerial discretion over the allocation of public funds—as proposed by the bill—would break this nexus between responsibility and accountability.61

3.46 Mr Ashley Midalia, Director of Government, Policy and Strategy at the ACU elaborated further, arguing against removing the discretionary power which would result in the minister 'being rendered a rubber stamp':62

Ultimately the minister is responsible for the expenditure of public funds within his or her portfolio and the minister is accountable for that expenditure to the parliament, which is itself accountable to the people. If we break that chain, we cannot hold the minister responsible, and decisions on the allocation of public funds will rest entirely with an unelected body that is not accountable to the public.63

3.47 The IPA also noted that the bill could limit the government's ability to enforce its desired policy directions:

For example, the present government has flagged that it wants 'greater collaboration with industry to stimulate more research and development (R&D) activity across our economy'. This is a political decision that would be a legitimate focus of debate. An elected government has a right to set such priorities and have the means to enforce them on the ARC. This would be reduced with the proposed amendment.64

60 Institute of Public Affairs, Submission 13, p. 1.

61 Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2.

62 Mr Ashley Midalia, Director of Government, Policy and Strategy, Australian Catholic University,

Proof Committee Hansard, p. 34.

63 Mr Ashley Midalia, Director of Government, Policy and Strategy, Australian Catholic University,

Proof Committee Hansard, p. 34.

64 Institute of Public Affairs, Submission 13, p. 2.

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Alignment with the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (NHMRC Act) 3.48 Some stakeholders disputed the need for ministerial discretion and pointed to the NHMRC as a comparable agency that was not subject to discretionary

powers.65 For example, the Australian Political Studies Association argued that while the NHMRC is accountable to the health minister, 'the Minister plays no formal role in the authorisation of funding'.66

3.49 Likewise, La Trobe University emphasised what it saw as the differing roles of the responsible Ministers in relation to the ARC and the NHMRC:

For the ARC, the Minister responsible has veto powers under the Act, whereas the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 prescribes that its Minister may only give directions to the CEO, Council and Principal Committees which are of a 'general nature'.

In particular, the Minister responsible for the NHMRC is not permitted to direct the CEO, the Council, or a Principal Committee in relation to the 'recommendation and allocation of research funds… or the treatment of particular scientific, technical, or ethical issues'.67

3.50 However, in response to questions raised at the public hearing on 9 March 2022, the NHMRC released a statement clarifying the responsible Minister's role and obligations under the NHMRC Act and indicating that this includes the ability to exercise ministerial discretion:

The Minister for Health is the decision marker under the NHMRC Act. The Minister is able to approve some or all or none of the grants recommended by the CEO. There is nothing in the NHMRC Act that prevents a Minister from 'exercising a veto' on any particular grant.68

3.51 The committee notes that there were different views about the powers within the NHMRC Act. Following the hearing, the University of Tasmania responded to a question taken on notice that:

…based on advice from our legal team, our understanding of the NHMRC Act is there is nothing explicitly in the Act that gives the Minister a right to give a direction to the NHMRC CEO, Council or Principal Committee to

65 See, for example, The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 4; Astronomical Society of Australia,

Submission 23, [p. 2]; Australian Political Studies Association, Submission 26, [p. 1]; Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), University of Tasmania, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 21; Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), University of Melbourne, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 31.

66 Australian Political Studies Association, Submission 26, p. 2.

67 La Trobe University, Submission 41, p. 2.

68 National Health and Medical Research Council, ‘NHMRC Statement: Minister’s role in approving

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) grants’, Media Release, 9 March 2022, www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/news-centre/nhmrc-statement-ministers-role-approving-national-health-and-medical-research-council-nhmrc-grants (accessed 9 March 2022).

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review, change or withdraw research funding decisions other than a direction of a general nature.

Section 5E (2) provides that any direction must be of a general nature only and our legal position is that any veto needs to be consistent with this clause. By refusing a recommendation, this cannot be said to be a direction of a general nature. It substantially alters, undermines and disregards the recommendation made by the CEO of the NHMRC who has relied on robust processes for grant scrutiny and a system of peer review that forms the basis of competitive research grants in Australia.69

3.52 In addition, both the ARC and the department indicated that they were unaware of any legislation that would require a decision-maker to make a decision 'in accordance with the views or recommendations of a third party'.70

Transparency, accountability and timeliness of decision-making 3.53 While acknowledging the need to retain ministerial discretion in ARC grant funding decisions, a range of stakeholders argued for greater transparency and accountability in the use of this discretionary power. Some participants also

highlighted the importance of timely decision-making and announcements in relation to ARC grants.71

Transparency and accountability in exercising ministerial discretion 3.54 While not debating the need for ministerial discretion in relation to ARC grant funding,72 a number of stakeholders stressed the importance of transparency and accountability in the exercise of this discretion.73 For example, the

Australian Catholic University suggested that the Minister be required to 'table in Parliament clear and detailed reasons for their decision'.74

3.55 This view was shared by the Queensland University of Technology, which argued that the aim was not to 'prevent a Minister from ever departing from the ARC CEO's advice … but to make it difficult for them to do so without due

69 University of Tasmania, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received 15 March 2022).

70 Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), Submission 32, p. 4; Australian Research

Council (ARC), Submission 16, p. 3. See also, Ms Judi Zielke, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 76.

71 See, for example, The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 3; Name Withheld, Submission 82, [p. 1];

Ms Catriona Jackson, Chief Executive, Universities Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 6-7.

72 See, for example, Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2; Queensland University of

Technology (QUT), Submission 24, pp. 2-3.

73 See, for example, the Australian Academy of Science, Submission 33, [p. 1]; Innovative Research

Universities, Submission 68, [p. 1].

74 Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 3. See also, Mr Ashley Midalia, Director,

Government, Policy and Strategy, Australian Catholic University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 34.

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reason, and impossible to do so without being accountable to the Parliament'. To this end, QUT suggested that the Act be amended to require the details of, and rationale for, ministerial decisions to be tabled in both houses of Parliament and included in the ARC annual report.75

3.56 Several participants who supported the removal of ministerial discretion raised the need for transparency should the veto be retained. For example, the Group of Eight stressed the need for 'full transparency on the reasons and processes leading to the Ministerial decision to avoid the risk and perception of political interference'.76 Similarly, Universities Australia advocated for a 'predictable, transparent and informed process' for ministerial decision-making in relation to individual research applications.77

3.57 The University of Melbourne agreed with this view and suggested that, if retained, ministerial discretion 'should be codified along with a requirement for a detailed explanation against set criteria as to the reason, within a statutory time frame'.78

3.58 However, the department pointed out that strengthening the National Interest Test (NIT), which was identified as a priority reform for the ARC in 2022, would serve to increase the transparency of ARC grants processes by ensuring that 'taxpayer-funded Australian Government research grant monies are directed to areas of national importance, and deliver value for money to the Australian public'.79

3.59 The role of the NIT in the ARC grant assessment process was also highlighted by Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director of the Regional Universities Network:

The national interest test is designed to ensure that scarce public funds are spent in national interest, and the responses of applicants are currently considered by the Australian Research Council as part of their recommendation for research grant funding.80

3.60 While some stakeholders raised concerns about the use of the NIT as a rationale for application of the ministerial veto,81 the department stressed that the implementation of a stronger NIT by the ARC would reduce the likelihood

75 Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Submission 24, pp. 4-5.

76 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2.

77 Universities Australia, Submission 34, p. 1.

78 University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 2.

79 Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Submission 32, p. 4.

80 Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director, Regional Universities Network, Proof Committee Hansard, 9

March 2022, p. 3.

81 See, for example, Australian Academy of Humanities, Submission 36, p. 1; Australian University

Heads of English, Submission 55, p. 2; Science and Technology Australia, Submission 58, p. 4; Professor Marcus Foth, Submission 65, p. 2; Dr Alex Burns, Submission 77, p. 2.

25

that 'the Minister would need to intervene to ensure the effectiveness of its application'.82

3.61 Improved clarity of the NIT was also supported by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering as a way to help 'the ARC CEO to fairly assess National Interest Test statements and assure political leadership and the public that there is value in the research they fund'.83

Timely decision-making and announcements 3.62 Some submitters expressed concerns about the timeframes for ARC grant funding decisions and announcements.84 For example, the University of Melbourne noted that there 'can be a lag of up to three months' from the time

recommendations are made by the College of Experts to the time outcomes are announced, which 'particularly affects early career researchers and those on fixed-term contracts who may be dependent on salaried roles supported by ARC-funded grants'. From an institutional perspective, the University of Melbourne also argued that:

The extended delay adds to existing uncertainty about establishing the research project and forthcoming employment opportunities. The lag also inhibits institutional planning, as researchers and departmental leaders await news on funding outcomes prior to confirming teaching and research commitments for the following year.85

3.63 Professor Sven Rogge, President, Australian Institute of Physics, highlighted further impacts of these delays:

Arbitrary delays in announcing grant outcomes through the ministerial sign-off jeopardise research projects and links with industry partners, lead to the loss of highly skilled early career research near the end of their contract, and diminish Australia's international competitiveness.86

3.64 Evidence provided to the committee also highlighted the significance of transparent deadlines by which the ARC CEO must make recommendations to the minister, given the impact on job security and careers of researchers.87

82 Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Submission 32, p. 4.

83 Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Submission 47, p. 2.

84 See, for example, The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 3; Australian Institute of Physics,

Submission 74, [p. 2]; Australian Association of University Professors, Submission 27, p. 2; Name withheld, Submission 82, p. 3.

85 The University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 4.

86 Professor Sven Rogge, President, Australian Institute of Physics, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 50.

87 See, for example, Australian Academy of Science, Submission 33, p. 2; Professor Brian Schmidt,

Vice Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 24; Dr Peter Ridd, Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Public Affairs, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 71.

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3.65 In response to these concerns, the Group of Eight recommended that:

…the Australian Government set standards for reasonable timeframes for decision-making on ARC scheme application rounds, recognising that careers and livelihoods depend on the timeliness and reliability of the funding process.88

Broad review of the ARC 3.66 While generally supporting the broad intent of the bill, a number of stakeholders argued that a much broader review and reformation of the ARC and its processes was required.89 For example, the Group of Eight stated that

the bill, while important, only addressed a symptom of the underlying problems with the ARC and amounted to 'tinkering at the edges of an outdated funding system which is long overdue for review'.90 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive of the Group of Eight, elaborated:

Just to be clear, what we're actually asking for is an overhaul of the ARC. That's really the priority. We see the issues that have come to light over the last few years as being quite serious, revealing issues around governance and transparency ... Touching on the role of parliament, I think changes to the ARC Act are needed to bring it into the 2020s rather than the turn of the century. … We see what's being discussed today around this legislation as a symptom of those root causes, of structural issues with the ARC.91

3.67 The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) expressed a similar view and stressed that the bill, while serving an important function, left 'numerous challenges and potential inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the Australian research ecosystem'.92 To this end, the ASSA suggested that a more fulsome review of Australia's research ecosystem would be desirable. In a similar vein, stakeholders such as the Australian Academy of Humanities and the National Tertiary Education Union recommended a broad review of national research priorities and objectives.93

3.68 In arguing for reform of the ARC and its processes, both the Group of Eight and the University of Melbourne emphasised the length of time (20 years) that

88 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 3.

89 See, for example, The University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 2; Australian Academy of

Science, Submission 33, [p. 1]; Australian Physiological Society, Submission 6, [p. 1]; Mr Andrew Ray, Submission 84, pp. 1 and 6.

90 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 3.

91 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, the Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 8.

92 Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, Submission 14, [p. 1].

93 Australian Academy of Humanities, Submission 36, p. 3; National Tertiary Education Union,

Submission 35, p. 13.

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had passed since the Act was last examined.94 As explained by the University of Melbourne, an independent review would be timely and would help the ARC navigate the opportunities and challenges presented by the current research environment:

Given the passing of two decades since the ARC Act was last reviewed holistically, and the significant changes proposed for the ARC programs and governance in recent months, it is timely to commission an independent review of the Australian Research Council and its governance to refresh its operations to navigate the opportunities and challenges ahead in supporting a world class research ecosystem in Australia.95

3.69 While it stressed the importance of an independent grant assessment process, the ANU also agreed that it would be 'timely to conduct a wide-ranging review of the role and governance of the ARC to ensure it is aligned to the needs of Government and other stakeholders'.96

Committee View 3.70 The committee would like to thank all stakeholders for their engagement in this inquiry process. The committee recognises the Australian Research Council's (ARC's) role as an important source of funding for high quality

research, including supporting researchers to undertake cutting edge research to advance knowledge and discovery, and meet Australia's priorities and support our economy and society.

3.71 The committee notes the concerns raised by submitters in relation to the impact of ministerial decisions to not fund research grants that have been recommended by the ARC. Stakeholders highlighted fears that ministerial intervention could compel talented researchers to leave Australia and potentially discourage experts and assessors from participating in the ARC's peer review process. The committee also heard concerns that Australia's international reputation could be impacted, leading to reduced opportunities for universities to attract and collaborate with international researchers.

3.72 Stakeholders also expressed concern that ministerial intervention could undermine confidence in the integrity and independence of the ARC's grant assessment process. Some stakeholders argued that Australia's research reputation could suffer because of funding decisions that are subject to interference, or the perception of interference, from the Minister. As a result, many stakeholders pointed to similar international jurisdictions that have adhered more closely to the Haldane Principle.

94 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, the Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 8; University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 5.

95 The University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 5.

96 Australian National University, Submission 59, p. 7.

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3.73 Despite this, many participants acknowledged that the Australian Government (the government) has a legitimate and important role in determining the parameters for government-funded research programs—although opinions on the form and extent of this role vary. While noting the arguments of some stakeholders, that the government's role should be limited to setting guidelines and processes only, the committee agrees with the view that requiring the Minister to 'rubber stamp' projects recommended by the ARC Chief Executive Officer would essentially override the basic principle of responsible government.

3.74 In the committee's view, removing ministerial discretion would raise serious questions about whether the Minister was fulfilling their obligations under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. It would also prevent the Minister from preventing projects being funded where there are due diligence or national security concerns—both grounds that were identified as reasonable and necessary by some stakeholders, particularly as the ARC is unlikely to have access to all the information available to the Minister.

3.75 In addition, the committee accepts the evidence provided by both the ARC and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment that they are unaware of any existing legislation that imposes a similar requirement on a decision-maker. Several participants in the inquiry pointed to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) as an example of an agency not subject to discretionary powers. For example, the University of Tasmania and Western Sydney University provided information that aligned with that view. However, the NHMRC confirmed that there is nothing in the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 that prevents the relevant Minister from exercising discretion in relation to grant approvals.

3.76 Since it was established in 2001, the ARC has awarded over $13 billion to support around 30,000 unique research projects, large and small, across all disciplines except medical research. This includes 70 centres of excellence, over 200 laureate fellowships and around 1,800 future fellows. In 2020-21, total National Competitive Grants Program funding was $807 million which represents approximately seven per cent of the government's investment in research and development. Of some significance, the committee noted that, for the Discovery grant program, the Minister approved 587 of the 593 or 98.98 per cent of recommended projects.

3.77 Therefore, on balance, the committee believes the Act in its present form serves the national interest by ensuring the Minister remains accountable for the appropriate expenditure of government funds in relation to ARC grants. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the bill not be passed.

29

3.78 However, this does not mean that change is unwarranted, and the committee is mindful that this inquiry has unearthed broader concerns about the ARC and its governance and research funding processes. Given that is has been 20 years since the legislation governing the ARC was last examined in detail, the committee agrees with the view that elements of the Australian Research Council Act 2001 may no longer be fit for purpose and may need to be amended to help the ARC manage the opportunities and challenges arising from today's research ecosystem.

3.79 Accordingly, the committee accepts the argument that a broad review of the ARC is necessary and recommends that the government commission an independent review of the ARC, including its governance and research funding processes, with a view to maximising the impact of public investment in university research and driving a strong national system of research and development. The review should also have regard to the directions issued to the ARC by the Minister for Education and Youth in his Letter of Expectations dated 6 December 2021.

Recommendation 1

3.80 The committee recommends that the Senate does not pass the bill.

Recommendation 2

3.81 The committee recommends that the Australian Government commission an independent review of the Australian Research Council (ARC), including its governance and research funding processes, with a view to maximising the impact of public investment in university research and driving a strong national system of research and development. The review should also have regard to the directions issued to the ARC by the Minister for Education and Youth in his Letter of Expectations dated 6 December 2021.

Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan Senator Ben Small Chair Liberal Senator for Western Australia

Nationals Senator for Queensland

Senator Perin Davey Nationals Senator for New South Wales

31

Labor Senators' Additional Comments

Known Unknowns

1.1 Labor senators agree with many of the concerns that have been raised by stakeholders during the committee's inquiry, in particular the need to strengthen protections against political interference in the allocation of research funding. It is unacceptable that Coalition Government education ministers continue to undermine the integrity of Australia's research sector and politicise the grant process.

1.2 Labor senators have strong concerns about the way in which Coalition Government education ministers have arbitrarily exercised their power to veto grants that have been recommended by the Australian Research Council's (ARC's) peer review process.

1.3 However, Labor Senators support the principle of ministerial accountability in the expenditure of public funds and do not support the removal of all ministerial discretion from research grants administered by the ARC.

1.4 In light of concerns raised by stakeholders about the operation of the ARC in recent years, Labor senators support the need for an independent review of the ARC, but it should be much broader than the Government has indicated. Any review should go to the issue of the ARC's role in the research system, including the operations of the ARC.1

Political motives for ministerial intervention 1.5 While Labor senators do not support this Bill, we do believe that the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (ARC Act) should be amended.

1.6 According to evidence received during the inquiry, Coalition Governments have used ministerial discretion under the ARC Act in 32 instances.2

1.7 Ministerial intervention weakens confidence in researchers' ability to pursue topics of genuine interest and collaboration, and undermines Australia's international reputation.3 For example, the Group of Eight argued:

1 University of Melbourne, Submission 75, pp. 2 and 5; Australian National University, Submission 59,

p. 7. See also, Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Tasmania, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 23 and 28; Professor Rebekah Brown, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Senior Vice-President, Monash University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 34-35; Professor Richard Holden, President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 40.

2 Australian Research Council (ARC), answers to questions on notice, 16 March 2022

(received 16 March 2022).

32

Without trust and rigour in the granting process, based on international standards that promote peer review as the basis for decisions, the Australian research system, its outcomes and participants will suffer reputational damage that will impact future collaborations and indeed Australia’s participation as a leader in the global research system.4

1.8 In addition, Professor Anna Hickey-Moody raised the issue of research in the humanities, arts and social sciences being shaped through parameters set by the government of the day.5 Since 2017, 17 of 22 grants vetoed by the minister were for research projects in the humanities, arts and social sciences disciplines.6 Indeed, the President of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Dan Woodman argued:

…I just want to restate, as others have, that the evidence today strongly suggests that the ministers have only deployed these powers in relation to applications from humanities and social sciences.7

1.9 It is regrettable that the Coalition Government thinks there is political advantage to be gained in targeting the humanities in the way that they have. The role of an education minister should be to ensure that the ARC's grants processes are rigorous, fair and transparent, and the ARC has competent leadership and is functioning well. The ARC should then be allowed to do its work without political interference.

Retaining the ministerial veto 1.10 The ministerial veto contained in the ARC Act is a mechanism to facilitate the accountability of executive government. As the Australian Catholic University argued:

…it is ultimately the elected government which must account for the expenditure of public funds. The principle of responsible government is a fundamental tenet of Australia's Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Under this principle, ministers are accountable to the Parliament, and ultimately, to the people for decisions taken within their areas of portfolio responsibility. This includes the actions of departments or agencies within their control. The absolute elimination of ministerial

3 See, for example, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Cluster at Western Sydney University,

Submission 28, p. 4; Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 9, [p. 3]; Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 10, pp. 3-4. See also, Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 24.

4 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2.

5 Professor Anna Hickey-Moody, Private Capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 14.

6 Australian Research Council, answers to questions on notice, 16 March 2022 (received

16 March 2022).

7 Professor Dan Woodman, President, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Proof

Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 40.

33

discretion over the allocation of public funds - as proposed by the Bill - would break this nexus between responsibility and accountability.8

1.11 An issue canvassed with most witnesses and generally acknowledged as important in regard to the veto was the proposition that 'it is theoretically possible that information would be available to a minister that may not be available to the panel of experts or even the administrators at the ARC'.9

1.12 Further, as the ARC points out in its submission, the effect of this Bill is not to remove the veto power, it is to shift it from the minister to the ARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), thereby 'weakening Parliament's oversight and removing Ministerial privilege'.10 The Bill therefore fails to afford the protection from rogue intervention that the sector seeks.

1.13 Both the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (the department) and the ARC indicated that they were not aware of any legislation that requires a decision-maker, in this case the relevant minister, to make an administrative decision in accordance with the views or recommendations of a third party.11

1.14 In the case of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the responsible minister can approve 'some or all or none of the grants recommended by the CEO' and that there 'is nothing in the [National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (NHMRC Act)] that prevents a Minister from "exercising a veto" on any particular grant'.12

1.15 However, the NHMRC Act also has an accountability mechanism. The Queensland University of Technology (QUT), drew attention to these provisions in the NHMRC Act:

If the Minister gives a direction under subsection (1), the Minister must cause a statement setting out particulars of, and of the reasons for, the direction to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after giving the direction.13

8 Australian Catholic University, Submission 46, p. 2. See also, Mr Ashley Midalia, Director,

Government, Policy and Strategy, Australian Catholic University, Proof Committee Hansard, p. 38.

9 Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 18.

10 Australian Research Council (ARC), Submission 16, p. 3.

11 Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Submission 32, p. 4; Australian Research

Council (ARC), Submission 16, p. 3.

12 National Health and Medical Research Council, 'NHMRC Statement: Minister's role in approving

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) grants', Media Release, 9 March 2022, www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/news-centre/nhmrc-statement-ministers-role-approving-national-health-and-medical-research-council-nhmrc-grants (accessed 17 March 2022).

13 Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Submission 24, p. 6, citing the National Health and

Medical Research Council Act 1992, section 5E(4).

34

1.16 Multiple stakeholders argued for similar provisions to be included in the ARC Act so that, when the minister chooses to use this power, the research community and broader public are advised of the reasons behind the veto of specific projects in a timely manner. Such an approach may overcome perceptions that the current exercise of the minister's veto power is 'opaque'.14

1.17 While Australia has an admirable record of academic freedom, Labor senators remain concerned that the Coalition Government's use of ministerial veto has eroded both domestic and international trust in Australia's research sector. Although Labor senators do not support the removal of ministerial discretion to veto grants, it finds how ministerial power has been exerted previously to be unacceptable.

1.18 Accordingly, Labor senators support amending the ARC Act to include provisions stipulating the responsible minister must table, in Parliament, the reasons, evidence and advice received when choosing to exercise discretion within 15 sitting days should they decide to exercise discretion to veto an ARC recommended grant. This would bring the legislation governing the ARC in line with the requirements outlined in the NHMRC Act.

Recommendation 1

1.19 The Australian Government should amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001 to require the responsible minister to table, in Parliament, within 15 sitting days, the reasons, evidence and advice received when discretion is exercised to veto an Australian Research Council recommended grant.

Review into the ARC 1.20 Several stakeholders have argued the need for a broad review into the ARC's role and governance structure to ensure that it is aligned to the needs of the sector.15 Labor senators support arguments made by Dr Matthew Brown,

Deputy Chief Executive of the Group of Eight, who advocated for 'an overhaul of the ARC'.16 Such an overhaul would amend the ARC's governance structure and reporting mechanisms and ensure transparency regarding issues of foreign interference and national security.17

14 University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 4.

15 See, for example, Australian National University, Submission 59, p. 7; The Group of Eight,

Submission 79, p. 1; Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 1.

16 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 8.

17 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 8. See also, The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 1; University of Melbourne, Submission 75, p. 5; Australian National University, Submission 59, p. 7.

35

1.21 Further, in the hearing, Dr Brown pointed to the fact that the legislation governing the ARC has not been reviewed in the last two decades.18 Labor finds this deeply concerning, and supports the view presented by stakeholders that it is time to conduct a wide-ranging review of the role and governance of the ARC to ensure its independence and prevent any—real or perceived— political interference.19

1.22 Labor senators also have strong concerns about recent commentary on the operations of the ARC. The ARC has confirmed it is building 'sensitivity files' on Australian researchers from foreign-owned and Australian newspapers and other sources20 that are then used to consider their research applications. Such administration practices do not inspire confidence. To ensure the integrity of our research system, transparency and proper process are needed on matters of foreign interference and national security.

1.23 As such, Labor senators support calls for there to be a broad review of the ARC, with priorities centred on a renewal of the ARC's governance framework, reporting mechanisms and internal administrative processes moving forward.

Recommendation 2

1.24 The Australian Government should undertake a broad review of the role and functions of the Australian Research Council with a particular focus on the governance framework, reporting mechanisms and internal administrative processes.

Senator the Hon Kim Carr Senator Louise Pratt

Labor Senator for Victoria Deputy Chair

Senator Deborah O'Neill Labor Senator for New South Wales

18 Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard,

9 March 2022, p. 8.

19 University of Melbourne, Submission 75, pp. 2 and 5; Australian National University, Submission 59,

p. 7. See also, Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Tasmania, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 23 and 28; Professor Rebekah Brown, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Senior Vice-President, Monash University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, pp. 34 - 35; Professor Richard Holden, President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 40.

20 Ms Kylie Emery, Branch Manager, Policy and Strategy, Australian Research Council, Education

and Employment Budget Estimates, Committee Hansard, 4 June 2021, pp. 22 and 24-25.

37

Australian Greens Senators' Dissenting Report

1.1 The Australian Greens reject the report of the Committee. We recommend that the Government and Labor listen to the needs and demands of the Australian research community, universities, peak bodies, and many others and support this bill to remove the ministerial veto power from the Australian Research Council (ARC) grants approval process. It is disheartening to witness, particularly as a former academic, how politics has taken over an otherwise straightforward inquiry into the removal of this power.

1.2 The report findings are blatantly biased towards the view of a very small minority of submitters to the inquiry. Of the more than 80 submissions received by the committee, the overwhelming and clear majority, that is more than 85 per cent, are in support of removing the ministerial veto. The position of researchers, experts, academics, peak bodies and many universities is also clear from the evidence provided during the hearing held by the Committee, where the vast majority of witnesses argued for the removal of the ministerial veto.1

1.3 The process for adopting the report has been utterly flawed, undemocratic, a breach of due process, and completely lacking in transparency. During consideration of the draft committee report, no time was allowed for discussion of proposed Greens amendments to the report.

1.4 Government and Labor Senators have used their majority on the committee to ignore the overwhelming support for the bill through the inquiry process. Politics has trumped good policy-making with both the Government and Labor refusing to concede their political power to interfere and intervene in individual research grants, which have been recommended for funding after a rigorous peer review process. This is a shameless attempt to retain unnecessary political power over research funding despite enormous evidence provided by witnesses that the current ministerial veto power is not just bad practice, but that it also has terrible outcomes for Australian research and global reputation.

1.5 Repeated political interventions by ministers, based on nothing but whim and political ideology, have repeatedly sparked shock and outrage across the Australian research community, including from peak bodies, universities, associations, and individual researchers. Nearly all the representatives of these groups argued through the inquiry that the ministerial veto power should be removed.

1 Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022.

38

Overwhelming support for the Bill to remove the ministerial veto 1.6 It is abundantly clear from the submissions received and the testimony heard by the Committee that the Australian research community, represented on the inquiry by various internationally renowned researchers and academics,

universities, peak bodies, and other representative groups, are almost unanimous in their support for removing the ministerial veto power.

1.7 These include peak and representative bodies, such as Universities Australia, The Group of Eight, the Regional Universities Network, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Australian Mathematical Society, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellows, Australian Political Studies Association, Australian Association of University Professors, International Australian Studies Association, Australian Linguistic Society, the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia, the Association for Language Testing and Assessment of Australia and New Zealand, the Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association, the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities, Australian Academy of Humanities, Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists, Academics for Public Universities, Screen Studies Association of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Australian University Heads of English, and the Asian Australian Studies Research Network, among others.

1.8 Support for removing the ministerial veto also came from the majority of Australian university submissions, including the Australian National University, Western Sydney University, Monash University, Flinders University, the University of Tasmania, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.

1.9 Key concerns regarding the ministerial veto power raised by witnesses and through written submissions included the damaging impact on researchers (especially early career researchers) and research, academic freedom,2 the chilling impact on the research community leading to censorship,3 a disproportionate impact on First Nations researchers,4 lack of transparency,5

2 Monash University, Submission 57, p. 3.

3 See, for example, Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof

Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 5; Mr Paul Harris, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 5; Professor Andrew Francis, Private capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 14.

4 Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Postgraduate Association, Submission 72, [p. 8]. See also, Dr Sadie Heckenberg, Past President, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 62.

39

threat to the integrity of a rigorous peer review process,6 and Australia's international reputation.7 Many also highlighted that political interventions have targeted humanities and social sciences research.8

1.10 The importance of peer-review and research independence is internationally recognised. A common argument presented in the inquiry submissions and hearings was how the ministerial veto power is out of step with international best practice. For example, as stated in the Group of Eight submission:

There is significant concern in the sector regarding the perceived absence of international best practice for assessing research funding applications - or recognition of the important role that peer review plays in determining the quality of applications.9

1.11 Many witnesses also spoke of the Haldane Principle as an example of international best practice.10 Enshrined in British Government Policy since 1918, the Haldane Principle states that specific funding decisions surrounding research grants be made by autonomous research councils, independent of politicians.11 Since 1918 the Haldane Principle has been adopted into research policy in the United States and many countries across Europe.12

1.12 It became clear during the hearing that Australia's refusal to adopt research funding policy along the lines of the Haldane Principle is continuing to harm Australia’s international reputation as a research destination. Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian Schmidt, spoke to how the ministerial veto currently in place was ‘affecting [their] ability to attract talent to Australia’.13

1.13 Similarly, Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director of the Regional Universities Network warned that:

5 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, [pp. 1 and 3].

6 Universities Australia, Submission 34, pp. 2 and 4. See also, Professor James McCluskey, Deputy

Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Melbourne, Proof Committee Hansard, pp. 25-26.

7 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2.

8 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 2].

9 The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2.

10 See, for example, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 3],

Australian Academy of the Humanities, Submission 36, p. 1; The University of Sydney, Submission 53, [p. 1].

11 Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 9, p. 3.

12 See, for example, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Cluster at Western Sydney

University, Submission 28, [p. 2]; Australian National University (ANU), Submission 59, p. 6.

13 Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee

Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 24.

40

If the system is subject to interference or even the perception of interference, Australia's research reputation will suffer.14

1.14 The ministerial veto power also stands as a threat to academic freedom within Australia. Professor Aidan Sims, a former ARC College of Experts member who resigned in protest to the most recent ministerial vetoes, explained in their submission that:

The possibility of ministerial veto therefore tends to shut down lines of discourse and enquiry to an extent disproportionate to the actual use of veto powers.15

1.15 The power of the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (NHMRC Act) to provide the health minister discretionary powers remains a subject of debate, as the advice provided by the University of Tasmania and Western Sydney University call this power into question, yet the final report accepts contrary claims by the ARC and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

1.16 Some of the Greens' proposed changes to the draft report of the committee, adding references to the serious adverse impacts of the ministerial veto, have been included in the final report. However, amendments to change the findings of the committee or committee comments to align with the evidence presented were rejected. The Government and Labor have used their numbers on the committee to push through a final report that sidelines the evidence provided by a vast majority of stakeholders. Shamefully, the final report recommends the bill not pass.

1.17 The ministerial veto power contained in the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (ARC Act) is harming Australian researchers and Australian research. The Australian Greens urge the Government to listen to the research community and support the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018.

Recommendation 1

1.18 That the Senate passes the bill.

Recommendation 2

1.20 That the Australian Research Council (ARC) undergoes an independent review that considers how to improve ARC governance; how to engage better with the research community; how to deliver better outcomes for

14 Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director, Regional Universities Network, Proof Committee Hansard, 9

March 2022, p. 3.

15 Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, [p. 3].

41

Australian researchers; and the boost to public funding required to ensure the ARC can fund all worthy projects; including research that advances knowledge and discovery, as determined via peer review; and other matters as appropriate.

Senator Mehreen Faruqi Australian Greens Senator for New South Wales

43

Appendix 1

Submissions and Additional Information

1 Professor Igor Bray 2 Emeritus Professor Bob Henderson 3 Professor Duncan Forbes 4 Dr Patrick Stokes 5 Dr Thomas Nicholls 6 Australian Physiological Society (AuPS) 7 Dr Benjamin Jones 8 Professor Aidan Sims 9 Professor Andrew Francis 10 The Australian Historical Association 11 The University of Queensland. 12 Flinders University 13 Institute of Public Affairs 14 Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia 15 Dr Bill Bennett 16 Australian Research Council 17 Australian Society of Plant Scientists 18 Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities 19 Statistical Society of Australia 20 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences 21 Professor Anna Hickey-Moody 22 Australian Mathematical Society (AustMS) 23 Astronomical Society of Australia 24 Queensland University of Technology

 24.1 Supplementary to submission 24

25 Australian Research Council Laureate Fellows 26 Australian Political Studies Association 27 Australian Association of University Professors 28 HASS Cluster, Western Sydney University 29 Australasian Fluid Mechanics Society 30 International Australian Studies Association 31 Australian Linguistic Society, the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia,

the Association for Language Testing and Assessment of Australia and New Zealand, the Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association, and the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities. 32 Department of Education, Skills and Employment 33 Australian Academy of Science 34 Universities Australia

44

35 National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) 36 Australian Academy of Humanities 37 Research Australia 38 Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 39 STEM Cluster at Western Sydney University 40 Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and

Toxicologists (ASCEPT) 41 La Trobe University 42 Academics for Public Universities 43 Screen Studies Association of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand 44 Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern

Studies

45 Association for the Study of Australian Literature 46 Australian Catholic University 47 Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering 48 Griffith University 49 Professor David Rowe 50 Western Sydney University 51 Professor James Guthrie 52 University of Tasmania 53 The University of Sydney 54 Tertiary Dance Council of Australia 55 Australian University Heads of English 56 National Advocates for Arts Education 57 Monash University 58 Science & Technology Australia 59 Australian National University 60 Professor Tania Lewis 61 Asian Australian Studies Research Network 62 Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) 63 Australian Association for the Study of Religion 64 The University of Newcastle 65 Professor Marcus Foth 66 Australian Association for Research in Education 67 National Association for the Visual Arts 68 Innovative Research Universities 69 Dr Miriam Bankovsky 70 Regional Universities Network 71 Journalism Education & Research Association of Australia 72 Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association 73 Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes 74 Australian Institute of Physics

45

75 The University of Melbourne 76 Daisy Norfolk 77 Dr Alex Burns 78 Public Universities Australia 79 The Group of Eight 80 Mr Benjamin Cronshaw 81 Name Withheld 82 Name Withheld 83 Confidential 84 Mr Andrew Ray 85 Dr Philip Laird OAM

Answers to Questions on Notice 1 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, answer to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received 15 March 2022). 2 Australian National University, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022

(received 15 March 2022). 3 Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received 15 March 2022). 4 University of Tasmania, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received

15 March 2022). 5 Australian Academy of Science, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received 15 March 2022). 6 The Australian Institute of Physics, answers to questions on notice, 9 March

2022 (received 15 March 2022). 7 Western Sydney University, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received 15 March 2022). 8 Science and Technology Australia, answers to questions on notice, 9 March

2022 (received 16 March 2022). 9 Australian Research Council, answers to questions on notice, 9 March 2022 (received 16 March 2022).

Tabled Documents 1 Universities Australia, opening statement (tabled 9 March 2022). 2 Professor Andrew Francis, opening statement (tabled 9 March 2022). 3 Professor Anna Hickey-Moody, opening statement (tabled 9 March 2022). 4 Professor Aidan Sims, opening statement (tabled 9 March 2022). 5 Academics for Public Universities, opening statement (tabled 9 March 2022). 6 Queensland University of Technology, opening statement (tabled 9 March

2022).

7 Senator the Hon Kim Carr, NHMRC Statement: Minister's role in approving National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants (tabled 9 March 2022).

46

8 Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan, Max Opray, 'Ridd shares', The Saturday Paper, 23 November 2019 (tabled 9 March 2022). 9 Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan, Monya Baker, 'Is there a reproducibility crisis?', Nature, Vol. 533, 26 May 2016, p. 452 (tabled 9 March 2022).

Additional Information Letter from the Australian Academy of the Humanities, (received on 8 March 2022).

47

Appendix 2

Public Hearing and Witnesses

Wednesday, 9 March 2022 Senate Committee Room 2S1 Parliament House Canberra

Peak Bodies Panel  Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight (via videoconference)  Ms Catriona Jackson, Chief Executive, Universities Australia  Mr Peter Chesworth, Deputy Chief Executive, Universities Australia  Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director, Regional Universities Network (via

videoconference)  Mr Paul Harris, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities

Academics Panel  Professor Aidan Sims, (via videoconference)  Professor Andrew Francis  Professor Anna Hickey-Moody, (via videoconference)  Professor Peter Tregear, Member, Academics for Public Universities (via

videoconference)

University Panel  Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University  Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), The University of Melbourne (via videoconference)  Professor Deborah Sweeney, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice President,

Research, Enterprise and International, Western Sydney University (via videoconference)  Professor Anthony Koutoulis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Tasmania  Professor Michael Ryan, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), Monash University

(via teleconference)  Professor Rebekah Brown, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Senior Vice-President, Monash University (via teleconference)  Dr John Byron, Principal Policy Advisor, Queensland University of

Technology  Professor James McLaren, Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), Australian Catholic University (via videoconference)

48

 Mr Ashley Midalia, Director - Government, Policy and Strategy, Australian Catholic University (via videoconference)

HASS Panel  Professor Richard Holden, President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (via videoconference)  Dr Chris Hatherly, Chief Executive Officer, Academy of the Social Sciences

in Australia  Professor Jane Hall, Immediate Past President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (via videoconference)  Professor Dan Woodman, President, Council for the Humanities, Arts and

Social Sciences  Professor Catharine» «Coleborne , President, Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (via videoconference)  Ms Jane Ryan, Executive Officer, Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences

and Humanities

STEM Panel  Ms Misha Schubert, Chief Executive Officer, Science & Technology Australia  Professor Mark Hutchinson, President, Science & Technology Australia (via

videoconference)  Professor Hugh Bradlow, President, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering  Ms Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Academy of

Technology and Engineering  Professor Sven Rogge, President, Australian Institute of Physics  Professor Hans Bachor, Secretary, Communication and Outreach,

Australian Academy of Science (via teleconference)  Dr Stuart Barrow, Senior Policy Analyst, Australian Academy of Science

Unions and Associations Panel  Dr Terri MacDonald, Director of Policy Research, National Tertiary Education Union (via videoconference)  Mr Kieran McCarron, Policy Officer, National Tertiary Education Union (via

videoconference)  Mr Errol Phuah, National President/Chief Executive Officer, Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Council of Australian Postgraduate

Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association  Dr Sadie Heckenberg, Past President, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association, Council of Australian Postgraduate

Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (via videoconference)

49

Institute of Public Affairs  Dr Peter Ridd, Adjunct Fellow

Government Panel  Dr Dom English, First Assistant Secretary, Higher Education Division, Department of Education, Skills and Employment  Ms Danielle Donegan, Assistant Secretary, Research Policy and Programs

Branch, Department of Education, Skills and Employment  Ms Judi Zielke, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council  Dr Mel Southwell-Lee, Branch Manager, Policy and Strategy, Australian Research Council  Mr Stuart Henry, Chief Programs Officer, Australian Research Council