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AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH COUNCIL BILL 2000—SENATE'S AMENDMENTS

The order of the day having been read for the consideration of the amendments made by the Senate—

On the motion of Mr Abbott (Minister for Employment Services), the amendments were disagreed to, after debate.

Dr Kemp (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs) presented reasons, which were circulated, and are as follows:

Reasons of the House of Representatives for disagreeing to the amendments of the Senate

Senate Amendment Number 1

This amendment extends the objects of the Australian Research Council Bill 2000to establish a body that may, on its own initiative, conduct inquiries into matters related to research and research education and publish the results.

The Government's 1999 policy statement Knowledge and Innovationclearly set out the role and functions of the ARC as providing `strategic policy advice to Government' as well as having `a broader role in the National Innovation System.' As well as providing distinct advice on matters requested by the Minister, the strategic planning process outlined in the Bill will provide a new and effective way of developing advice to Government on matters related to research. It should be noted that it is not necessary to specify `research education' as a separate aspect of `research matters'.

There is nothing in the Bill which prevents the ARC from drawing the Minister's attention to an issue which should be referred to them for further investigation and advice. Such an approach ensures that there is regular consultation between the Minister and the primary advisory body on research matters, while maintaining the balance between the ARC's performance of those functions outlined in the Act, to which the Government would accord priority, and those matters which the ARC believe would enhance the Government's decision making ability. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.


Senate Amendment Number 2

This amendment adds a definition of `States' which encompasses both the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

This amendment is unnecessary as there is only one clause to which the amendment could possibly apply, namely Clause 58 - Conditions of Payment of financial assistance. As subclause 58(2) sets out criteria in terms of `state', `Australian Capital Territory' and `Northern Territory', the amendment duplicates the provisions already in the Bill. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 3

This amendment introduces two new functions of the ARC, namely to conduct inquiries, on its own initiative, on matters related to research and research education and publish those results; and to make recommendations to the Minister about matters related to research and research education.

The Government's 1999 policy statement Knowledge and Innovationclearly set out the role and functions of the ARC as providing `strategic policy advice to Government' as well as having `a broader role in the National Innovation System.' As well as providing distinct advice on matters requested by the Minister, the strategic planning process outlined in the Bill will provide a new and effective way of developing advice to Government on matters related to research. It should be noted that it is not necessary to specify `research education' as a separate aspect of `research matters'.

There is nothing in the Bill which prevents the ARC from drawing the Minister's attention to an issue which should be referred to them for further investigation and advice. Such an approach ensures that there is regular consultation between the Minister and the primary advisory body on research matters, while maintaining the balance between the ARC's performance of those functions outlined in the Act, to which the Government would accord priority, and those matters which the ARC believe would enhance the ability of the Government to make decisions in this area.

Finally, the function of making recommendations to the Minister about matters related to research and research education effectively duplicates the other functions of the ARC—namely to provide recommendations on proposals for approval for funding assistance and the function of providing advice to the Minister. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 4

This amendment substitutes the requirement to include requests for advice in the Annual Report, with the requirement to table requests for advice in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days.

While it is important for Government actions to be accountable, the amendment puts in place a more onerous administrative requirement on the Australian Research Council than that which was stipulated in the Bill agreed to by the House. Under those arrangements, requests for advice were still open to proper
scrutiny through the Annual Report process. It would be more efficient to inform the community of such matters through inclusion in the Annual Report than to require the request to be tabled. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 5

This amendment adds an additional requirement to table Ministerial directions on the performance of the ARC's functions in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days as well as reporting it in the Annual Report

While it is important for Government actions to be accountable, the amendment puts in place a more onerous administrative requirement on the Australian Research Council than that which was stipulated in the Bill agreed to by the House. Under those arrangements, directions were still open to proper scrutiny through the Annual Report process. The ARC's independence in recommending excellent research proposals for funding will not be enhanced by this provision as the Minister is prevented by other provisions in the Bill from directing the ARC to recommend funding for or to not fund a particular research proposals. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 6

This amendment adds an additional requirement to table Ministerial directions on the performance of the Board's functions in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days, as well as to include such directions in the Annual Report.

While it is important for Government actions to be accountable, the amendment puts in place a more onerous administrative requirement on the Australian Research Council than that which was stipulated in the Bill agreed to by the House. Under those arrangements, directions were still open to proper scrutiny through the Annual Report process. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 7

This amendment adds an additional requirement to table the notification by the Minister to the ARC of Commonwealth policies in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days as well as to include such notifications in the Annual Report.

While it is important for Government actions to be accountable, the amendment puts in place a more onerous administrative requirement on the Australian Research Council than that which was stipulated in the Bill agreed to by the House. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 8

This amendment provides for a designated representative of `research students' to be included as a member of the Board of the ARC.

The amendment as phrased would create an unworkable situation as it does not clearly identify a process for selecting such a person or office holder. Further, the Bill contains no definition of `research student' and no indication of how a
person capable of representing `research students' should be identified. Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 9

This amendment places a qualification on the representative of research students which requires them to be either a current postgraduate student or have completed a postgraduate degree within the previous twelve months.

The amendment does not assist the Parliament in identifying a representative of research students. In fact, it increases the pool of eligible applicants to approximately 170,000 people. As the amendment provides no other criteria for identification, the resulting legislation would be unworkable. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 10

This amendment would require the Minister to table details of research proposals that were either approved or not approved for funding, where the Minister's decision was not in accord with the ARC's recommendation. These details include a statement of reasons as well as a list of those people or organisations who provided advice to the Minister.

While it is the function of the ARC to provide recommendations concerning the funding of research projects, it is ultimately the decision of the Minister as to what should or should not be funded. The current practice of allocating funds for research does not require the ARC to provide any input into these decisions, whereas the Bill before the House requires that only grants which have been assessed by the ARC are eligible to be approved for funding.

While the Minister is able to act solely on the advice of the ARC, the Minister may, if he or she so chooses, seek further advice from other parties, such as the relevant Department of State.

There may also be instances where the advice from the ARC changes following an initial approval not to fund—for example, grants which has been recommended for funding following a successful appeal. There is a danger that the reasons for approval in these circumstances may lead to unfair criticism of the recipients of the grant or challenge the public confidence of the ARC's grants process.

Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

Senate Amendment Number 11

This amendment requires that particulars of the `funding rules' and variations of such rules that have been approved by the Minister be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days as well as included in the annual report for the ARC.

This amendment is unnecessary as the `funding rules' referred to in the legislation will set out the eligibility criteria, assessment process and accountability requirements for funding under ARC research programmes. For example, the current ARC funding guidelines (which will become the ARC funding rules under the transitional provisions of the Australian Research Council (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2000) are published
on the internet. Because the information contained in these rules is intended for publication and wide availability and dissemination throughout the research sector, the rules are likely to be in the public domain well before the statutory tabling date.

While recognising the importance of Ministerial accountability, the requirement to both table the funding rules as well as include it in the Annual Report constitutes an onerous administrative requirement on the ARC on documents which would already be publicly available. Accordingly, the House of Representatives does not accept this amendment.

On the motion of Dr Kemp, the reasons were adopted.