An end to research council being a political plaything

2 minute read

A new ARC board has been appointed to approve research grants, and it gets to make the decisions (mostly).

The Australian Research Council is getting a new, independent board, the federal government has announced.

“Over the last decade, the ARC has been bedevilled by political interference and ministerial delays,” said Minister for Education Jason Clare in announcing the changes.

“I promised to end the days of ministers using the ARC as a political plaything and today, with the appointment of the new independent board, that’s what we’re doing.”

This board, unlike its predecessor, will be responsible for approving most federal government-funded research grants in the National Competitive Grants Program, rather than the minister.

However, the minister will be responsible for approving funding guidelines under the scrutiny of federal parliament, and can still direct the board not to approve a grant, or terminate funding based on national security concerns, and will be required to notify Parliament of those decisions.

The change is a response to the recommendation from the inquiry into the Australian Research Council Act 2021 in April last year.

“The level of trust in the ARC by the responsible minister has varied over the past 20 years and has been dramatically eroded by ministerial interventions on a least five separate occasions over that period, most recently in 2021,” the report said.

“The negative consequences of the perception of arbitrary intervention have been significant both within Australia and with our international partners.

“Individual grants under the NCGP should not require approvals by the minister, but recommendations and approvals should be made by those best placed to judge the intrinsic merit of the proposals. There should be appropriate checks and balances and the minister should retain the means to intervene in the extraordinary circumstance of a potential threat to national security. Where the minister does exercise directions in relation to the NCGP, these would require transparency and Parliamentary oversight,” the report said.

The members of the new ARC Board include:

  • Professor Peter Shergold AC (Chair) – previously Chancellor of Western Sydney University, Secretary in the Australian Public Service for the Departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Education, Science and Training
  • Professor Susan Dodds FAHA (Deputy Chair) – previously Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President, Research & Industry Engagement at La Trobe University, panel member of the independent Review of the ARC and the outgoing ARC Advisory Committee
  • Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter
  • Professor Cindy Shannon AM
  • Professor Paul Wellings CBE
  • Emeritus Professor Margaret Harding
  • Mr Mark Stickells AM
  • Ms Sally-Ann Williams FTSE

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