Australian Research Council Amendment Bill passes into law

Tuesday, 02 April, 2024

Australian Research Council Amendment Bill passes into law

Minister for Education Jason Clare has announced the passage of the Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill 2023 into law, effectively ending the days of ministers using the Australian Research Council (ARC) as a political plaything.

The ARC is the primary funding source for non-medical research in Australia. The Bill delivers on recommendations from the independent ARC Review led by Professor Margaret Sheil, Professor Susan Dodds and Professor Mark Hutchinson — including the abolition of the ministerial veto on ARC grants.

The legislation paves the way to establish an independent ARC board that, instead of the Minister of Education, will be responsible for the approval of research grants within the National Competitive Grants Program. The board will also be responsible for appointing the CEO and members to the ARC’s trusted College of Experts.

The Minister will be responsible for approving the funding guidelines, but these will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Minister will also retain the power to approve nationally significant investments, including projects which can drive research, infrastructure, training and collaboration.

The Minister will have the power to direct the board not to approve a grant, or to terminate funding to research grants, based on national security concerns. They will be required to notify Parliament of these decisions.

The President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, said that limiting the use of the ministerial veto is a significant reform, supported by Australia’s scientists, which will ensure that properly assessed, high-quality research proposals proceed without an ideologically imposed filter.

“When the integrity of Australia’s research system is compromised by perceived or actual political interference, there are real costs for the research sector and the nation,” Jagadish said. “It erodes trust and damages researchers’ relationships with industry, the Australian community and international partners.

“Establishing a board as the ARC’s accountable authority will strengthen and modernise the organisation’s governance. The Academy is of the view that appointees to this board must have extensive experience in the science and research system.”

The passage allows for reforms recommended to the government by the ARC Review to come into operation on 1 July. Jagadish said the Academy looks forward to working with the ARC and the broader science community on this journey to reform and modernise this part of the science system.

Science & Technology Australia (STA) has also welcomed the passage of the Bill, saying the establishment of the independent board powerfully depoliticises research funding and delivers stronger transparency and accountability in decision-making. These changes should ensure confidence in the process, strengthen certainty for Australia’s researchers, and put the experts in charge of making decisions on complex research and its long-term impact.

“Discovery research is crucial to Australia’s future through its economy-boosting knowledge creation, and these reforms strengthen our ability to support our researchers and their research,” said STA President Professor Sharath Sriram.

“Australia’s ability to create future products, services and the jobs of tomorrow … hinges on a strong pipeline of discovery research and support for the people who enable this.”

STA also welcomes the legislation’s stipulations to ensure demographic diversity and deep expertise across the appointed board. They must include people with deep expertise or experience in research and research management, as well as an Indigenous person and representation for persons across regional, rural and remote Australia.

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