Pass the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill, says STA

Wednesday, 24 January, 2024

Pass the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill, says STA

Representatives of Australia’s science and technology sectors have urged federal parliament to pass the Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill 2023 — and to make a handful of small but significant amendments to strengthen the legislation.

Announced by Minister for Education Jason Clare in November last year, the bill seeks to implement the recommendations of the 2023 ARC Review by Professor Margaret Sheil AO, Professor Susan Dodds and President Professor Mark Hutchinson, chiefly by abolishing the ministerial veto on Australian Research Council (ARC) grants in order to improve the governance and independent decision-making of the ARC. Instead of the minister, an independent ARC board will be responsible for the approval of grants within the National Competitive Grants Program — putting these decisions at arm’s length from politics.

In its submission to the Senate Committee on Education and Employment reviewing the bill, industry body Science & Technology Australia (STA) asked the parliament to pass the bill with the inclusion of a key amendment to require the ARC to notify successful grant applicants within 21 days of approval by the new ARC board. As noted by outgoing STA CEO Misha Schubert, “Adding a requirement that successful grant applicants must be notified within 21 days of approval by the ARC board would give crucial certainty to both researchers and industry — and avoid being stuck in limbo amid lengthy delays, which has happened all too often in the past.”

Schubert added, “Careers and jobs can hinge on these decisions — and lengthy delays in the past have caused needless stress. Having swift confirmation on a grant decision either way is crucial to enable both researchers and industry to plan their future and get on with their lives.”

STA has also used its submission to call for the protection of a strong pipeline of Australian research breakthroughs, by amending the bill to legislate that a minimum 70% of National Competitive Grant Program funding be allocated to the Discovery Program. In addition, it has called for all members of the new ARC board — not just a majority — to have substantial experience in research or management of research, and urged that parliamentary oversight of the ARC scheme funding rules should not cause delays to opening grant schemes to applications.

“This is a golden opportunity to strengthen vital economy-boosting discovery research, ensure the ARC board is demographically diverse and has deep research expertise, and boost certainty for Australia’s research workforce,” Schubert said.

“The modest improvements we’ve proposed would be a win for everyone — the ARC, the research community, Australian industry and the nation. They can make a good bill a great bill.”

Image credit: Le Moal

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