Minister for Education, Dan Tehan MP’s announcement of a “National Interest Test for” Australian research grants is just an attempt to spin his government’s way out of trouble on its arbitrary decision-making regarding the awarding of research grants.
A national interest test already exists.
The very terms by which the Minister described his test this morning are already part of the application process, namely the impact of the research on the Australian nation.
The Minister’s proposals remain highly subjective and personal, and do not protect the research system from arbitrary politically motivated interventions.
The Minister still refuses to provide a public explanation as to why a grant would be rejected.
Like so much of this government’s approach it’s about spin not policy substance
Under Minister Tehan’s proposals world leading researchers seeking funding would never know the reasons why their proposals have been rejected. This will still leave our world class researchers exposed to capricious veto by Ministers who somehow think they know better – or who wish to pander to the extreme views in the community.
Competition for grants is very stiff. Success rates have fallen from 31 per cent to 14 per cent in some fields under this government.
The Australian Research Council (ARC) already has one of the most rigorous and comprehensive peer review process in the world when it comes to reviewing research grant applications.
The Minister is due to make decisions on up to $300 million of new grants within days. Will he resort to the subjective political interference favoured by Simon Birmingham, or will he listen to the views of all of Australia’s universities, the learned academies and civil society and respect the independence of the Australian Research Council?
Whatever happens, it is clear that only Labor will restore independence and integrity to the Australian Research Council and Australia’s research system.