STEVE CHASE: Education Minister Dan Tehan has announced an interest test for the grant application process, will ensure that taxpayers can have confidence in how their money is spent. His call for full transparency comes after his predecessor blocked funding for 11 projects already approved by the independent research council. Kim Carr is the Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and he joins us now. Senator Carr thanks for coming on.


CHASE: What are your thoughts on this?

CARR: I think the minister’s making this up as he goes along. There are already in place under the current application processes, questions about the impact of the research – the social and economic impact. There is a requirement already in place. The minister’s proposals are highly subjective and deeply personal. They do not protect the Australian research system from politically motivated interventions and do not protect Australia’s international reputation from misguided, ignorant appeals to cretinism, which is what we have seen from this government and what we saw previously from Minister Nelson, when he did exactly the same thing.

CHASE: A lot of things come across my desk as a journalist, and a lot of the things that are inquired into by academics – not all, but a lot – are pretty fanciful. So what is wrong with applying a national interest test. Granted, you mentioned that there are already some …

CARR: … It’s already there.

CHASE: National interest is a bit different from what you described.

CARR: I’m saying that the minister hasn’t defined it any differently from what’s already there. He’s talked about the impact of any particular study. What we know is that these grants are subject to acute competition, and the problem – particularly in the humanities – is that the application success rate has declined in some areas from 30 per cent when the Government came to office to 11 per cent. So these grants are highly competitive, the very best in class and are subject to intense scrutiny within the research community under peer review.

CHASE: that’s peer review, but we’re talking about a minister doing a review on behalf of taxpayers …

CARR: I was a minister too, and what I said was that if I was to knock back a grant I would have to publicly declare it and explain why. This Government has knocked back grants to world-renowned scholars, world-renowned experts, whose work has been subject to review by their peers, and as a consequence, for instance, a study in the effect of the closure the General Motors plant at Elizabeth were rejected, a study into the effect of climate change on sport and consequences for great sporting facilities like the MCG were rejected. These are proposals that the Government likes to ridicule. They like to humiliate or seek to humiliate the researchers – even misquoting the titles, let alone the subject matter. And seek to appear to the most base motives in this process.

CHASE: Senator can I put it to you that I take on board what you’re saying. These applications for taxpayers’ money may very well pass peer review. But a taxpayers’ review is a very different kettle of fish.

CARR: We never see this argument in regard to maths, science and engineering, do we? But we see it in regard to climate change, we see it in the arts, we see it in literature.

CHASE: A lot of these things, you would agree, have been studied to death. We already know what the outcomes are.

CARR: If that was the case, they wouldn’t have passed muster.

CHASE: But have passed muster and I suppose the minister is saying that he wants a different type of muster.

CARR: He’s saying that he is an expert over and above anybody else. Now I’m saying that when you look at the detail of the grants that are rejected, if he thinks that they’re not up to scratch he should explain why. That’s the point. That’s why I’ve suggested the reintroduction of a protocol requiring the minister to justify his action. Not just something done in secret. Not just a little box on the form that he can say to the researchers: “By the way, we’ve said ‘no’ to you”, but to explain to the public why these grants are not satisfactory.

CHASE: Very quickly Senator,  we are just running out of time.  What are you going to do about it? Are you going to move in the Senate to tighten this up?

CARR: If a Labor government is elected, we will reimpose the protocol so that ministers have to explain themselves – to justify their actions. These are internationally renowned scholars, widely published in other fields, undertaking cutting-edge research. If their programs are not going to be accepted by the Government, they’re entitled to an explanation, rather than appeals to base political motives, which is what we are seeing at the moment.

CHASE: Senator Carr, thanks for giving us the Labor Party view.

CARR: Thank you. 



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