Speech: Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2019
I rise to speak on the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2019. This bill merely indexes the Australian Research Council's funding to keep pace with inflation. That's not good enough; frankly, it's pathetic. We need to make sure that our best minds are given the resources that they need to help us face the twin crises of the climate emergency and rising inequality. At the last election, the Greens' fully costed education and research package would have delivered a $2.5 billion boost to the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the cooperative research centres over the next decade. That is exactly the kind of funding we need to move into the future and tackle the climate emergency.
Instead of following our lead in funding and the research to build a more equal and just society, the government has, time and again, disrespected researchers and cut research funding. Take, for example, the $130 million per year that has been cut from research block grants since MYEFO in 2018, or the $6.7 million cut to Australian Research Council funding, or indeed the $6.7 million taken from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. And that's not to mention the freeze on Commonwealth student places, and stagnant funding for undergraduates that is blocking the pipeline for future researchers.
This government's disrespect for research goes well beyond their funding cuts. We've seen it in former Minister Birmingham's veto of 11 Australian Research Council grants in humanities, which typified the Liberals' willingness to violate academic independence to please their conservative mates. When I joined the Senate, the first bill I introduced in here was to remove the education minister's power of veto over research grants. I remain absolutely committed to the work of our academics and researchers—work that is free from any government interference.
We saw this government's disrespect for research just last year, when Minister Tehan left researchers in painful limbo by deciding on their grant applications but refusing to announce the decision because he wanted to squeeze the announcement for political juice. He made a mockery of the Australian Research Council's independence and disrupted the lives and work of researchers by announcing grants for early career researchers in a piecemeal way in coordinated media opportunities with MPs in press releases, instead of the usual practice of announcing them all at once so that researchers can get on and do their work. This prevented researchers finalising funding deals or seeking feedback and moving on to other research if their applications were unsuccessful. Even more shamelessly, the education minister shut some local opposition and crossbench MPs out of announcements in their electorates and allowed government MPs from nearby electorates to do this.
This government is not satisfied just with rorting the sports grants program. It is not satisfied with splashing $100 million of cash in marginal coalition electorates through its sports infrastructure fund. This government is not satisfied by funnelling $150 million into swimming pools also in marginal coalition electorates. On top of this sports rort, you went ahead with a research rort as well. In the light of this ridiculous politicisation of vital research processes, I foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment to protect researchers and to protect the independence of the Australian Research Council by requiring that the minister publish decisions approving research expenditure within 21 days of the decision being made and stipulating that the minister must not make an announcement on recent expenditure with any other member of parliament. I do urge the opposition and the crossbench to support this amendment, which is a step towards the independence of the ARC and their research grants.
The Greens are proud to support Australian researchers. This amendment will give certainty to researchers and prevent the government playing public relations games with their future and with our future. I do urge the Senate to support it.
I move the Greens amendment on sheet 8831:
(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 11), at the end of the Schedule, add:
4 After section 51
51A Announcements about approval of expenditure on research programs
(1) The Minister must, within 21 days after making a determination under paragraph 51(2) (b):
(a) make a public announcement of the determination; and
(b) cause a copy of the announcement to be published on the internet.
(2) The Minister must not make an announcement under subsection (1) together with any of the following:
(a) another member of parliament;
(b) a candidate in an election for the Senate or the House of Representatives.
(3) An announcement made under subsection (1) is not a legislative instrument .
(4) To avoid doubt, subsection (1) applies in addition to subsection 51(3).
(5) In this section, member of parliament means:
(a) a senator; or
(b) a member of the House of Representatives; or
(c) a Minister of State who is not a senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(d) a person who is taken to be the President of the Senate under the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Act 1965 and who is not a senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(e) a person who is taken to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives under the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Act 1965 and who is not a senator or member of the House of Representatives.
In moving the amendment I would just like to say that this is a pretty straightforward amendment. It will give certainty to researchers and it will prevent what we have seen happen recently. It will prevent the government from playing a public relations and political game with the process and also with our future. We already know from the history of this government, from sustained funding cuts to Minister Birmingham's veto of liberal arts research and Minister Tehan's politicisation of the grants announcements, that the government has time and again disrespected researchers and, frankly, made a mockery of the ARC's independence. It was quite interesting to hear Senator Van in his speech on the bill talk about bipartisanship, when we know that is the exact opposite of what the government did recently when it completely politicised the announcements for ARC grants by locking out crossbench MPs, as well as opposition MPs, from taking any part in making announcements. We do need to make sure that our best minds are given the resources and the independence that they need to do their work and to help address some of the crucial problems that we face, problems such as the climate crisis and problems such as rising inequality. I commend the amendment to the Senate.