The latest ever announcement of Australian Research Council funding has placed Australia’s innovation system “at risk”, according to the federal Opposition.
And industry lobby Science and Technology Australia says the delay in announcing funding for the 2019 research grants, is “grossly unfair” and “having significant negative effects on people’s lives”.
Funding for the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects and Discovery Early Career Awards is usually announced by the end of October, with projects to begin at the start of next year.
But there has still not been any announcement on the 2019 grants, much to the anger of the local research and innovation sectors.
Senator Carr has criticised Education Minister Dan Tehan for the delays, saying they are putting “jobs, livelihoods and Australia’s innovation system at risk”.
“Either this is a minister who does not know his job, or this is a minister contemplating further political interference and rejecting a number of grants,” Senator Carr said.
“Minister Tehan has been in a position to approve these grants for weeks now. Labor understands that the recommendations were sent to former Minister Birmingham in late August.”
“The jobs of many scientists and researchers in all disciplines are dependent on the announcement of these grant outcomes. The failure to announce these grants means that younger researchers and support staff on contracts do not know if they will have a job after Christmas.”
According to Science and Technology Australia, this is the latest that the grants have ever been announced, and it is having a real impact on the community.
“Not only will we begin to lose researchers to more secure job offers from overseas, but there will also be delays in project start dates,” Science and Technology Australia president Emma Johnston said.
“If we want to attract the best staff to keep Australian research ahead of the curve, we cannot treat them this way,” she said.
“We must act on this delay immediately. We need to reward researchers for their hard work and dedication. This delay is having significant negative effects on people’s lives, and it’s grossly unfair to string them along without a clear reason for doing so.”
Professor Johnston said the organisation believes the delays are due to Mr Tehan seeking to introduce a new “national interest” test for the grants.
“We feel it is unfair to retrospectively develop and implement such a test. Researchers have already described the benefits of their research and align their work with national priorities as part of their application, and this is considered as part of the peer-reviewed assessment process,” she said.
The delays come as much of the research sector is already frustrated by the government’s planned changes to the research and development tax incentive.
In its submission to the senate inquiry into the changes, Science and Technology Australia said that the $2.4 billion in savings from cuts to the RDTI should be redirected into a non-medical Research Translation Future Fund, but the government does not have any plans to do this.
“An ARC-linked translation fund would be a wise and meaningful way to reassign the $2 billion savings made from recent changes to the R&D tax incentive, and to encourage more businesses to invest in research,” Professor Johnston said.
“The government speaks very highly of the STEM sector and understands the value of research and its potential to change the world for the better – it’s vital that this is backed up with the public investment and policy levers necessary to make this a reality.”