Labor has promised not to block any funding for research projects recommended to it by the Australian Research Council following backlash to several Coalition ministers vetoing funding fo humanities and arts projects they deem not in the national interest.
Speaking in Parliament during debate of a routine bill to provide funding to Australian Research Council (ARC), Labor MP Graham Perrett provided a “guarantee” the party will not intervene in recommended funding and will improve the announcement.
“If Labor wins the next election, we’re committed to approving grant applications that are recommended by a rigorous ARC review process. And they’ll be delivered on time on a pre-established date – not Christmas Eve, I can guarantee of that. It’ll be well in advance of the grants commencement. That’s the Labor guarantee,” Mr Perrett said.
The last round of the ARC Discovery program grants was announced on Christmas Eve last year following an unprecedented delay that had left thousands of applicants in doubt about which jobs they would return to.
The announcement also revealed acting education minister Stuart Robert has vetoed the funding for six humanities research projects that the ARC had recommended be funded after satisfying a rigorous and highly competitive assessment process.
The vetoes attracted widespread criticism and concern about a minister’s power to unilaterally reject projects they personally deem not in the “national interest”.
As the criticism grew shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek reportedly committed to not personally block any recommended projects and Labor Senator Kim Carr proposed making any minister that does have to explain their decision in Parliament.
But the Opposition stopped short of committing to legislating to remove the ministerial power.
On Thursday Labor again criticised the latest delays and vetoes as an attempt to politicise research, but multiple MPS also promised the party would not repeat it if it formed government.
“A federal Labor government if elected will be guided by rigorous Australian Research Council peer review process in approving applications,” Victorian Labor MP Peter Khalil told the House.
“Because we support academic freedom and believe that Australia should be a world leader in research.”
Independent MP Zali Steggall also criticised the interventions and said she would support requiring ministers to explain any funding interventions.
“We need more accountability to be built into this process,” Ms Steggall said.
“If the minister chooses to reject a grant, he or she should table a statement of reasons setting out clear rationale for such a move. Because the funds we are allocating are public funds, and they should be allocated with transparency and in accordance with the process that has been approved.”
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