Minister rejects six peer-reviewed ARC research grants on ‘national interest’ grounds

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The acting education minister has vetoed six humanities research grants which had been recommended by the independent Australian Research Council for funding. The veto was revealed on Christmas eve in what was the longest delay to an announcement of grant recipients in 30 years.

Of the six grants rejected by acting Education minister Stuart Robert, all were in humanities, two were focused on China and two more on climate.

Despite being recommended by the independent body through a peer review process, they were rejected by the minister on grounds of not demonstrating “value for money” and not contributing to the “national interest”.

Parts of the research community have reacted angrily to the veto, which comes a year after similar delays and rejections based on national security fears. Labor Senator Kim Carr accused the government of “McCarthyism”.

Stuart Robert
Stuart Robert intervenes in research council process

The Australian Research Council (ARC) on Friday announced the Coalition government’s approval of $258.6 million for 587 new research projects the agency had recommended for funding through the ARC Discovery Projects scheme over the next five years.

The announcement did not include the six projects which had been recommended for funding in the scheme by the ARC but rejected by Mr Robert, who took over acting responsibility for the Education portfolio this month.

A spokesperson for Mr Robert confirmed he had rejected six recommended projects because they “do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money nor contribute to the national interest”.

“After going through a peer review process, it is clear to the minister the application of the National Interest Test is not working in every case,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“This test should ensure taxpayer-funded Australian Government research funding is directed to areas of national importance and delivers public value.”

The six projects rejected were:

  • Playing Conditions: How Climate Shaped the Elizabethan Theatre
  • National Forgetting and Local Remembering: Memory Politics in Modern China
  • China stories under Xi Jinping: popular narratives
  • Finding friendship in early English literature
  • Cultural Production of Religion by Science Fiction and Fantasy novels
  • New Possibilities: Student Climate Action and Democratic Renewal

The ARC had earlier recommended 593 projects to the minister but needed his approval to make the announcement and administer funding for projects, now set to start within weeks.

The announcement, made on Christmas eve, was the latest in 30 years for the Discovery program, drawing sharp criticism from universities, research groups and grant experts.

Opposition education minister Tanya Plibersek has asked the Audit Office to investigate the delay she said represents “appalling” treatment of researchers.

In response to the news six projects had been vetoed, Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt tweeted a message “to all politicians” on Friday

“In a liberal democracy, you make the grant rules, the independent research agency uses peer review to determine funding. It is completely inappropriate for grants to be removed by politicians, unless the grant rules were not followed,” Professor Schmidt tweeted.

Labor Senator Kim Carr, who has warned of the politicisation of the ARC after increasing scrutiny of applicants’ foreign interference risks caused delays last year, said the latest vetos amounted to “McCarthyism”

“On Christmas Eve the gov is once again trying to sweep under the carpet it’s further politicisation of the ARC and research in Australian. Their McCarthyism subverts research which was recommended by the ARC,” he tweeted Friday.

Mr Carr also noted the latest round showed international collaboration with China is down overall in the Discovery program.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

  1. Steve 2 years ago

    Stuart Robert is a complete idiot who has managed to fail up in his career. However, he’s right to veto these ridiculous grants that push leftwing politics.

    “New Possibilities: Student Climate Action and Democratic Renewal”. Targeting children for political gain. What a disgrace.

  2. Pat 2 years ago

    If these projects are representative of what is given to the Minister I cannot understand why there are not many more rejected!
    On the face of it they are nonsense.
    If the applicants and their sponsors are keen to pursue them then let them do so at their expense rather than living off taxpayers.

  3. Those whose projects were rejected should taker heart, the minister had proved himself on several occasions to be a complete idiot. Obviously, the rejected projects had merit beyond the scope of his tiny brain..

  4. steven prawer 2 years ago

    I would encourage the applicants whose grants were rejected to post their summaries and national interest statement so that we can all see what the minister considers to be ‘not in the national interest’. To give this greater weight, perhaps also post the assessors reports. Then perhaps the debate can be better informed.

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