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”.
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.
To all politicians. 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. https://t.co/pH9caiuiLh
— Brian P Schmidt (@cosmicpinot) December 24, 2021
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.
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