Australian Greens Senators' Dissenting Report

The Australian Greens reject the report of the Committee. We recommend that the Government and Labor listen to the needs and demands of the Australian research community, universities, peak bodies, and many others and support this bill to remove the ministerial veto power from the Australian Research Council (ARC) grants approval process. It is disheartening to witness, particularly as a former academic, how politics has taken over an otherwise straightforward inquiry into the removal of this power.
The report findings are blatantly biased towards the view of a very small minority of submitters to the inquiry. Of the more than 80 submissions received by the committee, the overwhelming and clear majority, that is more than 85 per cent, are in support of removing the ministerial veto. The position of researchers, experts, academics, peak bodies and many universities is also clear from the evidence provided during the hearing held by the Committee, where the vast majority of witnesses argued for the removal of the ministerial veto.1
The process for adopting the report has been utterly flawed, undemocratic, a breach of due process, and completely lacking in transparency. During consideration of the draft committee report, no time was allowed for discussion of proposed Greens amendments to the report.
Government and Labor Senators have used their majority on the committee to ignore the overwhelming support for the bill through the inquiry process. Politics has trumped good policy-making with both the Government and Labor refusing to concede their political power to interfere and intervene in individual research grants, which have been recommended for funding after a rigorous peer review process. This is a shameless attempt to retain unnecessary political power over research funding despite enormous evidence provided by witnesses that the current ministerial veto power is not just bad practice, but that it also has terrible outcomes for Australian research and global reputation.
Repeated political interventions by ministers, based on nothing but whim and political ideology, have repeatedly sparked shock and outrage across the Australian research community, including from peak bodies, universities, associations, and individual researchers. Nearly all the representatives of these groups argued through the inquiry that the ministerial veto power should be removed.

Overwhelming support for the Bill to remove the ministerial veto

It is abundantly clear from the submissions received and the testimony heard by the Committee that the Australian research community, represented on the inquiry by various internationally renowned researchers and academics, universities, peak bodies, and other representative groups, are almost unanimous in their support for removing the ministerial veto power.
These include peak and representative bodies, such as Universities Australia, The Group of Eight, the Regional Universities Network, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Australian Mathematical Society, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellows, Australian Political Studies Association, Australian Association of University Professors, International Australian Studies Association, Australian Linguistic Society, the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia, the Association for Language Testing and Assessment of Australia and New Zealand, the Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association, the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities, Australian Academy of Humanities, Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists, Academics for Public Universities, Screen Studies Association of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Australian University Heads of English, and the Asian Australian Studies Research Network, among others.
Support for removing the ministerial veto also came from the majority of Australian university submissions, including the Australian National University, Western Sydney University, Monash University, Flinders University, the University of Tasmania, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.
Key concerns regarding the ministerial veto power raised by witnesses and through written submissions included the damaging impact on researchers (especially early career researchers) and research, academic freedom,2 the chilling impact on the research community leading to censorship,3 a disproportionate impact on First Nations researchers,4 lack of transparency,5 threat to the integrity of a rigorous peer review process,6 and Australia's international reputation.7 Many also highlighted that political interventions have targeted humanities and social sciences research.8
The importance of peer-review and research independence is internationally recognised. A common argument presented in the inquiry submissions and hearings was how the ministerial veto power is out of step with international best practice. For example, as stated in the Group of Eight submission:
There is significant concern in the sector regarding the perceived absence of international best practice for assessing research funding applications – or recognition of the important role that peer review plays in determining the quality of applications.9
Many witnesses also spoke of the Haldane Principle as an example of international best practice.10 Enshrined in British Government Policy since 1918, the Haldane Principle states that specific funding decisions surrounding research grants be made by autonomous research councils, independent of politicians.11 Since 1918 the Haldane Principle has been adopted into research policy in the United States and many countries across Europe.12
It became clear during the hearing that Australia's refusal to adopt research funding policy along the lines of the Haldane Principle is continuing to harm Australia’s international reputation as a research destination. Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian Schmidt, spoke to how the ministerial veto currently in place was ‘affecting [their] ability to attract talent to Australia’.13
Similarly, Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director of the Regional Universities Network warned that:
If the system is subject to interference or even the perception of interference, Australia's research reputation will suffer.14
The ministerial veto power also stands as a threat to academic freedom within Australia. Professor Aidan Sims, a former ARC College of Experts member who resigned in protest to the most recent ministerial vetoes, explained in their submission that:
The possibility of ministerial veto therefore tends to shut down lines of discourse and enquiry to an extent disproportionate to the actual use of veto powers.15
The power of the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (NHMRC Act) to provide the health minister discretionary powers remains a subject of debate, as the advice provided by the University of Tasmania and Western Sydney University call this power into question, yet the final report accepts contrary claims by the ARC and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
Some of the Greens' proposed changes to the draft report of the committee, adding references to the serious adverse impacts of the ministerial veto, have been included in the final report. However, amendments to change the findings of the committee or committee comments to align with the evidence presented were rejected. The Government and Labor have used their numbers on the committee to push through a final report that sidelines the evidence provided by a vast majority of stakeholders. Shamefully, the final report recommends the bill not pass.
The ministerial veto power contained in the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (ARC Act) is harming Australian researchers and Australian research. The Australian Greens urge the Government to listen to the research community and support the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018.


That the Senate passes the bill.
Recommendation 2
That the Australian Research Council (ARC) undergoes an independent review that considers how to improve ARC governance; how to engage better with the research community; how to deliver better outcomes for Australian researchers; and the boost to public funding required to ensure the ARC can fund all worthy projects; including research that advances knowledge and discovery, as determined via peer review; and other matters as appropriate.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi
Australian Greens Senator for New South Wales

  • 1
    Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022.
  • 2
    Monash University, Submission 57, p. 3.
  • 3
    See, for example, Dr Matthew Brown, Deputy Chief Executive, The Group of Eight, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 5; Mr Paul Harris, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 5; Professor Andrew Francis, Private capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 14.
  • 4
    Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association, Submission 72, [p. 8]. See also, Dr Sadie Heckenberg, Past President, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 62.
  • 5
    The Group of Eight, Submission 79, [pp. 1 and 3].
  • 6
    Universities Australia, Submission 34, pp. 2 and 4. See also, Professor James McCluskey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Melbourne, Proof Committee Hansard, pp. 25–26.
  • 7
    The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2.
  • 8
    Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 2].
  • 9
    The Group of Eight, Submission 79, p. 2.
  • 10
    See, for example, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Submission 20, [p. 3], Australian Academy of the Humanities, Submission 36, p. 1; The University of Sydney, Submission 53, [p. 1].
  • 11
    Professor Andrew Francis, Submission 9, p. 3.
  • 12
    See, for example, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Cluster at Western Sydney University, Submission 28, [p. 2]; Australian National University (ANU), Submission 59, p. 6.
  • 13
    Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 24.
  • 14
    Mr Alec Webb, Executive Director, Regional Universities Network, Proof Committee Hansard, 9 March 2022, p. 3.
  • 15
    Professor Aidan Sims, Submission 8, [p. 3].

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