Ending political interference in the Australian Research Council

The Albanese Government today introduced legislation to improve the governance and independent decision-making of the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill 2023 (the Bill) implements recommendations of the ARC Review, which was led by Professor Margaret Sheil AO, Professor Susan Dodds and Professor Mark Hutchinson.

The Review made ten recommendations and in August, the Labor Government agreed, or agreed in-principle, to all of them.

The Bill implements six of the 10 recommendations. the remaining four recommendations do not require legislation.

The Bill establishes an independent ARC Board that, instead of the Minister, will be responsible for the approval of grants within the National Competitive Grants Program.

The Minister will be responsible for approving the funding guidelines, which will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

This means any future Minister who tries to politicise the ARC will be subject to the scrutiny of the Parliament.

The Minister will retain the power to approve nationally significant investments. This includes projects which can drive research, infrastructure, training and collaboration.

The Minister will also have the power to direct the Board not to approve a grant, or to terminate funding to research grants, based on national security concerns and will be required to notify Parliament of these decisions.

The Bill can be viewed on the Parliament of Australia website. The Government’s response to the Review can be found here.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Education Jason Clare:

“Over the last decade, the ARC has been bedevilled by political interference and Ministerial delays.

“That has made it harder for universities to recruit and retain staff, and it has damaged our international reputation.

“That’s not good for our universities. It’s not good for businesses either who work with our universities. 

“I promised to end the days of Ministers using the ARC as a political plaything.

“This legislation will ensure the ARC is set up to meet current and future needs and maintain the trust and confidence of the research sector.”