Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill 2023 – Report from Federation Chamber

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (11:16): I thank members for their contributions to this debate. Those contributions are important because the Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill is an important bill. As a country, we do three per cent of global research—three per cent from a country that accounts for only 0.3 per cent of the world’s population. We punch well above our weight in research and innovation, and the Australian Research Council plays a critical role in that. The reforms in this bill will set up the ARC for the future. It will modernise its governance, something that hasn’t happened in over two decades since the ARC was created, and it will bolster its independence. It will get political interference out of grant funding decisions.

The bill implements the recommendations of the ARC review led by Professor Margaret Sheil AO. I want to again acknowledge and thank Professor Sheil, together with her fellow panellists, Professor Susan Dodds and Professor Mark Hutchinson, for their tireless efforts in delivering this review. Their terms of reference were broad and their consultation and engagement with the sector was even broader. I hope that they are gratified by the positive feedback that their review and this bill has received. Universities Australia said that the measures in the bill ‘put strong governance, peer review and genuine transparency back at the core of the ARC’ and that ‘these are game-changing steps to create a stronger, more stable environment for researchers to continue preparing Australia for the opportunities and challenges ahead.’ Science and Technology Australia described the review’s work as a ‘thoughtful blueprint for modernisation’ and said of the bill that ‘these changes will restore confidence in research funding, strengthen certainty for Australia’s outstanding researchers and prevent ministerial meddling in complex research funding decisions.’

I also welcome the report from the Senate inquiry into this bill, which recommended its passage and noted the strong broad sector support for its measures. There are some suggestions in that report which we will consider as the bill moves to the Senate.

I also thank the Members for Kooyong and Warringah for their contributions commending the government for introducing this bill. Their speeches underlined the importance of Australian research not only to them but to the communities they represent. I also want to thank the Member for Mackellar for her engagement on the bill, and I understand she will be moving an amendment concerning the appointment of the ARC Board. The government will not be in a position to support that amendment. The provisions concerning the ARC Board were drafted to reflect the recommendations of the independent ARC review.

I also note the contribution from the Member for Bradfield, in which he confirmed that the opposition will not support the bill. That is disappointing but not surprising. The Member for Bradfield derided the removal of what he described as the ‘capacity for ministerial intervention’ in relation to grant funding decisions. That is exactly what this bill is intended to do. It’s what the independent ARC review recommended—to end the days of political interference upending the independent peer review process and to stop the minister of the day from being free to spike research projects on a whim. But it is clear that the opposition still think that the ARC should be a political plaything for future liberal ministers.

Well, that ends with this bill. It is an important reform, and I am pleased that this government is delivering on it in a bill that will set up the ARC to spur innovation and catalyse productivity in the years ahead. Once again, I thank members for their contribution, and I commend the bill to the House.