Joint Submission to the Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill 2023 inquiry

This submission reflects the view of Australia’s Learned Academies – the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

Our organisations represent and support excellence in their respective fields and bring together the nation’s leading thinkers to provide impartial, evidence-based advice on important issues facing society. We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into provisions of the Australian Research Council Amendment (Review Response) Bill 2023 (the Bill).

Overview The Learned Academies endorse the proposed amendments in the Bill, which address six of the recommendations made in Trusting Australia’s Ability: Review of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Act 2001 (the Review).

We specifically welcome provisions that will:

  • Provide for an ARC Board and establish the role of the Board in appointing the Chief Executive Officer and the College of Experts, and for approvals of grants under the National Competitive Grant Program (NCGP).
  • Remove the capacity of the Minister to intervene in grants recommended for funding, except on national security grounds, including a requirement not to give the Board direction about particular funding approvals.
  • Require transparency around Ministerial intervention by providing a written statement to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and tabling a statement in Parliament.
  • Establish revised Objects to the Act that will provide greater clarity as to the purpose of ARC, including its key role in supporting fundamental research.
  • Provide for the ARC to evaluate the excellence, quality and impact of research in Australian universities. These changes are consistent with our submissions to the Review consultation and will set a strong foundation for the ARC to better support Australia’s world-class research effort.

This submission makes four recommendations to further strengthen the Bill.

Recommendation 1: Clarify the structure, purpose and function of the Ministerappointed ARC Advisory Committee if it remains in the legislation.

Recommendation 2: Clarify criteria for considering major research programs as “designated research programs”.

Recommendation 3: Clarify the definition of “international relations” and how it is different to “national security” and “defence”.

Recommendation 4: Increase funding allocation to the ARC, commensurate with the expanded scope and responsibilities and ensure the grant budget is protected.