Environment Magazine

Open Letter from Members of the Australian Research Council College of Experts

Posted on the 25 January 2022 by Bradshaw @conservbytes

People outside Australia might not have heard about the (unfortunately, not unprecedented) intervention of the acting Minister for Education and Youth to deny funding to six Australian Research Council (ARC: Australia’s main scientific funding body) Discovery Grants that had been assessed and recommended for funding by the College of Experts. As an acting College of Expert member, I joined a long list of my fellow members in protest of this political interference, with whom I co-wrote/co-signed this letter published last week (the ARC Laureate fellows wrote an analogous open letter a few weeks before). I have copied the letter here for your viewing displeasure.

Open Letter from Members of the Australian Research Council College of Experts

(letter originally posted here)

19 January 2022

To: The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Acting Minister for Education and Youth
[email protected]

CC: Professor Sue Thomas
CEO, Australian Research Council
[email protected]

As members of the Australian Research Council‘s (ARC) College of Experts, we write to express our concern over the Acting Minister for Education and Youth’s decision in late 2021 to reject six Discovery Project grants that were recommended for funding by the ARC.

As explained on its website, the ARC engages a College of Experts to play an essential role in identifying research excellence, in order to support the advancement of knowledge and contribute to national innovation. Its members are experts of international standing drawn from the Australian research community: from higher education, industry, and public sector research organisations. Many College of Experts members have extensive industry and community experience in addition to their specialist research expertise.

The quality of grant proposals submitted to the ARC is extremely high. The ARC runs a rigorous, multi-stage selection process. Each grant eventually recommended to the Minister for funding is first assessed by multiple international experts and multiple College members, and then individually discussed and voted on by College members at the Selection Advisory Committee panel meetings. The 19% of submitted proposals recommended for 2022 were therefore considered to be of the highest calibre measured against international standards for research across disciplines. Each was recommended on the strength not only of quality, innovation and feasibility, but also the wider benefit and value of the proposed research.

The Ministerial decision to override the ARC’s recommendations for funding undermines this process. The Minister’s stated reasons for rejecting the grants relate to their value for money and their benefit to Australia, but both criteria are explicitly addressed in all Discovery Project proposals and considered in detail by the expert assessors. Such interventions compromise the integrity of the research funding system, weaken public trust in the ARC, and threaten to damage Australia’s international reputation. At least two members of the College have already resigned in protest, and the incident has already attracted international concern (as reported in The Financial Review, 10 January 2022).

In Australia, the use of Ministerial discretion to reject the ARC’s recommendations is becoming commonplace. Ministerial discretion had been exercised in this way only once prior to 2018, but eleven grants were rejected by the relevant Minister in that year, and now six more in 2021.

We urge that the government adopt standards in line with the Haldane Principle, which holds that, while governments need to establish funding guidelines, decisions on individual research proposals are best made through independent peer review, and government ministers should not decide which individual projects should be funded. In the absence of such commitments in Australia, we cannot safeguard the independence and legitimacy of the Australian Research Council’s decisions.

We ask that this and future Australian Governments:

  1. legislate amendments to the Australian Research Council Act 2001 that will ensure the independence of the ARC and prevent political interference in research grants; and
  2. maintain the rigour and integrity of the ARC’s grant assessment process by (i) ending the Minister’s use of the National Interest Test to make unilateral decisions on individual projects outside of the peer review process, and; (ii) continuing to require senior research expertise of all members admitted to the ARC College of Experts.

We would welcome an opportunity for members of the College of Experts to meet with the Minister.

Yours sincerely,

Prof Derek Abbott, U Adelaide (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Mibel Aguilar, Monash U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Peter Anderson SFHEA, MAIATSIS QUT (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Vicky M Avery, Griffith U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Larissa Behrendt, UTS (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Gabrielle Belz, UQ (College of Experts 2020–2022)

A/Prof. Susan Bengtson Nash, Griffith U (College of Experts 2017–2021)

Prof Eva Bezak, U South Australia (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Peng Bi, U Adelaide (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Katherine Biber, UTS (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Jennifer Biddle, UNSW (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Britta Bienen, UWA (College of Experts 2021–23)

Prof Christine Bigby, La Trobe U (College of Experts 2019–2022)

Prof Stephen Billett, Griffith U, (College of Experts 2021–23)

Prof Katherine Bode, ANU (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Gawaian Bodkin–Andrews, WSU (College of Experts 2021)

Prof Nanthi Bolan, UWA (College of Experts 2018–2022)

Prof John L Bowman, Monash U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Corey Bradshaw, Flinders U (College of Experts 2019–2023)

Prof Michael Breadmore, UTAS (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Alex Broom, USYD (College of Experts 2021–23)

Prof Katherine Buchanan (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Jean Burgess FAHA FQA, QUT (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof David Cahill, Deakin U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Fabrizio Carmignani, Griffith U, (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Chris Chantler, UoM (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Phoebe Chen, LTU (College of Experts 2020–2022)

A/Prof Nicholas Chileshe, UniSA (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof David Coutts, Macquarie U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Monica Cuskelly, UTAS (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Greig de Zubicaray, QUT (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Joanne Devlin, UoM (College of Experts 2020–2023)

Dr Michael Donovan, MQ (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Yihong Du FAA, UNE (College of Experts 2014–2017; 2020–2022)

Prof David Edwards, UWA (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Murray Elder, UTS (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Mark A Elgar, UoM (College of Experts 2013–2016; 2021–2023)

Prof Abigail Elizur, USC (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Anthony Elliott (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Diana Fisher, UQ (College of Experts 2019–2021)

A/Prof Michael-Shawn Fletcher, University of Melbourne (College of Experts 2019-2021)

Prof Marcus Foth FACS MACM Dist, QUT (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Andrew Francis, WSU (College of Experts 2018–2021)

Prof Ashley Franks, LTU (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Gary Froyland, UNSW (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Lan Fu, ANU (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Heloise Gibb, LTU (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Bronwyn Gillanders, U Adelaide (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Michael Gillings Macquarie U (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Kliti Grice, Curtin U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof John Grundy, Monash U (College of Experts 2015–17; 2019–21)

Prof Rosanne Guijt, Deakin University (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Alex Hamilton, UNSW (College of Experts 2009–2011, 2020–2022)

Prof Suzanne Hand, UNSW (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Xiaojing Hao, UNSW (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Robert Harvey, USC (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Victoria Haskins FAHA, U Newcastle (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Anna Giacomini, U Newcastle (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Jizheng He, UM (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof David Hume FRSE, FMedSci, UQ (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Baohua Jia, SUT (College of Experts 2020–2022)

A/Prof Yijiao Jiang, MQ (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Katherine Johnson, UoM (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Anna Johnston, UQ (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Isabel Karpin UTS (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Julia Kindt FAHA, USYD (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Peter Kingshott, SUT (College of Experts (2019–2021)

Prof Rebecca Lester, Deakin U (College of Experts 2022–2022)

Prof Roger Lewis, UOW (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Qin Li, Griffith U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Yun Liu, ANU (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Diane McDougald, UTS (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Professor Lisa McManus PhD, FCMA, FCPA, FIML, QUT (College of Experts 2020–2023)

Prof Megh Mallavarapu (College Experts 2019–2021)

Professor Jason Monty U Melbourne (College of experts 2021–2023)

Prof Luke Morgan FAHA, Monash U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Dietmar Müller FAA, USYD (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Samuel Muller FASA, Macquarie U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Julian Murphet FAHA, U Adelaide (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Amanda Nettelbeck FAHA FASSA, U Adelaide/ACU (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Elizabeth New, USYD (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Mike Nicholls, Flinders U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

A/Prof Meredith O’Keeffe, Monash U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Andrew O’Neil, Griffith U (College of Experts, 2020–2022)

Prof Michael Ostwald, UNSW (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Elena Ostrovskaya, ANU (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Anna Paradowska, USYD (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Katya Pas, Monash U (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Alice Pébay, UM (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Elena Pereloma, UOW (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Janni Petersen, Flinders U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Ingrid Piller FAHA, Macquarie U (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Emeritus Prof Philip Pollett, UQ (College of Experts 2013–2015, 2019–2021)

Prof Steven Prawer, UM (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Andry Rakotonirainy, QUT (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Kim Rasmussen, USYD (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Colin Raston AO FAA, Flinders U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Dr Margaret Raven, UNSW (College of Experts 2018–2021)

Prof Gerry Redmond, Flinders U (College of Experts 2019–2022)

Prof Sharyn Roach Anleu FASSA, Flinders U (College of Experts 2013–2015, 2019–2021)

Prof Kristian Ruming, Macquarie U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Lynette Russell AM FRHistS FASSA FAHA, Monash U (College of Experts 2018–2021)

Prof Sarah Russell, SUT (College of Experts, 2021–2023)

Prof Shazia Sadiq FTSE, UQ (College of Experts 2018–2021)

Prof Tapan Saha, UQ (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof John Scott, QUT (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Ashish Sharma, UNSW (College of Experts 2013–2016/2019–2021)

Prof Aidan Sims, UOW (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Tim Smith, USC (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Estelle Sontag, U Newcastle (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Sarah Spencer, RMIT University (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Margaret Sunde, USYD (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Willy Susilo, UOW (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Wanning Sun FAHA, UTS (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Emeritus Prof John Sutton, Macquarie U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Natalie Thamwattana FRSN, U Newcastle (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Hrvoje TkalÄ�ić, ANU (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Christina Twomey FAHA FASSA, Monash U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Denise Varney, UM (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Thom van Dooren, USYD (College of Experts 2021–2023)

A/Prof Ana Vila–Concejo, USYD (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Kim Vincs, SUT (College of Experts 2021–2022)

A/Prof Jana von Stein, ANU (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Guy Wallis, UQ (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Feng Wang, Swinburne U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Hongxia Wang, QUT (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Hua Wang, Victoria University (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Coral Warr, La Trobe U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Emeritus Prof Elizabeth Watkin, Curtin U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Kimberlee Weatherall, USYD (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Emeritus Prof John Whitelock, UNSW (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Mark Willcox, UNSW (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Andrea Witcomb, Deakin U (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Asmi Wood, ANU (College of Experts 2021–2023)

Prof Andrea Yool, U Adelaide (College of Experts 2020–2022)

Prof Xinghuo Yu, RMIT University (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Hong Zhang, Griffith U (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Chun–Xia Zhao, UQ (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Prof Yan Zhuge, UniSA (College of Experts 2019–2021)

Contacts

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