Parliamentarians clash on funding discretion and whether it should continue, but agree on need for ARC review
An Australian Senate committee has urged parliament not to remove the education minister’s discretion over research grants, even though scores of academics, scholarly societies and universities want ministerial “veto” powers constrained.
If you were told there is a modern country that permits politicians to override the scientific decisions made by peer review processes, perhaps you would think we were talking about a tinpot dictatorship or a country overwhelmed by ideological extremism. In fact, you would be both wrong and correct, we are referring to Australia. It is disgusting that a politician can decide on the basis of whim or ideology to overturn the impartial scientific judgments of the peer review process.
A ministerial requirement to “rubber-stamp” grant recommendations would “essentially override the basic principle of responsible government”, the committee reports. Such a move would also prevent ministers from blocking funds for projects with “due diligence or national security concerns” unknown to the ARC.
The report says vetoes are relatively rare, with just 1 per cent of recently recommended projects failing to secure ministerial approval. “On balance…the act in its present form serves the national interest by ensuring the minister remains accountable for the appropriate expenditure of government funds,” it concludes.