The Morrison government has been accused of using the Christmas blanket to politicize research funding, after a federal minister vetoed grants for six recommended projects.
Proposed research into climate activism and China was among the projects recommended through Australian Research Council processes, but blocked by Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert.
Robert argued that the projects he rejected “do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money or contribute to the national interest” – but the decision, announced on Christmas Eve, drew criticism from leading figures education and the federal opposition.
Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said in a liberal democracy it was “totally inappropriate for grants to be cut by politicians unless the rules on grants were broken “.
Victorian Labor Senator Kim Carr said the government was using Christmas Eve to “sweep under the rug” its “further politicization of the CRA and research” in Australia.
Carr, former Minister of Research under the Rudd and Gillard governments, tweeted: “Their McCarthyism is subverting the research recommended by the CRA.
The winning discovery projects for next year were finally revealed on Friday, with a report on the CRA website saying it had received 3,096 funding requests as of 2022.
The report indicates that 587 of these projects have been approved for funding, for a total of $ 259 million over five years.
“Of the unsuccessful applications in 2022, 51 were found not to meet the eligibility criteria and six were recommended but not funded by the minister,” the report said.
A spokesperson for Robert said the minister approved “98.98%” of the 593 discovery projects recommended by the CRA, but did not agree to the following six:
Playing conditions: how the climate shaped Elizabethan theater
National forgetfulness and local remembrance: the politics of remembrance in modern China
Stories of China under Xi Jinping: Popular Tales
Finding friendship in ancient English literature
Cultural production of religion by science fiction and fantasy novels
New possibilities: student climate action and democratic renewal
Robert’s spokesperson said the minister “believes that rejected people do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money or contribute to the national interest.”
“After going through a peer review process, it is clear to the minister that the application of the national interest test does not work in all cases,” the spokesperson said.
“This test should ensure that taxpayer-funded Australian government research funding is directed to areas of national importance and provides public value. This is why in his waiting letter the Minister asked the CRA to strengthen the test.
In a press release, ARC Executive Director Professor Sue Thomas welcomed Robert’s approval of funding for 587 new projects.
“This investment will expand the knowledge base and research capacity in Australia, as well as economic, business, environmental, social and / or cultural benefits for Australia,” said Thomas.
Successful projects included those investigating why efforts to include gender in Australian sport have yet to lead to gender parity in leadership roles; how to advance economic opportunities for indigenous communities in northern Australia; and better planning of the future capacity of public health programs.
Several projects related to China have received funding, including a student “How the legal ideology of the Xi Jinping era guides policy and decision-making in China.”
Another successful project will investigate how the international expansion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is shaped by cultural factors alongside economic and political diplomacy. The cleantech transition in China and Australia will also be studied.
Opposition education critic Tanya Plibersek wrote to the Auditor General earlier this week asking why it has taken the government so long to announce next year’s funding recipients.
In Monday’s letter, Plibersek said the “unacceptable” delays were causing uncertainty for thousands of Australian researchers “who are unsure whether they will have jobs next year or whether their projects will get funding.”