A Call to Arms for Academic Freedom

Re: Greens push for an enquiry into political interference in ARC grant funding successful.

The academic community experienced a rare victory in parliament this past week. The Greens represented by Senator Dr. Mehreen Faruqi successfully pushed the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018. This is the first step to removing the veto powers of Education Ministers to reject research applications at their discretion and without any process for accountability.

This matter came to light from the recent vetos of six ARC applications by the Acting Education Minister, the Hon. Stuart Roberts MP on Christmas Eve. In fact, a similar incident occurred in 2018 with the then Education Minister the Hon. Simon Birmingham MP controversially vetoed eleven ARC grants.

The win delivered by the Greens has led to a new senate inquiry seeking feedback from the community on their proposed Bill. I would encourage everyone to send a submission representing themselves through the following link here.

Why is making a submission necessary?

It’s fair to say this could be a pivotal moment for research in Australia. This is the Alamo for Academics if you like. Typically these inquiries are entertained only by the bureaucrats at our institutions. On this occasion, we must set precedence. It is the duty of our organisations and individuals to represent themselves and speak to this – a one-pager will be sufficient.

It is essential that our community sends a strong message to both major parties and put them on notice. If our community is not willing to take this opportunity to speak up now, it simply validates that we do not deserve this freedom because we are not prepared to fight for them. It would also mean we will continue to be walked all over by politicians for the foreseeable future. 

Later on, some authors may be called upon to speak at a Senate hearing as this inquiry progresses. I am confident that a Senator like Dr. Mehreen Faruqi will give us this opportunity to make testimonies. If executed correctly, we will provide credibility to the sector as a force to be reckoned with and we will be taken seriously in the eyes of parliamentarians.

The stage has been set for us, but we need to be brave and say what Universities Australia has become too hesitant to say. Courage and willingness to take individual responsibility is what we need. The power for change has always been in your hands; but it is up to you to seize it.

Written by: Errol Phuah

CAPA National President
PhD Candidate – Swinburne University of Technology

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