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If Tony Abbott wins, independent research loses

Posted 5 September 2013 by Jeannie Rea (NTEU National Office)

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has condemned Tony Abbott’s proposed Commission of Audit which will “re-prioritise” about $900 million in annual Australian Research Council (ARC) grants.

“This is a direct attack on the academic freedom of researchers working in Australian universities. If Tony Abbott wins, independent research loses,” NTEU National Jeannie Rea said today.

“Institutional autonomy and academic freedom are the essential characteristics that define what it means to be a university.

“While we might expect direct government interference in the determination of successful research grants in countries like North Korea, it is simply unacceptable in a country like Australia where the independence of universities is fundamental to our economy, society and democracy.”

Rea said that there are very good reasons why the ARC should be independent, as former Education Minister Brendan Nelson found out in 2005.

“Nelson vetoed several ARC research grants supposedly in response to negative comments made by Andrew Bolt who accused the ARC of becoming captive to ‘leftists’ and ‘fixated by gender or race’.

“To suggest that any research projects which have been through a rigorous competitive peer-reviewed application process could in any way be described as ‘wasteful’ is an insult to the hundreds of senior researchers who give freely of their time to assess the thousands of research applications the ARC receives each year.” 

 Rea said that today’s pronouncement flew in the face of Abbott’s reassurance to the Universities Australia Conference in February this year that “higher education is one area where government’s role is more to be a respectful listener than a hands-on manager” and that he would adopt an approach of “masterly inactivity”.

“Mr Abbott’s has already apparently abandoned his ‘masterly inactivity’ approach to university and research policy. The gloves are off,” Rea said.

Media comment: Jeannie Rea, NTEU National President: 0434 609 531;

Media enquiries: Carmel Shute NTEU Media Officer: 03 9254 1910; 0412 569 356;

The National Tertiary Education Union covers all employees of universities, including general staff such as librarians, gardeners, technical specialists and administrative staff, and academics. It is incorrect to characterise NTEU’s members as “academics” or the NTEU as “the academics’ union”.


  1. Ian said on 10:44 Wednesday 2 Oct, 2013

    [ +1 ] Does anyone have figuires showing how much $ is spent on securing the $900 for a select number?
    I was at a conference in Brisbane 3 or 4 years ago and a Norwegian Professor did a brilliant talk on the absurdity of the whole system. Far more insightful than any VC in this country manages.

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  2. Greg said on 18:46 Thursday 5 Sep, 2013

    [ +10 ] Wow I bet you are glad you spent the whole campaign bagging Labor. Perhaps if your Union did better research you might conclude to attack the real enemy, I.E. The Liberals.

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  3. Chris Fellows said on 15:06 Thursday 5 Sep, 2013

    [ +3 ] ARC grant applications already have to address national strategic research priorities, and it's the prerogative of any elected government to set those priorities, so comparisons to North Korea are over-egging the pudding somewhat. Any government serious about tackling waste should go straight to ditching the ARC and handing the M$900 directly to universities - too many highly educated person-years are wasted preparing the 75-80% of grant applications that are binned.

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