In October, the Australian research and academic community was angered by the revelation that the former Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, vetoed eleven Australian Research Council (ARC) grants that had been recommended for funding following a rigorous peer-review process. The minister did not provide reasons for his secret intervention, which resulted in a cut of $4.1 million to grants in the humanities. Academics are rarely united as one, but social media was filled with statements from more than a dozen peak professional associations in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and medical research sectors, and staunch public pronouncements by vice chancellors at La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash, UNSW, and ACU, all four Learned Academies, and Universities Australia – to name a few – who were unanimous in their condemnation.
Why did the research community respond in such a highly public and united way? Senator Birmingham’s decision to exercise his right to veto grants, and to do so by stealth and without providing robust academic reasons, severely undermines the independent and rigorous peer-review assessment of applications for funding.