Estimates: Education and Employment Legislation Committee (Australian Research Council)
Senator RHIANNON: I note that the budget documents state that, 'The government will redirect $103 million over four years from the Australian Research councils discovery and linkage programs to other government research projects including…' And on it goes. I am interested in understanding whether it is the case that some funding cuts are in fact hidden and that there is other funding that is being directed out of the ARC. I know this morning we have talked about the $42 million being directed from ARC into tropical medicine and another $4 million towards the Antarctic Gateway program. Shouldn't they have been included in that $103 million?
Prof. Byrne : Certainly the Antarctic Gateway program should be added to the $103 million, as decisions of government that says these are research areas that should be supported through ARC funds. All of those funds are still within the ARC's envelope. They are still ARC funds that are now being directed to support research, which is the ARC's core business.
Senator RHIANNON: So you are saying that the $42 million should have been added to the $103 million?
Prof. Byrne : No, I am saying that the $24 million for Antarctic Gateway should be added to the $103 million. The $103 million comes from discussions ahead of the elections. The government was very clear about its desire to reprioritise money in these research areas. In addition to that, the Antarctic Gateway appeared in the budget papers.
Senator RHIANNON: So why wasn't it added?
Prof. Byrne : Well, the $103 million is a number from the past. The budget papers made it clear that there is an additional $24 million through the Antarctic Gateway. It is a significant amount.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, it is. And it leads to the perception that it is being hidden. That it is not being acknowledged.
Prof. Byrne : Nobody has hidden it.
Senator McKENZIE: It is very public, Senator.
Senator RHIANNON: The headline figure is $103 million, and one has to go—
Senator Payne: That is pre-budget.
Prof. Byrne : That is not our number.
Senator RHIANNON: Now we have had these further cuts.
Prof. Byrne : No, sorry. I beg your pardon, Senator. It is a re-prioritisation of money. It has not been cut from the ARC budget.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, but it in terms of how that money is allocated, it is quite different. Therefore, it is a significant change. But to move on, in that quote that I read you talk about 'other government research prioritise'. How are these other government research priorities set? I am interested in what consultation was done with the department to decide these research prioritise in the lead up to the budget.
Prof. Byrne : Well, these are decisions of government. These are not my decisions and these are not my agency's decisions. These are decisions by government.
Senator RHIANNON: So you did not give any advice on that?
Prof. Byrne : I cannot remember giving any particular advice on these decisions.
Senator RHIANNON: So you cannot remember. If you cannot remember, can you take it on notice?
Prof. Byrne : No, I do not think we were specifically asked for advice on those initiatives ahead of the election.
Ms Harvey : Those announcements were part of the election commitments from the coalition prior to them coming in to government. They were very public.
Prof. Byrne : I do not think we would have had any conversation with the coalition. That would have been inappropriate.
Ms Harvey : We certainly would not have been able to.
Senator RHIANNON: So you did not give any advice on it. With regard to dementia and diabetes, were they recent priorities that you were involved in nominating, or you had no involvement in that?
Prof. Byrne : Again, these were announcements made ahead of the election. We would not have been involved in discussions with the then opposition about those. We were not consulted on those. They were decisions ahead of the election.
Senator RHIANNON: Was the ARC advisory council consulted?
Prof. Byrne : No.
Senator Payne: You would not expect the ARC to be consulted on an election commitment, Senator. In fact, you would probably be quite perturbed.
Senator RHIANNON: The question was about the issue of dementia and diabetes. They are now research priorities. That is what the questions was. Was there discussion with the council that these are new priorities, leaving the coalition out?
Senator Payne: After the election, do you mean?
Senator RHIANNON: At any stage.
Prof. Byrne : This was an announcement ahead of the election and it would not have been appropriate if we were involved in those conversations.
Senator RHIANNON: I am not talking about the announcement. I am talking about the decision that dementia and diabetes are research priorities.
Ms Harvey : I do not believe we had an advisory council after the then coalition announced its election priorities for us to even discuss it. I do not believe that there was an advisory council at that point. The advisory council only meets three or four times a year.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Do you need to take it on notice?
Prof. Byrne : No, I do not.
Senator RHIANNON: Will allocations of funds for these government research priorities be subject to peer review processes at the ARC?
Prof. Byrne : They will be subject to peer review processes, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: I understand that there is currently a call open for the ARC special research initiative for tropical health and medicine. How are applications for this fund being assessed?
Ms Harvey : It is closed.
Prof. Byrne : It is closed, yes. We do have a group of people looking at it, as we do for all of our programs. As was pointed out earlier in the conversation, there is only one eligible organisation, so it is not a decision about which organisation. That was a decision of government. But—
Senator RHIANNON: So really there is no process?
Prof. Byrne : I'm sorry, but there is a process, and I am about to describe the process. This group is going to look at the proposal and make comments to us that will inform the funding agreement that we then sign with the eligible organisation.