MeCCSA response to political interference in Australia’s research grant process

On the 13th of November 2018, the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), issued a statement expressing its deep concern about political interference in the independence of Australia’s research grant process. Recent discussion in the Australian Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee revealed that 11 humanities and creative arts projects recommended for funding by the Australian Research Council were vetoed late last year by Australia’s then education minister Simon Birmingham. These projects included work in the field of media and cultural studies. Researchers were not informed of this intervention when told that their applications had been unsuccessful. Once the minister’s actions were exposed, he claimed that he had acted in the interests of Australian taxpayers. While some of these vetoes have recently been reversed, the Australian government has now made its actions more explicit, demonstrating they were for political reasons not on grounds of research quality. There are plans to refer funding applications for approval to the minister who will evaluate them with an eye to the ‘national interest’. The Guardian’s most recent report on the matter may be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/nov/28/education-minister-restores-funding-to-rejected-grants-and-unveils-new-interest-test

While MeCCSA’s interests as a subject association are usually national rather than international, in this instance, we have decided to join IAMCR in condemning this interference. We are supporting those scholars whose work has been dismissed and whose grants have been blocked. Importantly, we are also highlighting this because of our concern that this action may be indicative of a broader drive to operationalise a prevailing ideological position about the perceived ‘value’ of humanities research to citizens as ‘taxpayers.’ This policy sets a dangerous precedent for us here in the UK.

MeCCSA joins the IAMCR in calling for a renewed commitment from the Australian government to expert-based, peer review of all applications for research funding, free from political interference. It also reiterates its expectation that these practices will not take place in relation to UK funding bodies.

Posted by Einar Thorsen