Improving the ARC Act

On 30 August 2022, the Minister for Education, announced an independent review of the ARC Act to consider the role and purpose of the ARC within the Australian research system so it can meet current and future needs and maintain the trust of the research sector.

The Expert Panel appointed to undertake the Review issued a consultation paper which included specific questions respondents were asked to address.

Research funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) is relevant to Research Australia’s membership because, while the ARC does not fund ‘medical research’, the ARC funds much of the basic research that underpins health and medical research, as well as supporting the broader research ecosystem.

Research Australia’s responses were directed to specific questions relevant to our membership.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

The role for research in a new Centre for Disease Control

In November 2022, The Commonwealth Department of Health commenced a targeted consultation on the proposal to develop an Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Research Australia participated in a consultation workshop on 24 November  and was invited to make a submission in response to a consultation paper.

Most of the CDC’s functions will relate to provision of healthcare and prevention measures. Research Australia’s responses were directed towards areas where health and medical research and innovation is most relevant to the CDC and can provide the most support for its proposed functions. Key points include the:

    • CDC’s role in data collection and analysis and the value of providing access to these datasets to researchers;
    • need to include reagents in the National Medicines Stockpile;
    • scope for the CDC to identify essential medical items which should be manufactured domestically; and
    • publication of all CDC recommendations and reports as a measure to enhance transparency and public confidence.

Research to support Health Literacy

In October 2022, The Commonwealth Department of Health released a draft National Health Literacy Strategy for consultation. The new Health Literacy strategy is being developed under the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030. As such the Literacy Strategy is intended to provide the public with the skills and abilities to maintain their own health and wellbeing as well as improve interactions with the health system.

Research Australia’s submission to the consultation emphasised the role research can play in supporting the implementation of the Strategy, and the need to recognise older Australians as a priority target population.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Research Australia’s Pre Budget Submission September 2022

Research Australia’s submission ahead of the Alabnese Government’s first Budget, to be handed down in October, acknowledges the large debt the Government is faced with. In keeping with the Government’s objective to fund activities that will boost productivity, we have outlined how investing in health and medical research can help grow Australia’s economy and provide well paid jobs, now and for future generations.

We have reiterated the need for a National Health and Medical Research Strategy and for a research workforce plan to support this objective.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Draft Data Code must provide more guidance

Following passage of the Data Availability and Transparency Act earlier this year, the National Data Commissioner has now released a draft Code of Conduct to provide further guidance on how to apply the data sharing principles, privacy protections, the public interest test and ethics requirements, as well as data sharing agreements.

The definition of ‘data project output’ continues to be problematic, with the terms ‘output’, ‘final output’ and ‘use of a data output’ all used ambiguously. It appears there are some circumstances in which the use of a data output is itself a data output and others where it is not, but the distinction is not clear. This is important because data outputs are regulated by the Act and the Code.

Research Australia’s submission addresses this issue and a number of others, including the public interest test and the circumstances in which designated persons need to be identified in a Data Sharing Agreement.

The final Data Code was published on 16 December 2022 and is available here.

Enabling the ARC Industry Fellowships Scheme to work for HMR

Announced in February this year, the ARC Industry Fellowships Scheme is intended to support all of the Government’s strategic target industries, including medical products.

Research Australia believes that the Scheme is at risk of failing to meet its objective of supporting the strategic area of Medical Products unless some form of exemption from, or relaxation of, the ARC’s Medical Research Policy is applied to the Industry Fellowships.

This issue has been raised by Research Australia in ARC consultations on the guidelines for the new Scheme and in a formal submission to the ARC. The submission is available here

Changes to RBG formula opposed by Research Australia

Research Australia has opposed the Government’s proposal to alter the formulae for calculating Research Block grants to universities as a means of incentivising greater engagement with business. Research Block grants consist of two programs provided by the Department of Education. The Research Support Program provides funding to universities relative to the research revenue they receive from different sources: government, business, not for profits etc. The Research Training Program funds the stipends and research costs of students undertaking Masters Degrees by research and PhDs.

The Government has proposed increasing the proportion of funding tied to business research revenue and reducing the proportion of funding tied to other research revenue.

Research Australia has opposed this measure because the most recent data shows that business funded research increased by 15.5% between 2018 and 2020, and basic research (usually funded by governments and universities themselves declined by 11.3% over the same period. Research Australia is concerned that simply changing the formulae rather than providing more block grant funding will further reduce basic research at a time when business research funding is already increasing.

Read Research Australia’s submission here.

Regulating AI and ADM in healthcare and HMR

The scope for the use of Artificial Intelligence and Automated Decision Making is only limited by our imagination. In responding to the Government’s Issues Paper on the regulation of AI and ADM, Research Australia has expressed the view that AI and ADM in healthcare and health and medical research need to be subject to regulation which can cover potential future applications and adapt and develop as AI and ADM change without requiring constant revisitation of the framework.

Research Australia believes the existing regulators and responsible agencies are best placed to regulate the use of AI and ADM in healthcare and in health and medical research and innovation. While a robust national safety framework with common principles is required to guide regulators and promote consistency, existing regulatory bodies should be appropriately resourced to ensure they have the capacity to effectively regulate and support the implementation of AI and ADM now and into the future within their own areas of responsibility.

Read Research Australia’s submission

Draft National Medicines Policy acknowledges research is key

Following on from our submission last year to the Discussion Paper, Research Australia has welcomed the acknowledgment of the importance of research in the new draft National Medicines Policy (NMP). Research Australia has used our submission to highlight further areas under the policy’s pillars where research can play a critical role, and has called for a dedicated stream of funding for research to support the Policy’s implementation and objectives.

Research Australia believes the Governance and Implementation sections of the draft policy need more work and has joined with the medicines sector and consumer groups to call for further consultation before the NMP is finalised. The Government has now heeded this call, with the Minister for Health announcing on 23 March that there would be further consultation before the Policy is finalised.

Read Research Australia’s submission here.

The 2022 National Medicines Policy was subsequently published on 20 December 2022, and the role of research is recognised in several areas, including as an enabler of the Policy. The Policy is available from the Department of Health’s website here. 

Research Australia supports ARC’s independence

The Senate Employment and Education Legislation Committee is undertaking an Inquiry into the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018, which lapsed when the 2019 election was called and has recently been revived. The renewed interest has been prompted by the decision of the acting Minister for Education to reject some proposed ARC grants in December 2021.

As stated in the Bill’s explanatory memorandum, ‘The intent of the Bill is to remove Ministerial discretion from research grants administered by the Australian Research Council (ARC).’   While Research Australia accepts the right of the Government to set the criteria for research funding programs, including the eligible applicants and research areas, and the amounts of funding available, Research Australia does not believe the Minister should have the power to refuse to fund individual research proposals that are recommended by the CEO of the ARC under an approved funding program.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

The Senate Committee’s report was released on 21 March. The majority report, by ALP and Coalition Committee members recommended against passage of the Bill. The report is available here. A dissenting report from the Australian Greens senators is available here.