Chapter 7 Corporate Governance
This chapter describes the corporate governance framework maintained by the ARC to support efficient and effective delivery of its policies and programmes.
Key elements of the framework include:
- a well-defined governance structure
- comprehensive planning and reporting arrangements (including performance measurement)
- well established arrangements for monitoring financial and service delivery
- sound risk management practices
- a strong framework of standards for ethical conduct
- commitment to engage stakeholders where appropriate
- monitoring of performance against service charter and complaints.
During the year the ARC:
- implemented new requirements under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) which took effect from 1 July 2014
- reviewed the role of the ARC Advisory Council
- contributed to a review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007)
- released a revised ARC Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy
- released a revised ARC Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy.
During the year:
- the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (ARC Act) was amended to ensure consistency with the requirements of the PGPA Act.
Under Administrative Arrangements Orders issued by the Governor-General on 23 December 2014, the ARC is within the Education and Training portfolio. As at 30 June 2015, The Hon Christopher Pyne MP (the Minister) was the Minister for Education and Training and the Minister responsible for the ARC.
The ARC is a non-corporate Commonwealth entity established under the ARC Act. The ARC is subject to the Public Service Act 1999, the PGPA Act, and various other legislation.
Australian Research Council Act 2001
Under the ARC Act, the Minister has a range of powers including approving the ARC's corporate plan, funding rules and proposals for expenditure under the National Competitive Grants Programme (NCGP). The Minister also has the power to:
- establish designated committees to assist in carrying out the functions of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
- direct the CEO about the performance of the CEO's functions
- provide notification of the general policies of the Australian Government that apply to the ARC or its components (that is, ARC committees and staff).
The ARC Act was amended (effective 1 July 2014) to incorporate changes in relation to the PGPA Act (see page 94 for further details). There were no Ministerial directions issued to the ARC during 2014–15.
Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013
The PGPA Act aims to establish a coherent system of governance and accountability for public resources, with an emphasis on planning, performance and reporting. As a Commonwealth entity, the ARC transitioned from the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 to the PGPA Act when it took effect on 1 July 2014. In September 2014, the Department of Finance released the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 (PGPA Rule) to support the operation of the PGPA Act. In April 2015 the PGPA Rule was amended and finalised guidance on the Enhanced Commonwealth Performance Framework was released. The PGPA Rule and guidance material set out new requirements, to take effect from 1 July 2015, for Commonwealth entities to prepare corporate plans and annual performance statements (within annual reports).
The ARC's 2014–15 progress in implementing requirements identified in the PGPA Act is detailed in the case study on page 94.
The Australian Government's deregulation agenda aims to reduce unnecessary red tape costs on individuals, businesses and community organisations. It applies to any mandatory obligations imposed by legislation, regulations or quasi regulations. This includes statutory instruments, standards, codes of practice, or any other aspect of regulator behaviour that has a measurable cost burden on business or individuals.
Elements of the Australian Government's deregulation agenda include:
- a commitment to cutting the burden of red and green tape by a net $1 billion a year
- the establishment of Deregulation Units in each portfolio to implement the deregulation agenda
- the conduct of audits of the regulatory footprint within each portfolio
- the establishment of a Regulator Performance Framework to assess and audit the performance of individual regulators.
In addition to these overarching changes, the Australian Government made a number of specific, substantive commitments to reduce regulation in particular areas, including streamlining grant application processes.
Implementation of the Australian Government's deregulation agenda across the whole-of-government is coordinated by the Office of Deregulation, within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The contribution made by the ARC during 2014–15 to the Australian Government's deregulation agenda is detailed in the case study on page 95.
Implementation of the PGPA Act
In 2014–15 the ARC updated its policies and procedures to comply with the requirements of the PGPA Act and the subsequently released rules and guidance material.
Specifically, the following activities were undertaken.
- The ARC Act was amended to incorporate relevant references to and terminology consistent with the PGPA Act and associated rules and requirements.
- The ARC updated terminology, internal controls and documentation, including the Audit Committee Charter, Financial Delegations, Accountable Authority Instructions and the ARC's standard contract templates, as well as policies and procedures regarding risk management, fraud control, travel, hospitality, the use of corporate credit cards and conflict of interest.
- ARC representatives attended government meetings and forums on the implementation of the PGPA Act and participated in the Department of Finance's Enhanced Commonwealth Performance Framework Community of Practice.
- An ARC Performance Working Group was established to review current performance measurement activities and explore more flexible approaches to performance measurement.
- The ARC's key performance indicators were updated in the 2015–16 Portfolio Budget Statements to provide flexibility for the transition to new performance measurement requirements in corporate plans.
- The ARC started developing a new performance measurement framework to improve planning and reporting processes and assist the ARC to meet PGPA Act requirements.
- The requirements of the PGPA Act were promoted to staff via all staff communications and the ARC's intranet.
During the year the ARC's Internal Auditors conducted a two-phase audit to review the ARC's implementation of the PGPA Act and compliance with the Accountable Authority Instructions. Phase One of the audit examined the ARC's progress and preparedness in meeting its requirements under the PGPA Act. Phase Two involved testing transactions to determine whether ARC practices for key business processes reflected the Accountable Authority Instructions.
The first phase of the audit found that at July 2014 the ARC was progressing well with its implementation plan to update processes and controls and meet the new requirements under the PGPA Act and rules. The second phase of the audit found that the ARC's overarching financial management framework was strong and staff were adhering to the PGPA Act requirements embedded in ARC policy, procedures and practices.
ARC's contribution to the deregulation agenda
The ARC's contribution to the Australian Government's deregulation agenda was identified by the ARC as a key priority for 2014–15 (ARC Strategic Plan 2014–15 to 2016–17, page 34).
Government-wide audit of regulations
The ARC contributed to the government-wide audit of regulations in 2014–15. In Phase One, the ARC identified all regulations administered under its programmes, their estimated compliance requirements and opportunities for reform. The overall regulatory burden of these programmes was assessed independently as being medium. In Phase Two, the ARC calculated that, in aggregate, the cost of regulatory compliance for organisations accessing its programmes was $13.7 million per annum in 2014. This equates to 1.6 per cent of the ARC's administered budget of $881.0 million in 2014–15.
ARC's progress in cutting red tape in 2014–15
Substantial progress was made in streamlining grant application processes and reducing the regulatory burden of programmes in 2014–15.
- Grants of up to five years in duration were introduced under the Discovery Projects and Linkage Projects schemes. Prior to funding commencing in 2015, proposals could only seek and be awarded funding for up to three years.
- One set of funding rules for the Discovery schemes and one set of rules for a number of Linkage schemes were introduced. Prior to funding commencing in 2014, funding rules for each funding scheme within each programme were released separately.
- Grant application procedures were streamlined. ICT systems changes were implemented to enable pre-population of application forms with information previously supplied by applicants and to reduce the number of application questions.
- Administration of funding agreements was streamlined for grant recipients. An ICT systems module for financial reporting was introduced, final project reporting was simplified by the introduction of one form of reduced length for all grant funding schemes, and procedures for varying funding agreements were simplified.
- In collaboration with the Department of Education and Training, the ARC consulted with the research sector about options for aligning the Higher Education Research Data Collection and the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) data collection.
Further details about the development of a single higher education research data collection are provided in a case study on page 87.
The ARC comprises five functional units or branches: Corporate Services Branch; ICT Services Branch; Programmes Branch; Research Excellence Branch; and Strategy Branch (see Part 1, Chapter 2, page 11). There were no substantial changes to the ARC's organisational structure in 2014–15.
Executive and senior staff
The ARC had six executive staff at 30 June 2015 with one executive position vacant. The executive staff were:
- Professor Aidan Byrne, Chief Executive Officer
- Ms Leanne Harvey, Executive General Manager
- Dr Laura Dan, Acting Branch Manager, Strategy Branch and Chief Programme Officer
- Dr Fiona Cameron, Executive Director, Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
- Professor Marian Simms, Executive Director, Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences
- Professor Brian Yates, Executive Director, Engineering, Mathematics and Information Sciences.
Senior staff were:
- Ms Julija Deleva, Chief Financial Officer
- Ms Trish Leahey, Chief Information Officer.
The responsibilities of the ARC's executive staff are described in Part 1, Chapter 2 (pages 12–13).
During 2014–15 the ARC had a number of committees in place to assist the CEO in meeting his responsibilities for managing the ARC and administering the NCGP and ERA. Committee membership is provided in Part 5, Appendix 5 (pages 223–238).
ARC Advisory Council
The ARC Advisory Council is charged with providing advice to the ARC CEO on strategic issues relating to the mission of the ARC including strategic planning; policy matters relating to innovation, research and research training; and matters relating to the evaluation of the quality and outcomes of research and research training in an international context. The council is chaired by the CEO of the ARC and comprises up to nine additional members who are appointed for periods of up to three years on the basis of their distinguished academic research records and/or achievements in business research and development.
Originally established by the Minister as a designated committee under the ARC Act, in February 2015 the Minister approved the reclassification of the council as a non-designated committee. Reclassification of the Council as a non-designated committee appointed by the ARC CEO is consistent with the Government's commitment to reduce the number of Government-appointed bodies.
Terms of appointment for the eight external council members expired at the end of 2014. A list of these members is provided in Part 5, Appendix 5, Table 5.1 (page 223). Arrangements for the appointment of new members were completed during the first half of 2015 with seven members appointed to the council effective 1 July 2015. No meetings of the council were held in 2014–15.
The role of the ARC Audit Committee is to provide the CEO with independent assurance by reviewing the ARC's financial and performance reporting responsibilities; systems for internal control; risk management and corporate governance.
The committee is established by the Accountable Authority (the CEO) in compliance with the PGPA Act and PGPA Rule (section 17). Its functions and responsibilities are detailed in the ARC Audit Committee Charter which was updated in 2014 to align with the PGPA Act, and again in 2015 to reflect the Australian National Audit Office's 2015 Public Sector Audit Committees Better Practice Guide.
The ARC Audit Committee met five times in 2014–15.
Senior Management Group
The role of the ARC's Senior Management Group (SMG) is to provide advice and direction on strategic and operational issues and coordinate activities across the agency. In 2014–15, the committee comprised: the CEO; the Executive General Manager; Branch Manager, Strategy Branch; Chief Financial Officer; Chief Information Officer; and Chief Programme Officer.
Other governance committees in place as at 30 June 2015 included the following:
- ARC Security Committee, which oversees the effective and efficient adherence to physical, personnel, and IT security measures within the ARC
- Business Continuity Plan Committee, which ensures that the Business Continuity Plan remains current and practical, and is tested on a scheduled basis, to minimise the likelihood and/or consequence of any potential risk exposure to the core business processes of the ARC
- DELTA and SEER Project Boards, which provide oversight and operational management for project delivery, including scope, budget, risk management and scheduling
- ICT Change Control Committee, which oversees approval of change for ICT applications and infrastructure and coordinates the release of all changes
- ICT Governance Committee, which reviews the ICT services requirements for the ARC, acts as the project board on significant ICT projects, and provides guidance on priorities for ICT Services
- People Management and Development Committee, which provides advice on people management and development issues
- Salary Review Committee, which advises the CEO, supervisors and staff on salary and performance issues
- Work Health and Safety Committee, which develops and promotes initiatives to protect the health and safety of employees, contractors and visitors through the implementation and review of the effectiveness of the ARC's work health and safety policies and practices.
National Competitive Grants Programme
ARC College of Experts
ARC College of Experts selection panels assess and rank ARC proposals submitted under the NCGP, make funding recommendations to the CEO and provide strategic advice on emerging disciplines and cross-disciplinary developments.
ARC College of Experts members are experts of international standing drawn from the Australian research community—from higher education, industry and public sector research organisations. Members assign and moderate external assessments, attend selection meetings and implement peer review reforms.
Members are appointed by the CEO for up to three years. Through an annual competitive recruitment process, the ARC seeks nominations from suitably qualified and experienced individuals. Nominations from women, from people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, and from end-users across the private, public and not-for profit sectors are particularly encouraged. Additionally, the ARC also considers trends in ARC proposal research areas, institutional affiliations and state/territory representation in selecting members.
In November 2014, following a competitive selection process, the ARC appointed new members to the ARC College of Experts to participate in deliberations for 2015 onwards. As at 30 June 2015, there were 167 members of the ARC College of Experts.
Large multi-panel College of Experts meetings were held in September 2014 and April 2015 to assess proposals for funding under the Discovery Projects, Discovery Early Career Research Award, Discovery Indigenous, Linkage Projects and Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities schemes. Inter-disciplinary Selection Advisory Committees were also convened at other times to meet scheme requirements (see below).
NCGP Selection Advisory Committees
The ARC CEO convenes Selection Advisory Committees (SACs) from time to time to assist with the selection processes of new schemes and special research initiatives. SACs are normally conducted in the same manner as the ARC College of Experts. For each SAC specific arrangements are agreed to by the CEO and set out in the terms of reference for that SAC. SACs may include members of the ARC College of Experts as well as other suitably experienced experts appointed by the ARC.
In 2014–15 SACs assessed proposals for funding under the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme; the Industrial Transformation Research Programme; and the Special Research Initiatives scheme.
NCGP Appeals Committee
The NCGP Appeals Committee considers appeals submitted to the ARC in relation to the NCGP and makes recommendations to the CEO about whether each appeal should be upheld or dismissed. The committee also provides general advice to the ARC in relation to how administrative processes could be modified or improved. The committee consists of external members appointed by the CEO. The Appeals Committee met twice in 2014–15.
Further information about the outcomes of appeals submitted to the ARC in 2014–15 is provided on page 111.
NCGP Eligibility Committee
The NCGP Eligibility Committee considers eligibility issues under the funding schemes of the NCGP. The committee, comprising Executive Directors, the Chief Programme Officer and relevant Directors of the Programmes Branch, provides recommendations to the ARC CEO.
NCGP Scrutiny Committee
The NCGP Scrutiny Committee scrutinises the probity of ARC assessment processes in relation to funding proposals involving members of the ARC College of Experts and/or ARC staff. The committee comprises three external research managers with prior experience of the ARC College of Experts who are appointed by the CEO. The NCGP Scrutiny Committee met once during 2014–15.
Excellence in Research for Australia
Research Evaluation Committees
Evaluations in ERA are undertaken by Research Evaluation Committees (RECs) comprising distinguished Australian and international researchers drawn from nominations submitted to the ARC from the sector. REC members assess the quality of research in Australia using a range of metrics and peer review.
There are eight RECs for ERA 2015 covering the disciplines: Physical, Chemical and Earth Sciences; Humanities and Creative Arts; Engineering and Environmental Sciences; Education and Human Society; Economics and Commerce; Mathematical, Information and Computing Sciences; Biological and Biotechnological Sciences; and Medical and Health Sciences.
In 2014–15 the ARC invited the sector to submit nominations for the REC membership for ERA 2015. In excess of 700 nominations of researchers from Australia and overseas were submitted to the ARC. In November 2014 the ARC appointed eight distinguished researchers to chair each of the RECs and in February 2015 the ARC announced 149 REC members for ERA 2015. An additional three REC members were announced in May 2015.
ERA Scrutiny Committee
For each ERA evaluation an ERA Scrutiny Committee is appointed to scrutinise the processes followed by the ERA RECs in assessing the 'home' Unit of Evaluation (UoE) of each REC member. A REC member's 'home' UoE is the UoE associated with their institution and their primary area of expertise (by four-digit Field of Research). The committee which comprises experts drawn from previous ERA RECs is appointed by the ARC CEO. The current committee, appointed in June 2015, will meet in late 2015.
Australian Research Integrity Committee
The ARC and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) jointly established the Australian Research Integrity Committee (ARIC) in February 2011.
On request, ARIC reviews whether an institution's response to an allegation of research misconduct is consistent with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007) and the institution's own policies and procedures. ARIC's role in reviewing institutional processes in response to allegations of research misconduct ensures institutions observe proper process in their investigations. In doing so, ARIC contributes to public confidence regarding the integrity of Australia's research effort.
ARIC comprises four expert members and reports to both the ARC and the NHMRC. The ARC provides secretariat support for ARIC matters relevant to any research (except health and medical research) conducted at institutions funded by the ARC. An important component of the ARC's involvement is to create an awareness of ARIC and its responsibilities.
During 2014–15 the ARIC-ARC secretariat received one request for review, which it referred to ARIC for consideration. It was determined that this request was not within the scope of ARIC. Two reviews relating to requests received during 2013–14 were finalised in 2014–15 with ARIC reporting to the ARC CEO on the outcomes of both matters.
Planning and reporting arrangements
The ARC's 2014–15 planning and reporting framework is illustrated in Figure 7.1. This framework will change in 2015–16 as the ARC transitions to meet the requirements of the PGPA Act for preparation of a corporate plan and annual performance statement.
Figure 7.1: ARC planning and reporting framework, 2014–15
Figure 7.7 ARC planning and reporting framework, 2014–15
The diagram depicts the ARC's 2014–15 planning and reporting framework. The top row has three rectangles each with heading text (from left to right): framework; planning; and reporting. Under the framework rectangle there is a rectangle with the text: legislation; policy directions; and fiscal framework. Under the planning rectangle there are four rectangles with the text (from highest to lowest): portfolio budget statements; strategic plan/corporate plan; operational plan; and performance agreements. Under the reporting rectangle are two rectangles with the headings (from highest to lowest) annual report; and operational plan progress report. Arrows depict the relationships between the items in each of the boxes. That is, portfolio budget statements contribute to the annual report and strategic plan/corporate plan; the strategic plan/corporate plan contributes to the annual report and operational plan; the operational plan contributes to the operational plan progress report and performance agreements; and the operational plan progress report contributes to the annual report.
Portfolio Budget Statements
The Portfolio Budget Statements are used to inform Senators and Members of Parliament of the proposed allocation of resources to Australian Government outcomes by agencies within the portfolio. In 2014–15 the ARC was included in the Portfolio Budget Statements 2014–15 Budget Related Paper No 1.5, Education Portfolio.
Strategic plan/corporate plan
Prior to the introduction of the PGPA Act, the ARC Act required the CEO to prepare a strategic plan each year that set out the goals, priorities, policies and strategies to be adopted by the ARC to achieve its objectives. In accordance with this requirement, the ARC Strategic Plan for 2014–15 to 2016–17 was tabled in the Parliament of Australia on 26 August 2014. The plan comprised three programme goals based on the Discovery, Linkage and Excellence in Research for Australia programmes; and included four enabling functions: high-quality policy advice, effective stakeholder engagement; efficient and effective programme delivery and improved organisational capability.
In July 2014, the ARC Act was amended to incorporate new planning and reporting requirements prescribed under the PGPA Act and associated PGPA rule, including the requirement that the ARC publish a corporate plan in accordance with section 35 of the PGPA Act—that is, a corporate plan that sets out the purposes and significant activities the ARC will pursue and the results it intends to achieve over four reporting periods. In 2015, the ARC commenced developing an ARC Corporate Plan 2015–16 in replacement of a strategic plan.
Every year the ARC prepares an internal operational plan to assist the CEO and SMG to monitor performance across the ARC. The plan provides a valuable reference for the development of branch and section plans within the ARC.
In 2014–15 all ARC sections provided input into the development of the ARC Operational Plan for 2014–15. The plan, approved by SMG, detailed the main actions the ARC would undertake to address the objectives, priorities and key performance indicators outlined in the ARC Strategic Plan for 2014–15 to 2016–17. In December 2014 and June 2015 Directors and Executive Directors were asked to review and report on their progress against the plan. The information provided was reported to SMG and used to inform the development of this annual report.
ARC annual reports provide an overview of the ARC's activities and performance against the deliverables and key performance indicator targets set out in the Portfolio Budget Statements. The annual report is the main instrument through which the ARC reports to the Parliament of Australia and also provides an opportunity to inform other stakeholders about the ARC's services and the diverse and valuable outcomes of ARC-funded research.
In accordance with the ARC Act and section 46 of the PGPA Act, the CEO must prepare an annual report and give it to the Minister for presentation to the Parliament by 31 October. The report must be prepared in accordance with the requirements and guidelines for annual reports published annually by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The annual report must include annual financial statements (and from 2015–16 annual performance statements).
The ARC Annual Report 2013–14 was tabled in Parliament on 22 October 2014. On 21 May 2015, the Institute of Public Administration Australia awarded the ARC a Silver Award for the hard-copy of this report.
MONITORING FINANcIAL AND SERVICE DELIVERY
Internal audit arrangements
Internal audit is an integral part of the ARC's corporate governance framework. The internal audit function provides an independent and objective review and advisory service to:
- provide assurance to the CEO that the ARC's financial and operational controls, designed to manage the organisation's risk and achieve the ARC's objectives, are operating in an efficient, effective, economical and ethical manner
- assist management in improving the ARC's business performance.
The Branch Manager, Strategy assumes the role of Head, Internal Audit, and is responsible for management of the ARC's internal audit function. The internal audit function is outsourced to an independent service provider and reports to the Audit Committee through the Head, Internal Audit. In 2014–15 the ARC's internal audit function was performed by KPMG in consultation with the Head, Internal Audit, the Audit Committee and the CEO.
KPMG assisted in the development of the annual internal audit work plan and undertook the following audits during 2014–15:
- Review of the implementation of the PGPA Act requirements and Accountable Authority Instructions compliance (Phase 1 and 2)
- People and Services/Business Operations Health Check
- Review of ARC's compliance with Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 requirements
- Ministerial and Parliamentary Processes Health Check.
During 2014–15 the ARC undertook reviews of two organisations that have responsibility for administering funding awarded under the NCGP. Through the reviews, the ARC aims to monitor, evaluate and address compliance with ARC funding agreement requirements under the NCGP.
The ARC manages risk in accordance with the Australian/New Zealand Standard for Risk Management (AS/NZS ISO 31000: 2009). The ARC's risk management framework adheres to the PGPA Act and complies with the nine elements of the Commonwealth Risk Management Policy.
The framework is reviewed annually by the SMG to facilitate continual improvement and is underpinned by five key components:
- a risk management policy
- a risk management plan and toolkit
- strategic risk register
- operational risk register
- a network of risk champions.
Results from the 2015 Comcover Risk Management Benchmarking Programme found that the ARC has a comprehensive risk management framework that is embedded in the operations of the ARC and is part of the ARC's overarching governance and management practices. The results indicated that the framework is supported by a well-established risk management policy and a positive risk culture.
Contribution of risk management in achieving objectives
The ARC risk management framework is designed to minimise the possibility of loss or damage to operations, staff, property, reputation and assets, while recognising opportunities to meet the stated objectives of the organisation within a good corporate framework.
In February 2015, SMG assessed whether the strategic risks identified for 2014–15 were still relevant and that controls for each were still effective. In May 2015, the SMG undertook a full review of the entity's strategic risks, identifying the key current and emerging risks for 2015–16 that could impact on the ARC achieving its objectives.
The ARC's network of risk champions reviewed the entity's operational risks in July 2014 and January 2015. This biannual activity helped to ensure that each business area was able to deliver against its objectives outlined in the ARC operational plan, and that the SMG, Audit Committee and CEO were aware of those business risks that posed a significant threat.
Business continuity and disaster recovery
The ARC's Business Continuity Plan (BCP) sets out the controls and contingencies to minimise the likelihood and/or consequence of any potential risk exposure to the core business processes of the ARC. It includes the ARC's ICT Disaster Recovery Plan, which is designed to safeguard and recover critical ICT systems. The BCP Committee ensures that the BCP remains current and practical, and is tested on a scheduled basis.
In 2014–15 the following activities were undertaken:
- membership of the BCP Committee was expanded
- four meetings of the BCP Committee were held
- the BCP and ICT Disaster Recovery Plan were reviewed and updated
- a Business Disruption Event register was established
- Business Disruption Event debrief meetings commenced.
The ARC recognises the need for a sound and robust financial framework based on legal and ethical decision making. In accordance with section 10 of the PGPA Rule 2014 the ARC CEO must take all reasonable measures to prevent, detect and deal with fraud relating to the ARC. The ARC Fraud Control Plan sets out the responsibilities of the CEO, senior management and staff in relation to fraud control.
During 2014–15 the ARC reviewed and updated its Fraud Risk Assessment Summary. The ARC Fraud Control Plan is due to be reviewed and updated in 2015–16. The CEO has certified within the Letter of Transmittal (page iii) that the ARC has complied with the requirements of the Commonwealth Fraud Control Framework.
MAINTAINING ETHICAL STANDARDS
Public sector agency
The ARC is committed to high ethical standards. This commitment is promoted through:
- the ARC Strategic Plan for 2014–15 to 2016–17 which includes among its guiding principles: 'accountability through transparent, efficient and effective processes and adherence to ethical standards'
- the incorporation of ethical standards into ARC governance policies and guidelines
- the incorporation of the ARC values into performance agreements
- an ARC intranet site and the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) Ethics Advisory Service
- an ARC Ethics Contact Officer.
The ARC includes an overview and discussion of the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct as part of induction training for new appointees. Copies of the values and the code are provided to new appointees, who are required to acknowledge that they understand and adopt these before their appointments are finalised. Furthermore, biannual individual performance reviews provide ongoing opportunities for staff and supervisors to address ethical issues.
The State of the Service Report 2013–2014, published by the APSC in December 2014, reported 89 per cent of ARC staff believed that ARC senior executives act in accordance with the APS values, compared to 74 per cent APS wide.
Peer review processes
As a public research funding body, the ARC is required to maintain a high standard of professionalism and ethical conduct in its operations. The ARC is committed to preserving public confidence in the integrity, legitimacy, impartiality and fairness of its business, and in particular its peer review process.
ARC committee members and assessors, as well as any other people undertaking ARC business, must comply with the ARC Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy. A revised version of the policy was released by the ARC during 2014–15 (see case study on page 38 for further information).
ARC funding rules and funding agreements
The NCGP funding rules clearly state the ethical compliance requirements for ARC-funded researchers. All ARC-funded research projects must conform to the principles outlined in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007).
Where applicable, ARC-funded research projects must also conform with the:
- National Principles of Intellectual Property Management for Publicly Funded Research (published on the ARC website)
- National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007)
- NHMRC Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (2003)
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (2012)
- Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (2013).
Funding agreements between the ARC and any organisation in receipt of ARC funding also require those organisations to comply with the provisions of any relevant statutes, regulations, by-laws, and requirements of any Commonwealth, State, Territory or local authority; and acknowledge that Chapter 7 of the Criminal Code provides for offences which attract substantial penalties, including theft of Commonwealth property and other property offences, obtaining property or financial advantage by deception, offences involving fraudulent conduct, bribery, forgery and falsification of documents.
Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007)
The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007) guides institutions and researchers in responsible research practices. The code—developed jointly by the NHMRC, the ARC and Universities Australia—has broad relevance across all research disciplines and all ARC-funded research must conform to the principles outlined in the code. It advocates and describes best practice and provides a framework for handling breaches of the code and research misconduct.
A review of the Code commenced in 2014–15. The review secretariat is based at the NHMRC with assistance provided by the ARC and Universities Australia (as co-authors of the code), and a Code Review Committee that is representative of the research sector. The review is incorporating targeted and broad consultation with the sector. The revised code is expected to be released in mid 2016.
National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research
The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) consists of a series of guidelines made in accordance with the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992. The statement is intended for use by: any researcher conducting research with human participants; any member of an ethical review body reviewing that research; those involved in research governance; and potential research participants.
In 2014–15 the ARC was represented on the National Statement Review Working Group, led by the NHMRC, which undertakes rolling review of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. In 2014–15 the Review Working Group has focussed on 'Section 3: Ethical considerations specific to research methods or fields of the National Statement'.
Human Research Ethics Application
In 2014–15 the ARC participated in an advisory group to develop a Human Research Ethics Application to replace the National Ethics Application Form, following a consultation commissioned by the NHMRC. A simplified and efficient form will support nationally consistent ethical review and site-assessment for all human research, in particular clinical trials. It is expected that the application will be finalised and released in 2015–16.
Research Integrity and Research Misconduct
In April 2015 the ARC released the ARC Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy. The ARC Research Integrity Officer is the point of contact for all matters within the scope of the policy. More information about the policy is provided in the case study on page 37.
In 2014–15, eight allegations of research integrity breaches or research misconduct were reported to the ARC. Three of these matters were pending finalisation as at 30 June 2015.
In delivering its programmes, the ARC engages with a diverse group of stakeholders with differing expectations and interests. These stakeholders are described in Part 1, Chapter 2, on page 10.
The ARC undertakes a range of activities to engage with its stakeholders and provide opportunities for input into ARC business processes, including through the ARC Centre Directors' Forum, the ARC/NHMRC Research Administrators' Seminar and various consultations. It also works closely with other Australian Government departments and various peak bodies on research policy issues.
ARC Centre Directors' Forum
The annual ARC Centre Directors' Forum was held in Canberra on 16–17 March 2015. Directors and Chief Operating Officers from over 100 ARC Centres of Excellence and Industrial Transformation Research Programme centres and hubs attended the two-day forum. Participants showcased centre achievements and shared best practise information on a range of topics relevant to large scale research centres, including: strategic planning, communication, building Industry relationships and supporting diversity. The forum provided participants with an important opportunity for networking, exchanging ideas and providing feedback to the ARC.
ARC/NHMRC Research Administrators' Seminar
The ARC, together with the Australasian Research Management Society and NHMRC, holds an annual research administrators' seminar. The ARC held the 2014 seminar on 3–4 December 2014 in Canberra. Approximately 300 people from 70 institutions attended the event. This event is important in providing information to the sector about changes to NCGP funding schemes, ERA and a range of other policy and programme matters.
ARC Centres of Excellence information sessions
The ARC released the ARC Centres of Excellence 2017 funding rules in May 2015. Following the release of the rules, information sessions were held at a number of institutions around Australia including the University of Canberra, University of South Australia, The University of Queensland, Murdoch University, The University of Sydney, Deakin University and the University of Tasmania. Administrators and potential Centre Directors from all interested institutions were invited to attend.
The ARC undertook a number of stakeholder consultations during 2014–15 in relation to:
- Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme
- NCGP scheme funding rules
- ERA 2015 submission materials
- the ARC's draft new Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy
- ARC support for gender equality in the research workforce
- the assessment of open data requirements under the NCGP funding rules, the importance of data management more broadly and the potential benefits (and/or perceived risks) of strengthening the ARC's requirements.
Other government departments
In 2014–15 the ARC and NHMRC continued to meet regularly to discuss issues of common interest which included streamlining of grant application processes, the possible introduction of ORCID and implementation of the new joint NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowships scheme.
Complaints handling policy
The ARC Complaints Handling and Appeals Policy is published on the ARC website. This policy aims to assist clients and stakeholders who want to make a general complaint about the ARC or submit an appeal about the administrative processes of the NCGP. A report on general complaints and appeals was provided to the Senior Management Group in July 2014 and January 2015.
Client service charter
The ARC Client Service Charter sets out the standards of service clients and stakeholders should expect from the ARC and provides guidance for the process clients and stakeholders can follow if they are dissatisfied with the level of service they have received. The charter is available on the ARC website. In 2014–15 the ARC did not receive any complaints in relation to the client service charter. The ARC's performance against the service standards in the charter are reported in Part 5, Appendix 6, pages 237–8.
NCGP funding rules make provision for an appeals process, designed to ensure that all applicants have been treated fairly and consistently during selection processes. The NCGP Appeals Committee considers all appeals submitted to the ARC to determine if there was an administrative error related to a selection process that adversely affected the proposal. Appeals are only considered against administrative process issues and cannot be made against committee decisions or assessor ratings and comments.
In 2014–15, the NCGP Appeals Committee met twice to consider six appeals submitted to the ARC in relation to NCGP proposals submitted under the Discovery Projects, Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities and Future Fellowships schemes. Of these, no appeals were upheld.
Details about the NCGP Appeals Committee are provided on page 99.