Australians call for boycott after government 'attack'

July 15, 2005

Australian academics are considering boycotting committees that report to the federal Government.

The National Tertiary Education Union will consider the call for a boycott after an appeal from an academic at Curtin University in Perth who resigned from the National Health and Medical Research Committee in protest against what he said were government attacks on universities.

Gavin Mooney, professor of health economics at Curtin, was a member of a subcommittee on preventive healthcare. He said: "The current attack on our universities by the commonwealth Government has gone too far for me to continue to serve on any of its committees. I urge my academic colleagues across the country to join me in boycotting these committees."

Last week, he wrote to the chair of the NHMRC to submit his resignation. He said he felt unable to continue to serve "on what is in essence a government committee".

Professor Mooney said many academics sat on advisory committees to help the Government devise policy and that they should follow his example and resign.

Suggestions by other academics on the committee that it should offer recommendations that the Government might find acceptable were a matter of considerable concern, Professor Mooney said. "When academic scientists sitting on such committees, instead of giving frank and fearless advice, begin to try to think in terms of what is palatable to Government, we are in a sorry mess."

The council is Australia's biggest research-granting agency. Last year, it allocated more than A$420 million (£179 million) to health and medical researchers.

The NTEU will discuss endorsing a system-wide ban on assisting government committees.

Brendan Nelson, the Education Minister, has been criticised by vice-chancellors, academics and students over a range of issues including industrial relations changes and banning universities from collecting compulsory student union fees. A spokesman for Dr Nelson said the call for a boycott was misguided. "The Government is committed to ensuring diversity, equity and quality throughout the sector."

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