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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 289


Senator WATSON(6.00) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This report is a medium for providing additional information to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission's triennial report. One of the problems that was identified was that the work load of the office has increased considerably due to the new government guidelines for the Commission for 1984. The situation was serious enough for the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) and the Commission to agree to a review of office staffing and structure in order to maintain effective secretariat services to the Commission and to the councils. In the area of higher education the project entitled 'Learning and Earning', which commenced in October 1982, was followed in June 1983 by a joint Commission and council working party paper which was published in November 1983. This was important and significant in that it examined the higher education needs in outer Sydney and Melbourne. I would have hoped that that type of survey could have been very much more extensive.

As to the worth of the document, given that its function is to provide additional information the report could have done more than merely summarise the routine Commission activities. At most it identifies concerns without expanding on them. For example, it gives only an internal perspective when it reports that the Resources Policy Branch continues to monitor and analyse trends in tertiary education participation. In fact no startling features are identified, nor are any particularly disadvantaged groups even mentioned as problems to be redressed . I think it is unfortunate, since further education is continually criticised for its predominantly middle-class participation and for its Anglo-Saxon orientation, given the dramatic increase in the intake of overseas students who naturally are used to different lifestyles, cultural and social values et cetera .

I think it is good that the Commission is taking the Freedom of Information Act seriously. An officer has been appointed and has attended a seminar on the interpretation and operations of the Act. The Commission seems to have dealt satisfactorily with all its requests under the Freedom of Information Act. However, there is one problem. This report states that one request was refused because 'its release could cause damage to relations between the Commonwealth and a State'. I think this is significant. Once again the issue is not elaborated upon, yet two inadequacies are evident. First, must the person requesting the information under the Act accept per se such a blanket excuse as the one I have mentioned for access denial although, granted, there is redress through the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office provided one can meet certain requirements? Secondly, there is an evident need to educate the people about the Freedom of Information Act. In terms of the gamut of its operations, how much can we expect to be released under these sorts of circumstances? Naturally there are criticisms and these criticisms cannot be aimed exclusively at the Commission. However, there is no reason why the impetus for increasing public awareness could not begin here. I think congratulations must go to the new appointees and to Emeritus Professor D. N. F. Dunbar for his reappointment.

Question resolved in the affirmative.