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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 912


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(5.50) —The Waste Watch Committee, of which Senator Short is a most valued member, pointed out last week a large number of grants which it suggested may well be inappropriate at a time when Australia is in such an economic crisis. These grants, including matters of immediate moment such as motherhood in ancient Rome, aroused some public interest with the result that members of the Waste Watch Committee were attacked as being philistines for daring to suggest that the academic community might well have imposed upon it the same restraint in financial terms that the rest of society is being obliged to bear. If the only response by the academic community, or sections of it, to this kind of suggestion that it should suffer the same burden as the rest of the community is to call people who make such suggestions philistines or to make other offensive remarks, it seems to me to be most unfortunate.

The fact is that members of the Waste Watch Committee, all of whom are graduates of universities around Australia, strongly support research grants, particularly those which assist Australia's status and not simply its economic status. However, there are clear choices and preferences to be made and clear costs and benefits involved in every decision made concerning academic grants. It is interesting to note that in the annual report of the Australian Research Grants Committee, under the chairmanship of Professor Aitkin, the Committee says something that members of the Waste Watch Committee totally support. It says:

There is no doubting the quality of Australia's best researchers, or the general standing of Australians in the international world of research and development. But that quality is not matched by quantity. On any comparative index, Australia's research output is small, and not appropriate-

I stress these words-

to a nation seeking to move from reliance on commodities to adding value to exports through the application of skill derived from R & D.

In other words, the Australian Research Grants Committee is clearly emphasising the need for research aimed at a benefit-a clear economic benefit in this case-to Australia. That was basically what we were talking about in our criticism of these grants, because it seemed that there was a touch-if I could use that word-of self-indulgence in some areas of research at a time when we were facing a very difficult economic problem. For example, one sees from the table on page 20 of the annual report that grants have been allocated to the Australian history area, which I consider and I am certain the Senate considers to be a matter of enormous moment and great significance to this nation, particularly as we approach the bicentennial year. One would hope that Australian history would attract relatively large amounts of research money in the humanities area. I stress that we are not opposed to funding humanities research, but we see in the annual report that $245,000 in grants was allocated to Australian history while $304,000 was allocated to anthropology and prehistory and $312,000 was allocated to classical studies and classical archaeology. I am certain they are very worthwhile ventures but there seems to me to be some questionable criterion in the area of humanities about where Australia's research efforts should be directed. Asian and Pacific history, which one would assume would be of enormous significance, received only $185,000, which is less than the amount for classical studies, anthropology and so on. I intend to deal with some of the other criticisms of research grants when I speak on the next paper, which supports strongly the case put by the Waste Watch Committee that some of these grants have been misallocated.

Question resolved in the affirmative.