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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31751

Mr MURPHY (10:18 AM) —I speak on behalf of both Dr Joanne Tomkins, Associate Professor and Reader in Drama at the School of English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland and Ms Kate Stowell, News Editor of Arts Alive radio, Melbourne. I met Dr Tomkins and Ms Stowell last week as they were delegates to the inaugural Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, CHASS, conference held at Parliament House on 15 and 16 June 2004.

As a nineteen-year-old news editor, Ms Stowell has a passion for promoting youth participation in Australia's media and strongly believes media diversity in Australia is crucial to Australia's democracy. Ms Stowell is concerned by the Howard government's failure to provide adequate support for young artists and youth media. Dr Tomkins believes a major issue facing the newly formed Council for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, particularly for members who are university researchers, is the government's funding parameters for federally funded research projects. These researchers in humanities, arts and social sciences represent almost half of Australia's university researchers.

The government's national research priority areas, NRPAs, for research in Australia apply almost exclusively to the sciences and related disciplines, instead of recognising research that broadens the nation's understanding of its culture and its place in the international sphere. The four NRPAs that were announced by the government in 2003 are (1) an environmentally sustainable Australia, (2) promoting and maintaining good health, (3) frontiers technologies for building and transforming Australian industries and (4) safeguarding Australia. There is almost no room in these categories for the vital research that Australia's humanities, arts and social sciences researchers conduct. The government originally stated that it would add a humanities and social sciences based priority area in 2004. Instead, the government amended the existing four areas to broaden them slightly. They remain the same. But the priority goals within two of them can possibly be stretched to include research in the humanities, arts and social sciences. These may all be worthy research ventures, but the amendment to the NRPAs does not recognise the nature of a vast proportion of arts and social sciences research in Australia.

It is essential to see that the humanities, arts and social sciences are part of everyday life and culture in Australia. They are concerned with how we read our surroundings, what media we use to get our news and how we interpret that news, and what we might read or whether we have seen the latest David Williamson play. The arts are not isolated from the rest of the world. If we believe that arts and social sciences are a vital part of the nation's wellbeing then these research parameters need to be modified. The humanities, arts and social sciences sometimes suffer from old-fashioned images of researchers in ivory towers simply doing arcane, abstract or meaningless research. This model is long outmoded. Instead, research in these areas connects integrally to the world around us. After all, the management of culture is as important as the IT management of information.

If the government is committed to maintaining and improving facilities for Australian research at international levels, surely it needs to provide parameters that are appropriate to the research that Australia's humanities, arts and sciences researchers are doing. The research that these academics carry out is realistic and pragmatic. It is time that the funding models for which they are eligible were equally realistic and pragmatic. Funding CHASS is one useful step. The Minister for Education, Science and Training announced some ongoing organisational funding for CHASS on 16 June 2004. But providing realistic parameters for the actual research in Australia in the disciplines that comprise the humanities, arts and social sciences is also essential. In concluding, I congratulate Dr Tomkins and Ms Stowell on their hard work and passion for Australian culture and media diversity and their work with the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.