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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2343

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs)(10.22) —The survey which was never funded was proposed by the Department to me. After some discussion with departmental officers, I agreed to write in the terms in which I wrote to Mr Dawkins. As I recall, the concern of that part of the Department from which the suggestion came was that departmental officers knew, from the kind of correspondence that had been coming in from all sorts of people, that there had been a deliberate campaign of misinformation; people were writing in, say parents whose children attended schools that had got increased funding, complaining that their funding had been cut. I recall, having seen a great deal of this correspondence myself, though I cannot be precise, that sometimes they were referring to the fact that they had been told by the principal of the school or some other person in authority that the fees had to go up because the funds had been cut. Letters were coming from schools where funds had been increased, not cut.

My departmental officers were concerned about this campaign of misinformation and therefore made this proposal that the Department should have available to it perhaps a different way of assessing the extent of misinformation and the sources of it than could be gained by an analysis of newspaper reports and correspondence to the Department.

The use to which it would have been put I think would have been to assist the departmental officers who were responsible for such work to design factual information and distribute it so that everybody could be in possession of the facts. In fact, there was an exercise towards the end of last year where the Department produced a factual sheet and sent it to all non-government schools in Australia. I think, in order to improve that sort of information exercise, the Department sought a survey which would give it more information about how it was that, for example, parents whose children were at schools that had increased funding were under the impression that funding had been reduced. So it was about that kind of misinformation which the officers were seeking additional information in order to combat it, I think in order to plan the development of factual information and the distribution of it so that people would know factually what funding decisions had been made. That would have been the use to which the results would have been put. That survey was not proceeded with. That matter has been remarked upon on more than one occasion in the past few weeks.

Subsequently it was decided to extend the youth attitudes survey to cover some of the same grounds. Senator Harradine was not present at the Estimates Committee meeting and may not be aware that a sum of $35,000 was appropriated under the Department of the Special Minister of State for expenditure on extending the youth attitudes survey to include some research into these matters . As the sum appropriated is $35,000, I suppose one cannot expect a very thorough investigation. But the departmental officers advised me, and I accepted their advice, that they would get some useful information. As to specific matters that will be covered in the extended survey, as has been said a number of times in the past few weeks, at the time of the Senate Estimates Committee meeting I had no knowledge of it. Yesterday at the Estimates Committee meeting one officer was able to go over the kinds of issues on which they hoped information would come forth from this extended survey, and they were matters such as-

Senator Harradine —Have you got those questions?

Senator RYAN —They are in the record of yesterday's Estimates Committee meeting, but I can repeat them from the officer's handwritten notes if the honourable senator would prefer me to do that.

Senator Harradine —From the officer's handwritten notes.

Senator RYAN —From the officer's handwritten notes, the sorts of areas which I now understand, particularly after the officer's explanation yesterday, would be covered would be the community attitudes to schools funding issues, the importance of schools funding issues, what they think the Government has done, their sources of information, their main priorities, and how they regarded the conflict that arose after the decision of last year. They are the general areas. As to what questions the research organisation actually designs to elicit this information, we do not have such detailed information. But it would design questions that test community attitudes on these matters. That information will be put, I presume, to the use that the other information would have been had it been got; that is, to assist officers to design and distribute accurate information so that people who are interested in this question can actually know accurately what decisions have been taken. When the report of the youth attitudes survey which has been extended to this year is available to the Government, we will make it publicly available.