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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1321


Senator TEAGUE —I direct my question to the Minister for Education. When will the Government respond to two major reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts? The Government's commitment is normally to respond within a six-month period but the report on tenure of academics is now more than three years without a Government response despite some 40 important recommendations affecting all universities, institutes and colleges. The report `Towards a National Language Policy' was completed more than 10 months ago and sets out some 120 important recommendations relating to all aspects of Australia's language resources. Secondly, and briefly, I ask the Minister to clarify the current arrangements for undertaking the preparation of the Government's response and for ensuring that the responses to both reports are comprehensive and substantial in all the matters that senators and these inquiries have raised and recommended.


Senator RYAN —I am sure that Senator Teague will be pleased to hear that a great deal of discussion and development has taken place in regard to both of those reports. There has been substantial discussion of the recommendations in the report surrounding the tenure issue with relevant staff associations and with the Vice-Chancellors Committee. The Caucus education committee, a body which gives advice to the Government on these matters, has also consulted with relevant unions and had discussions. The Government is aware of the many defects in the present tenure system. In particular, of course, Senator Teague will be aware that I am conscious of the defects of the present system in relation to employment and promotional opportunities for women academics whose career patterns are such that they have experienced what could be called structural discrimination by the present tenure system. So there has been a great deal of discussion and consideration of ways in which the tenure system could be improved.

I think the Government will have a final response to the report after another report is available to it. I refer to our request to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission to carry out a review of productivity in higher education. That report will be with the Government by April 1986. The productivity review will give CTEC and its Chairman, Hugh Hudson, the opportunity to look at tenure issues in the context of making a more productive use of resources which go into tertiary education. As Senator Teague would know, this is a complex question. The advantages of tenure are very widely appreciated within the academic community. Tenure gives an academic security to pursue his or her research and teaching free from interference of a political nature or any other nature.

It is true that the pattern of the growth of Australian higher education institutions was such that a very large number of academics were tenured in the 1970s. That situation has meant that newly qualified academics coming into teaching and research simply have nowhere to go. In fact, they have very few tenured positions to go to. As well as the particular attempts we are making to find a better way of providing tenure in higher education institutions, the fact that tertiary institutions are now in a period of growth again inevitably means that more academic positions are becoming available and so the pressure on tenure is being released somewhat in that way. However, I would not conclude that growth alone will answer all of the issues that were raised by the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts. So we will continue to have discussions about the Senate Committee's recommendations. However, the final response from Government will come after the productivity review is available to us.


Senator Peter Baume —You have had it for three years, Minister.


Senator RYAN —Senator Baume interjects that it is three years. Of course, those three years have been interrupted by an election period and, as all honourable senators know, the work of Senate committees was suspended during that time. I would say that, even if it is three years, that is not a long time in which to sort out all the extremely complex issues involved in the matter of tenure within higher education institutions and which were very comprehensively discussed in the Senate Committee's report.

The national language policy report to which the second part of Senator Teague's question related also raises very complex issues. They are under discussion in a systematic way both within the Caucus education committee and within agencies in my portfolio. Senator Teague will appreciate that policy issues raised by the Senate Committee's report impinge not only on my portfolio but also on the portfolio of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. In order to co-ordinate a government response, I have set up a portfolio committee within my Department which will consult with relevant departments and the Caucus education committee. I think that it will finally have a report ready to Government round about October of this year.