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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3032

Senator TIERNEY (3.42 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the documents.

This is a group of reports from the Australian Research Council evaluation program. One of the surprising things about these four reports is that they are dated 1990 or 1991 as the period of review. It surprises me that a department like DEET that has 17,000 staff cannot really get its act together a little faster to make sure that we have these reports on time.

  Probably one of the most surprising things in these reports that I have ever read in any report is a disclaimer contained in their background sections. The reports were compiled by very distinguished groups of professors reviewing fields such as economics, organic chemistry, material and chemical engineering and fluid mechanics. The bottom of the first page on the report on economics states:

Professor Robert Trevor wishes it recorded that he did not agree to the partitioning of the report into public and confidential sections. Professor Trevor notes that this was not the original intention, and that, if it had been, the Panel may well have produced a different report.

Professor Trevor's comments are really, in effect, a disclaimer and carry a shadow over the report. This, combined with the timing of the report, is most inadequate on behalf of the department.

  Other things are inadequate in the handling of research in this country. I want to focus on one of these today in the light of an article in this morning's Australian by Professor Roger Holmes, who is the deputy vice-chancellor of research at Griffith University. Professor Holmes's article, which is headed `Beazley must rethink funding formula', highlights one of the very unfortunate consequences of the 1993 budget and its effect on research infrastructure funding. He describes the budget as a wolf in sheep's clothing which will result in the further concentration of research dollars in this country in a smaller group of universities.

  I am sure the Senate has heard of the plan of seven universities in this country to have the research dollars concentrated in their hands. What people have to realise is that two-thirds of the research money is already concentrated in these universities and what is now being proposed by these universities, aided and abetted by this government, is the further concentration of this funding.

  It is seven years since the Dawkinisation of the universities in this country, when the whole system was turned upside down. Institutions that had very little in common were forced to move into mergers to meet some magic number; they could not be universities unless they had a certain number. Whole careers were thrown into states of confusion. People resigned and morale collapsed. What we now have from this government is a de facto admission that this whole policy has failed, despite the best efforts of the staff of universities to make it work in the face of very inappropriate government policy.

  Having forced these institutions together, having moved staff and told them, `If you want a promotion in a university you have to have a research record'—so they turned their careers upside down and got into higher degrees and further research—the government, in effect, is now saying, `Hey, wait a minute. We are not going to do that now; we're going to go back to what we had in the binary system'.

  This came out when I questioned one of the senior public servants, Mr Michael Gallagher, in the Senate estimates. He more or less admitted that if a university wanted to be a teaching university and do no research, it could do that. But he did not admit that the funding formula that the government is now applying will force many universities into that position and recreate the binary system we had before. Given how far we have come in recent years, this is a very backward step. This government stands condemned for this policy. It will be to the detriment of the reputation that Australia has built up in its universities.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.