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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
24/05/2010
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Australian Institute of Family Studies

CHAIR —I welcome Professor Alan Hayes, Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies and officers. Professor Hayes, would you like to make an opening statement?

Prof. Hayes —No. I am fine to start with the questions.

CHAIR —I also welcome the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig.

Senator KROGER —It is good to see you again, Professor Hayes.

Prof. Hayes —Thank you.

Senator KROGER —I notice that there is really only one new budget measure for the institute since the publication of the 2009-10 budget, and that is the budget savings of $47,000 in 2009-10, $95,000 in the following year and $96,000 in the forward years against its appropriation. Can you give us an indication of the areas where those savings will be achieved?

Prof. Hayes —The approach with the institute is to look at the savings being made through a greater move to online electronic publication of our material. Increasingly, that is the way in which we are getting most growth in our publication access by those who draw on our material. We are also seeking to be efficient around reducing travel costs, moving towards use, to a greater extent, of teleconferencing and videoconferencing facilities as appropriate. We have a number of ways in which we have done that. But we are also seeking to grow our contract and commissioned revenue to offset that, because we do depend on that. At the moment, around two-thirds of our funding comes from contracts and commissions. So we are actively seeking to grow our contract revenue.

Senator KROGER —Have you given some thought to how you will endeavour to do that in terms of increasing your income flow?

Prof. Hayes —Yes. We are extending the number of agencies with which we have memoranda of understanding. We are also seeking to do more work in terms of states and territories. And we are competing for a range of projects that are competitively tendered or for grants under competitive schemes that we can access.

Senator KROGER —You will tender for more contracts and so on; where would those various agencies be sourcing that information or research or whatever from now?

Prof. Hayes —From a range of research organisations, but our explicit strategy—which has been in place for some time—is to increase the extent to which we partner with other organisations, such as the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. We have been successful with them in a number of bids for contract funding. We do not win everything, but we have a reasonable track record for going for things that are strategically within our focus and for competing strongly.

Senator KROGER —What sort of income are you talking about that you would be trying to value-add with in terms of your overall operations?

Prof. Hayes —In total, at the moment, for this financial year, $6.5 million comes from contracts and commissions, and about $3½ million from our appropriation funding. I might add that I am very grateful that we do get appropriation funding. But we need to be thinking about the nature of the organisation and, I think, for a research organisation it keeps us on our mettle in terms of competing and making sure that we are meeting the standards that the market expects and we are offering value for money and rigour.

Senator KROGER —One of the observations that is made in terms of tendering for various jobs is the staff-intensive nature of it in terms of putting it together, because it does tend to be a very manpower-intensive activity. Do you see that your current staffing levels will cope with that, or do you envisage that you will need to increase your staff levels to draw in the greater income and offset it that way?

Prof. Hayes —I think we have strategically staffed in a way that gives us the set of expertise that we require. Some of those changes occurred when we moved from the CAC Act to the FMA Act. We had to increase the extent to which we had staff in the accountability and contract area, and their skills have been developed so that we can do this effectively. We have got some specialisation; we have a nucleus of staff, supported through both appropriation and contracts and commissions, who are quite expert in applying for tendering and supporting researchers to apply for tendering and then monitoring the contracts.

Senator KROGER —I think I might have asked you this at the last estimates. What level was your staffing at again?

Prof. Hayes —We have 75 staff at the moment.

Senator KROGER —Are they all full-time or are some part-time?

Prof. Hayes —We have 55 full-time staff, 18 part-time staff and two casual staff.

Senator KROGER —Have you been advised why you have to cut back in your costs?

Prof. Hayes —I think there are two sources of that, the efficiency dividend which has applied to us for as long as I have been at the helm—just after I came on board, in fact—and some specialised savings within the portfolio.

Senator KROGER —Other than efficiency savings, you have not been directed as to why it is necessary for there to be a dramatic cut in budgets across the board?

Prof. Hayes —I think, given the circumstances of the global financial crisis and other factors, we were given an indication that portfolio agencies needed to save in some areas and we have done our best to do that, accommodate it and react to it by managing in terms of the current realities.

Senator KROGER —It is interesting, isn’t it, to note the costcutting measures across such a number of forward years? One can only presume it must have something to do with the stimulus package and what is required from the various departments to continue the splurge of spending. I move on to the conference I understand you are putting together. When is that being held?

Prof. Hayes —Yes, from 7 to 9 July.

Senator KROGER —Is that conference a regular event?

Prof. Hayes —Every second year we hold a conference. This is our 11th conference.

Senator KROGER —Does the conference have a particular theme this year?

Prof. Hayes —Yes, Sustaining Families in Challenging Times.

Senator KROGER —That is probably a very appropriate title for the current climate.

Prof. Hayes —It is the title of our current research plan.

Senator KROGER —Is the conference organised with a national audience or an international audience as your target? What is the framework?

Prof. Hayes —Predominantly national but increasingly we get international interest. Quite a lot of delegates are coming from around the region and also some from the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada—really the sweep of countries with a particular interest in family policy.

Senator KROGER —With the composition of that, how many people do you normally get?

Prof. Hayes —The aim is that we will get between 450 and 500. The venue we have taken will accommodate a maximum of 500 and thus far registrations are coming in very steadily.

Senator KROGER —Are you holding it in Melbourne?

Prof. Hayes —We are holding it in Melbourne.

Senator KROGER —At what venue in Melbourne?

Prof. Hayes —We are holding it at the new Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Senator KROGER —Is the conference one that you put together on the basis that you have to underwrite the costs or is it a self-funding event?

Prof. Hayes —We try to cost recover so that it is cost neutral, but we get some support from a range of Australian government portfolio departments that are most closely linked with us.

Senator KROGER —Is that like a sponsorship arrangement?

Prof. Hayes —They are giving us small cash contributions and we in turn give some recognition of their delegate costs. We aim to break even.

Senator KROGER —Do any non-government agencies sponsor you?

Prof. Hayes —No, we do not, but we certainly have strong contingents from most of the non-government agencies, community sector organisations with an interest in families.

Senator KROGER —Are the government agencies that are supporting this conference ones that have sponsored conferences in the past?

Prof. Hayes —Yes. Of the list this time, each of them has supported us in the past.

Senator KROGER —Have any of them had their budgets reduced and had to reduce the amount of their support for the conference or is their support consistent with what they have done in the past?

Prof. Hayes —Consistent with what they have done in the past. What we have done is to seek to attract a very good set of keynote speakers internationally and also to ensure that the topic coverage is in areas that are relevant to their prime interests. But I cannot comment on their budgets per se. Another thing we have done this year, as it is the 30th anniversary of the institute, is we have made a point of highlighting that this is, in a sense, a special event given we have reached our third decade.

Senator KROGER —Regarding the international speakers that you referred to, are they paid?

Prof. Hayes —We pay their travel costs and their accommodation costs.

Senator KROGER —Do they have an appearance fee of some nature?

Prof. Hayes —They have not asked us for appearance fees.

Senator KROGER —I have to say that I do find it extraordinary that government agencies are continuing to support events like this when there must be, and are, a number of independent bodies with similar areas of interest and they are not involved in bringing something like this together.

Prof. Hayes —I think the institute is a prime focus. This event has been going for a long time and it really is the peak event in terms of family studies’ research—the most up-to-date research—topics that are of interest to policymakers and a lot that is of interest to practitioners. It has been a prime focus. Given our requirement to increase understanding of the factors confronting families, it is a highly important thing that we do. They do not cover the full cost of it. Of course, we levy delegate fees, registration fees. The support we get assists us to bring high-quality speakers—not only our keynote speakers but also panel lead speakers.

Senator KROGER —At the end of a conference, what would you determine to be the parameters of a successful event?

Prof. Hayes —The extent to which we have managed to attract high-quality speakers who bring new ideas, fresh ideas, and insights into research policy and practice in countries overseas; the extent to which we have attracted delegates from other parts of our region particularly; the extent to which we typically get the lead speakers, keynote speakers and a selection of the delegates to provide us with papers, which we publish or make available through our website. There is a lot that comes out of it in terms of stimulating an interest in what is happening in research in this country and getting an insight into where trends are going in terms of those three things: research, policy and practice internationally.

Senator KROGER —Do you have any participation from lawmakers and the legal fraternity? A big part of your challenge is dealing with the structure that is very much a part of what you have to work with. The legal system in particular plays into a lot of the issues and research that you do. Do they input into this in any way or even attend so that they can take out some of the ramifications of their decision-making?

Prof. Hayes —They attend. We have a session that is particularly focused this year—a panel discussion around family violence and family law, chaired by the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia. We have the Principal Judge of the Family Court of New Zealand attending as the lead speaker in that session. We have Professor Richard Chisholm who of course did a report that paralleled our evaluation of family law reforms, and we have another specialist family law researcher from our own staff who will be a panellist. That is a major focus. We have a range of other papers that are looking at issues to do with particularly family law. We get a sizable component of lawyers attending, but it is mainly those who are interested in family law matters.

Senator KROGER —I might be presuming incorrectly, but frequently with these sorts of things it is family lawyers—for whom it is their area of professional interest—who would be sympathetic and more likely to attend. But they are not necessarily the ones that should be hammered in terms of what individual difficulties are. I guess that is what I am leading to: how do you get state law institutes and so on engaged so that they can take away a different message to your local family lawyer?

Prof. Hayes —We do that in a number of ways. I think our journal, Family matters, gets a wide readership. I think the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse gets a lot of interest from lawyers, including those who are not specialists but are your local lawyer who has a range of practice areas. In the period after the release of the family law evaluation, we have been asked to speak at a number of functions, and they are attended both by specialists and generalists. We also have people who have been doing some work in the area of past adoption. That has come to the interest of a number of community advocates and lawyers. So we have quite a wide reach, although, because we are an entity established under the Family Law Act and we have a family focus, we do tend to get people who are interested in family matters. We also have increasing profile around issues to do with family violence, family dysfunction, family disadvantage. Some of those things are of interest to people who are working, for example, in community legal centres or in legal aid. Last year I had the honour of speaking at the legal aid conference, which brought together lawyers across a wide range of areas that have a focus through the legal aid commissions.

Senator KROGER —You just mentioned the family relationship centres. I wanted to come to that. As you know, the family relationship centres, which have worked quite well as an intermediary between the court system and families, were established by the Howard government. But in this last budget their funding was slashed by $43.9 million. Were you aware of that budget measure?

Prof. Hayes —I was aware of the budget measure, yes.

Senator KROGER —Were you in any way consulted or are you aware of any consultation prior to the slashing of that budget in terms of the effect it would have on the ground?

Prof. Hayes —We were not consulted about that, although we had spoken to those matters in the report that we provided.

Senator KROGER —How do you think that will affect the effectiveness of those family relationship centres?

Prof. Hayes —That is difficult to see. We have done one evaluation. It is the sort of thing that may require further revisiting of the impacts. I think it is not useful for me to speculate about that.

Senator KROGER —One would think that the immediate impact would be a dramatic increase in the workload of the magistrates courts, for a start—matters that cannot be dealt with in the family relationship centres will end up back in the magistrates courts. My understanding of the whole reason why the family relationship centres were established is that it was to try and keep people out of court. Do you think that would be a reasonable assessment?

Prof. Hayes —They are really policy matters for government, but some of the other initiatives may counter that. Given the insights we have into the complexity of the family law system, it is difficult to see how each of these things will play out. I do not think it is appropriate for me to speculate about government policy.

Senator KROGER —I would think that one of the things in your conference will be about lack of funding in the area of family studies. It seems somewhat hypocritical to have a huge funding slash in the very area that has been quite effective in helping families while you are convening conferences to determine how you can better support families. There seems to be some anomaly there.

Prof. Hayes —It is constant work for me to try to encourage people to spend more money on family research, but I do not set the budget parameters.

Senator KROGER —Are you seeing more family stress at the moment?

Prof. Hayes —What we are seeing is that the findings of the evaluation clearly showed that there are many families who are encountering those three toxic effects, or toxic inputs, that I spoke about. They are the problems of mental health, the problems of substance abuse and the problems of family violence and fearfulness. I think what one is seeing—and it will take a while for this to play out—is some of the stresses that attach to the global financial crisis. We have written about this: we had a special edition of Family Matters called ‘Hard Times’, and we have just released the latest Family Matters, which has looked at issues to do with family and place. That has really had an emphasis on those families who are vulnerable because of the places where they live—the locational disadvantage and what might be done and is being done to address that. So the short answer is that it requires consistent monitoring to look at family impacts, but there are certainly families who are doing it tough.

Senator KROGER —How many publications do you put out in the year?

Prof. Hayes —Between 40 and 50 each year.

Senator KROGER —It is a significant number, isn’t it?

Prof. Hayes —It is. For the size of the institute, I think it is good productivity.

Senator KROGER —How many of your 75 staff would be researchers?

Prof. Hayes —Two-thirds, and about a third are providing strategic and other support, including our information web and IT infrastructure. So I think the balance is about right for the sort of organisation we are.

Senator KROGER —I just want to turn to the situation of family violence—probably too briefly given what it deserves. With the parenting disputes that go through the Magistrates Court, it has been identified that one of the many concerns there is the ineffectiveness of identifying or screening for family violence. Do you believe that that is the case?

Prof. Hayes —The advice that we have had from the Federal Magistrates Court is that they have been addressing the issue of better screening and better identification processes. Evaluation did show that there were differences across the courts, but I think there is very high awareness in the three family courts in Australia of the issue of violence. I think there is also—from the legal fraternity, from the judiciary and from community agencies—an awareness of the need for better ways of screening and better triage for violence. So I think there is a growing awareness in all three courts of the importance of getting a more robust approach to this, and I think—

Senator KROGER —Do you think there is a more robust approach that could be taken?

Prof. Hayes —I think one of the issues is a better approach to triage. The ideal would be to have some uniformly applied screening instruments. We spoke last time about the Law Society’s initiatives and the Family Law Section’s initiatives. I know there are other processes underway to try to think about the way in which you can get a better set of tools for identifying and to be able to provide supports early on and recognise that some of the things that emerge are the products of complex determinants like mental health problems. So part of the problem of violence is a problem around the other two legs of this, which are mental health and substance abuse and addictive behaviours, including those related to gambling, and also, I think, issues of financial stress on families. So I think it is complex and it requires a systemic approach.

Senator KROGER —How significant do you think the problem is?

Prof. Hayes —The evaluation shows—and Dr Gray might want to say a little more about this—that it is very significant, ranging from—

Senator KROGER —What percentage of people do you think we are talking about who go through that?

Prof. Hayes —One in five, I think—correct me if I am wrong.

Dr Gray —One in five parents who were separated post 2006. About 25 per cent of mothers reported that they experienced physical abuse and about one in six fathers. Then there are people who experience emotional abuse. If you include that, around two-thirds of mothers reported having experienced emotional abuse and/or physical violence and about half of fathers. You very rarely will get physical abuse without emotional abuse, but you may get emotional abuse without physical abuse.

Senator KROGER —We did discuss this at length last time because a number of women have spoken to me about this very issue and their concerns about the legal system in terms of what they describe as abusive former partners and fathers. I am sure it happens the other way around too, but in particular I have heard from women who fail to block access to their children by what they consider and claim to be a violent parent, to the point that they lose custody themselves because they are considered to be—and I can cite many instances—emotional and therefore incapable of being a good parent and all that.

CHAIR —Senator Kroger, could I ask you to ask your final questions. We have other senators and we need to move on.

Senator KROGER —Yes, thank you, Chair. It is a very real problem that, certainly since I have been speaking with you, does not seem to have been addressed in any finite way.

Prof. Hayes —Given some of the groups that I interact with, I think there is a heightened awareness. It is a matter for government in terms of policy. We are not involved in framing policy. But I think the awareness is stark, and this is one of the reasons why we put such a spotlight in our own conference on the issue of family law and family violence. I think it is an issue that across the OECD is gaining a lot of interest and a lot of concern. My feeling is that it is why three of the clearing houses that the institute hosts—the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse, the National Child Protection Clearinghouse and the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault—are so important. I think that is why having this focus on distilling and drawing together the information in this and making it available both to policymakers and to practitioners is extremely important.

Senator KROGER —It certainly affects what is happening on the ground. You mentioned your adoption review.

CHAIR —Your final question, Senator Kroger.

Senator KROGER —Chair, I do have a few things, and I understand that we have a little bit of time.

CHAIR —If we go to Senator Cameron and Senator Ryan then you can finish off, but you have been going for quite some time and there are other senators, so if you could make this your final question for the moment—

Senator KROGER —I understand, Chair, but I have been sitting here all day and being very considerate of fellow colleagues as well.

Senator CAMERON —Haven’t we all?

Senator RYAN —But we can come back to Senator Kroger after Senator Cameron?

CHAIR —Yes, that is what I said.

Senator RYAN —Senator Cameron will get a turn and then we will come back.

Senator KROGER —I am happy to allow Senator Cameron to take the call.

CHAIR —Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON —Professor Hayes, do you have any figures on resignations or retirements from your organisation in the last 12 months or few years?

Prof. Hayes —Yes. Since we last appeared at estimates we have had six resignations. It reflects in part the fact that we have a number of contracts that are non-ongoing. They come to an end and we do not have further work for those people, so that is the issue. Do you want to go through the list?

Ms Tait —Since the last estimates the departures that we have experienced have been directly related to the end of contracts—either because the non-ongoing, short-term contract finished because the project that the researcher was employed for has finished or because the people who knew that the project was about to end found themselves another job just ahead of that time. So it has been directly related to our contract work. We have also had an ongoing staff member who opted to live in Chile and therefore resigned her position. There is a range of reason that people are departing, because the link between our contract revenue and projects that we specifically recruit people for and the end of those projects is clearly demonstrated.

Senator CAMERON —So just under 10 per cent of staff turnover—if you have got 75 staff and you have had six go. Professor Hayes, you indicated that you had a nucleus of expert staff. How many are in that group?

Prof. Hayes —In terms of supporting contracts, we have accountability and contracts officer, a small finance team and a team of two staff members who look after our editing and publication work. We have quite a small nucleus of people who provide those sorts of corporate supports for the research activity.

Senator CAMERON —If one of those experts resigned or retired, you have the flexibility, even under the cut-backs that you talk about—the efficiency dividend and the specialised savings—to replace your key personnel. Is that correct?

Prof. Hayes —We can, and we aim to do that through managing the balance between appropriation and contract funding prudently.

Senator CAMERON —Do you have an increasing number of complaints that you are dealing with?

Prof. Hayes —No. In fact, we do a regular staff survey, and I think over 80 per cent of staff said positive things.

Senator CAMERON —I am not asking about your staff; I am talking about people who might make complaints about privacy matters.

Prof. Hayes —I get a small trickle of letters from people who have current matters in the Family Court in terms of family disputes. Of course, I cannot assist on those because we are not an advice agency.

Senator CAMERON —So, under the current situation with the efficiency dividend and the specialised savings, you have got the flexibility to replace key staff?

Prof. Hayes —I do that through the winning of contracts and commissions.

Senator CAMERON —What would happen if you did not have the flexibility to replace those key staff?

Prof. Hayes —We would have to encounter the circumstance that we encountered in 2005-06, which was some voluntary redundancies. But I seek to avoid that.

Senator CAMERON —No, that is not the point I am making. If there was a retirement or a resignation and you were told that you could not replace that person, what effect would that have on the operation of your organisation?

Prof. Hayes —I think we are in a different position, given the fact that we have a much higher flexibility around contracts and commissions. We moved to a situation where we have staff who are multiskilled and can be deployed more flexibly. That is another thing that we have done.

Senator CAMERON —So, if there were a general cutback across the Australian Public Service, you would see yourself immune from that, would you?

Prof. Hayes —I would see that as a matter of policy at the time. It is a hypothetical at the moment. So I do not think it is appropriate to speculate on it.

Senator CAMERON —So you have people with key investigative skills, have you?

Prof. Hayes —In terms of our researchers, yes. We need a flow of people around areas of particular focus at the time. That is why our model is somewhat atypical for the Public Service.

Senator CAMERON —Let us come at it from a different angle. If some of these people had key investigative skills or were nuclear expert staff, if you had losses in those areas and you could not replace them for any reason, do you have a business plan in place so that the multiskilling of the bulk of your staff can keep the operation going?

Prof. Hayes —That is what we do as a matter of course. We are in a competitive market for research expertise. We have moved to make sure that the institute is an attractive place to work, and we put a lot of effort into ensuring that we have a strong program of staff development. We have moved away from a time where we had highly specialised teams to much more flexibility across the institute. I have tried to adopt an approach to managing which is not unlike the approach that most research organisations have.

Senator CAMERON —What is the basic skills of your researchers in terms of their university training? What would you have?

Prof. Hayes —We have sociologists, demographers, psychologists and economists. We have a small nucleus of family lawyers. Do want to add to this list? I think that just about covers it.

Senator CAMERON —So a sociologist would not be multiskilling or multitasking with a lawyer, would they?

Prof. Hayes —No, but one of those has got skills in sociology and demography.

Senator CAMERON —One of the lawyers?

Prof. Hayes —No, one of the lawyers has skills that are highly specialised to family law.

Senator CAMERON —Does there come a time when your multiskilling does not meet the requirements? Are you fulfilling your obligations under the act? When does that happen in terms of your resources?

Senator RONALDSON —I admire Senator Cameron for his pursuit of this but surely these are hypothetical matters on which it would be impossible for this witness to comment on.

Senator CAMERON —Can you give me some examples of the training for the multiskilling that keeps you afloat when skills are lost?

Prof. Hayes —We send people—for example—to conferences, both national and international, so they come up to speed. But we do move flexibly. As each research plan evolves over its triennium, the new one is in place. I have sought to anticipate where our needs will be. For example, I have sought to build our expertise in family law. That was quite timely given that we were not then able to undertake national evaluation of the family law system. Likewise, I have sought to increase the economic capacity of the institute, so we have been recruiting in that area. But I think it is that balance between what we can do under our appropriation and what has been the reality. If I go back to 2001, about 70 per cent of our funding was through appropriation and about 30 per cent through contracting and commissions. I have grown the contracting revenue of the institute since 2005 by about 97 per cent. So I have been actively out there in the contestable world of research.

Senator CAMERON —You indicated that you had not been consulted about budget cuts by this government. Were you ever consulted on budget cuts by the previous government?

Prof. Hayes —The efficiency dividend came in and we adapted. My experience is that one has to manage with the circumstances that you find confronting you. I think that is what any executive in any organisation has to encounter. I must admit that I have had a singular lack of success in any year in terms of increasing our appropriation. That is a difficulty but I do not give up on it. I will keep trying but it is a matter of coming up with a new policy proposal that meets a need. In other ways, we have been able to grow the revenue because we have been responsive, relevant and renowned for our rigour.

Senator CAMERON —Listening to the questioning from Senator Kroger, I am a bit perturbed by the arguments that seem to be coming forward about the concern and compassion to make sure your organisation is appropriately funded, when the opposition have made announcements of 12,000 public servants going and a $4 billion cut out of the budget. Did Senator Kroger talk to you about the implications that these cutbacks may have for you sometime in the future?

Prof. Hayes —We have had no discussions.

Senator KROGER —We were not doing a slash and burn, Dougie, and you know that. It was from those retiring. You are going to have to try harder next time.

CHAIR —There is a question before the panel.

Senator RYAN —A point of order, Chair. I am not familiar with the part of the standing orders that refers to asking government agencies whether or not opposition senators have been in contact with them. This is about the appropriations bills before the Senate.

CHAIR —Quite right.

Senator RYAN —Senator Kroger talked about the family relationship centres. Are you examining as part of your research program the impact—

Prof. Hayes —No, we are not.

Senator RYAN —Why not?

Prof. Hayes —We have done a major evaluation of the family law reforms, which was a three-year project. That report was released in late January. We have not been asked to do anything else.

Senator RYAN —You do you have some capacity to determine your own research agenda, do you not?

Prof. Hayes —We do. We consult widely. We did a national consultation both for this research plan and for the previous plan. We basically think about what our capacities are and where we have our expertise, and we put something together that balances need and capacity.

Senator RYAN —It strikes me that, given the large project you did on family law and these quite substantial cuts to the family relationship centres, some research into that would give you a very good case study or example of the centres’ effectiveness. As their funding is drastically cut you would be able to see the change in various metrics that you might use, which would allow you to determine how effective they were. Was that not considered—or is it a resourcing issue?

Prof. Hayes —We have not been asked to do that work.

Senator RYAN —I understand the government can ask you to undertake research projects.

Prof. Hayes —It can commission us.

Senator RYAN —So the government cannot just request a project. It can only undertake the commission?

Prof. Hayes —They can, but in my experience they have not. The departments will approach us to see whether we would have the capacity to undertake a piece of work. More typically it is a tender, so we would compete with other organisations and win it on the merits of the tender and the value for money.

Senator RYAN —Has the institute commenced, either from the government via tender or through a direct commission, any research on paid parental leave?

Prof. Hayes —No, we have not.

Senator RYAN —You also mentioned earlier the cuts in the budget. You mentioned one—the efficiency dividend—but I thought I also heard you mention some other cuts in the budget. Could you elaborate on those?

Prof. Hayes —I mentioned that there had been some portfolio savings.

Senator RYAN —And how did they impact on the institute?

Prof. Hayes —They have meant that we have had to think about the way in which we do business? We have moved to accommodate them in two ways. We have moved to do that through looking at further efficiencies and savings internally and we have also looked at ways in which we can grow the business to generate more income.

Senator RYAN —Excuse my ignorance. The portfolio budget issues and the efficiency dividend have reduced the size of your budget as the institute?

Prof. Hayes —They have reduced the size of the appropriation, but the appropriation is, in round terms, about one-third of our funding.

Senator RYAN —And how much have they reduced the appropriation by?

Prof. Hayes —For the coming year, by $340,000 with the efficiency dividend included.

Senator RYAN —Do you have handy what that represents absent the efficiency dividend?

Prof. Hayes —Yes, I have. The efficiency dividend for 2010-11 is $96,000, and the portfolio savings measures are $295,000. So it is larger than I indicated; it is $391,000.

Senator RYAN —That is effectively just taken off the appropriation that you were given.

Prof. Hayes —That is right.

Senator RYAN —What percentage of your appropriation does that represent?

Prof. Hayes —In round figures, it is about 10 per cent. We have $3.5 million. It is less than 10 per cent.

Senator RYAN —So we are looking at a cut to your appropriation of between five and 10 per cent?

Prof. Hayes —No. My mathematics has eluded me at this hour. It is $391,000 on an appropriation that now ends up at $3.5 million.

Senator KROGER —I have one further matter that I want to deal with, and that is in relation to the adoption review that you have recently undertaken. I understand it was from those individual women who were affected between the 1940s and the 1970s. Is that right?

Dr Gray —The institute was commissioned to do a review of existing research literature about past adoption practices in Australia. I will have to check, but yes, in broad terms, it was through to the early 1970s.

Senator KROGER —With the researching of that, how did you identify individuals that would be pertinent to your research?

Dr Gray —This particular project we have done was looking at existing research. So it was not to do primary research but to do an assessment of the existing research base to identify what we know, what we do not know and where the gaps are in our knowledge. Many of these practices were secret, hidden and people did not talk about them. So while there is a great deal of historical record—hospital records, government documents and so on—there is actually relatively little rigorous, systematic research that has been done on this issue.

Senator KROGER —In your assessment, then, was there reliable data that could lead you to a position on whether you think that there was a case for reasonable concern in relation to past adoption practices?

Dr Gray —It is clear that past adoption practices could have very profound impacts upon the mothers who relinquished or gave up their babies, the children who were adopted, the families that adopted the children, and the fathers’ families. There is a diversity of experiences. What we conclude is that the existing research base does not really enable us to form a reliable picture of exactly what went on, how many people were affected, in what ways, or what their current service needs are where it has been quite traumatic and they have been very badly affected by itin a long-lasting way. There is little known about what the particular needs for services are for that group.

Senator KROGER —So you could not determine whether there was any commonality in terms of the cases or, further, establish where they are at now, whether they are in receipt of or require any particular support?

Dr Gray —The research we did concluded that the evidence base just was not there in order to make those assessments. It is clear that people have been affected, and very profoundly, but there is just not really reliable, good quality research in this area. There has been some research done, which is referred to in the report, but taken as a whole our assessment was that the evidence base was limited.

Senator KROGER —On that basis, was it your assessment that there was sufficient material there that should be further researched—rather than researching research that had already been done, that there should be some original research done?

Dr Gray —Yes.

Prof. Hayes —I will give you the answer that every graduate student says in their thesis: ‘More research is required.’ I think this is an area where clearly there is, because of the diversity of ways in which this happened, the diversity of agencies involved and the length of time that has gone by in many instances. But I think Dr Gray is exactly right: the one inescapable conclusion is that it has had profound impacts on many lives.

Dr Gray —The report does identify some areas in which work could be done in order to better understand the impact.

CHAIR —Are there any further questions? There being none, I thank you, Professor Hayes, and your officers, for appearing before us. We look forward to seeing you next time.

Prof. Hayes —Thank you.

CHAIR —I now call forward the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

[5.16 pm]