Senate Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees
The First 20 Years 1970 - 1990

Table of Contents


The Committee and its Predecessors

Since the establishment of the Senate Standing Committees in 1970, matters presently covered by the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training have fallen, formally, within the areas of interest of the following Committees:


Current Membership

The membership of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training in December 1990 was as follows:

A full listing of membership and Committee Chairpersons on the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training and other related committees are listed in an attachment to this section. Other attachments to this section include lists of committee secretaries and reports tabled by the committees.


The Work of the Committees

The issues encompassed within the Committee's various titles have included science, employment and training along with education and the arts. In practice, however, the Committee has focussed primarily on educational and cultural issues as subjects of inquiry. Important themes that feature in an examination of its Reports include broadcasting and television, aspects of education in schools, higher education and language policy. The Committee also undertook a series of inquiries examining Annual Reports 1985-86. Attachment D provides a complete list of the reports tabled by the Committees.

In addition to conducting inquiries and preparing reports, the Committees have occasionally met with visiting parliamentary delegations with similar interests and also with subject specialists and representatives of associations in relevant areas.


Broadcasting and Television

The Standing Committee on Science and the Arts conducted a wide-ranging inquiry into all aspects of television and broadcasting, including Australian content of television programs. This interest was pursued by the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts which examined issues such as the employment of musicians by the ABC, the impact of television on the development and learning of children, the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill 1980 and the proposed amalgamation of the ABC and SBS.

An important group of reports reflected a continuing interest in children's television. 'Children and Television' was tabled in November 1978 and 'Children and Television Revisited' in June 1981. They were followed by 'Children's Television Standards' in August 1985 and 'Another Look at Children's Television' in March 1986, the third and fifth reports in the series examining Annual Reports.

The concern the first of these reports expressed over the incidence of violence on television and its possible impact on children was subsequently picked up by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Following this report, too, the ABC made substantial progress in upgrading the general standard of its own children's programmes. In 'Children and Television Revisited', the Committee expressed the view that the recommendation for an independent Children's Television Production Unit in its first report had given some impetus to the proposal which led to the establishment of an Australian Children's Television Foundation. It endorsed the latter concept, recommending that the Commonwealth Government support this Foundation and that its support include a financial contribution. In the Ministerial Statement tabled in response to 'Children and Television Revisited', the Commonwealth agreed to provide funds to the Australian Children's Television Foundation on a matching basis with the States and Territories. In 'Another Look at Children's Television' the Committee recommended that the Minister should review the funding of the Australian Children's Television Foundation. The Government's response indicated that in its view it would be inappropriate to conduct a unilateral review along the lines suggested.


Aspects of Education at School Level

Inquiries of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts included an inquiry into deprived schools, one into the education of isolated children and one inquiry into the role of the Commonwealth in teacher education.

The Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts undertook inquiries into 'Education and the Workforce', 'Audio-Visual Copying by Educational Institutions', and 'The Education of Gifted and Talented Children'. The Committee also produced a progress report on The Education of Gifted and Talented Children. The inquiry subsequently passed to a Select Committee for completion.

One of its reports in this area, 'Preparation For the Workforce', revealed that an estimated 20 to 25 per cent of young people leaving Australian schools each year were educationally disadvantaged in basic literacy and numeracy skills and life role competencies. The Committee made recommendations covering communication between schools and the community, teacher adequacy and training, class and school sizes and school design, remediation, school leadership, curriculum strengthening in literacy and numeracy, parent involvement, career guidance and restructuring of the secondary school system to cater for school leavers with non-academic intentions. The Ministerial Statement that constituted the Government's response noted that the majority of the recommendations were directed to the responsibilities of the States and the non-government schools while making clear the Government's intention to respond in the Commonwealth sphere by bringing the recommendations formally to the attention of the Australian Education Council and the non-government school authorities.

'Audio-Visual Copying by Educational Institutions' reported in September 1986 on a proposed amendment to the Copyright Amendment Act 1986, and related matters. The Committee's recommendation that the proposed amendment not be proceeded with was accepted by the Government as was its recommendation that a statutory licensing scheme for the educational copying of audio-visual material be introduced.

The Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training's efforts in the area of education at school level resulted in the report 'Education for Active Citizenship in Australian Schools and Youth Organisations', tabled in March 1989. This report revealed widespread ignorance among young people not only about the political processes operating at the national, state and local government levels, but also about what it means to live in a democratic society. It revealed that young people's attitudes towards the political system are often characterised by indifference and apathy and by a sense of alienation and exclusion from decision-making processes at all levels of government.

The Committee identified a need to give much higher priority to helping people understand and take part in decision-making structures, whether these be within the local community, or at state or national levels. In the Committee's view, a major part of this effort should focus on the young, implying a stronger commitment from schools and teacher training institutions and a greater role for youth organisations in this area.

The Government in its response supported in principle the Committee's proposal for a national effort to address the issues identified in the report. It referred to relevant existing Commonwealth activities and acknowledged the significant role it can play in stimulating and supporting developments in this direction. At the same time, it pointed to the responsibility of the States in developing specific schooling strategies and the role of individual higher education institutions with responsibility for teacher education in assessing priorities and needs for the use of available resources.

The Parliamentary Education Office also produced a response to this report. It outlined areas in which the PEO had been active subsequent to the report's publication.

The Committee is maintaining a continuing interest in this subject. By resolution of 17 October 1990 the Senate referred to the Committee the task of reviewing the implementation of the recommendations of the 'Education for Active Citizenship' report. The review is designed to ascertain the extent to which the Committee's earlier recommendations have been implemented and to publicise instances of good practice in schools and other educational institutions.


Higher Education

The Committee has produced two significant reports in this area.

The Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts tabled a comprehensive report on the 'Tenure of Academics' in September 1982. It represented a detailed discussion of a wide range of academic staffing issues including tenure, and made thirty-nine recommendations. While endorsing the concept of tenure in Australian universities and colleges of advanced education for appointment at the level of lecturer and above, it asserted that tenure should be subject to the requirements for flexibility in staffing and to proper accountability.

Six interim Government responses to the report were tabled between December 1983 and December 1986, indicating that the government would be looking at the issue when it considered the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission's review of efficiency and effectiveness . The final response, tabled in November 1987, announced that, because of changed circumstances, 'a specific response to the report now seems unnecessary'.

The Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training tabled 'Priorities for Reform in Higher Education' on 22 August 1990. In this inquiry the Committee specifically attempted to tackle some issues concerned with the quality of higher education in Australia. The report stimulated serious discussion in the press and higher education circles.


National Language Policy

A particularly influential report in terms of stimulating the development of policy was 'A National Language Policy', tabled in February 1985. Although a national language policy had been both mooted and broadly accepted as desirable before this inquiry was undertaken, the situation remained one in which many unco-ordinated policies and programs existed at different levels of government. National co-ordination promised a more efficient allocation of resources and also a clear determination of priorities in the language area.

Two important recommendations in the report were that a national policy be developed and co-ordinated at Commonwealth level and that a national advisory council on languages be established.

In 1986 the Commonwealth Department of Education endorsed a commissioned policy study of its own. This report ('National Policy on Languages', Joseph Lo Bianco), was based on principles not dissimilar from the Senate report. In 1987-88 an Advisory Council on Languages and Multicultural Education was set up to advise the Minister. In all $15 million was allocated for the National Policy on Languages in the 1987-88 budget with $28 million promised by 1988-89. The National Language Program became the focus of annual budgetary allocations within the Department of Employment, Education and Training until 1990. Estimated expenditure in 1988-89 totalled $12,756,000.


Issues Associated with Examination of Annual Reports

Issues concerning the powers and privileges of Parliament were raised in 'The ABC's Radio Racing Service in Queensland', tabled in September 1986, the seventh report in a series examining Annual Reports conducted during the Thirty Fourth Parliament.

The Committee conducted public hearings for the inquiry in Queensland in February 1986. At a hearing in Brisbane on 25 February 1986, witnesses summoned from the ABC refused to answer questions put to them by the Committee. The Committee brought the matter to the Senate's attention in its report. Following debate on the report, the Senate resolved that the ABC should have answered the Committee's questions and asserted that witnesses before Senate Committees have an obligation to co-operate with those Committees.