My trip to Canberra turned out to be more eventful than expected for three reasons. First, I discovered the night before that in the course of changing the timing of my return flight to allow for my meeting with Senator Mitch Fifield at 4pm on Wednesday, someone (ether QANTAS or my travel agent) managed to eliminate my flight to Canberra altogther, so I had to make a hurried ticket purchase on my own credit card on Sunday night.
Second, on my revised flight – later than was originally planned – I found myself sitting next to the Independent MP for Kennedy in Far Far North Qld, Bob Katter. Bob wore the most impressive hat onto the plane, an R. M .Williams cowboy number. Finally, leaving Brisbane where the current temperature range is 21-32 degrees Celcius, and the tracksuits are well and truly packed away, I forgot that it is still cold in Canberra, making for a challenging night of rugging up. Still, it could have been worse, as I met people who took the later flight out of Brisbane, only to find themselves stuck at the airport for 3 ½ hours due to the storm.
HASS stands for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and HASS on the Hill is an annual event held by the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS). A lot of acronyms here, but the aim of CHASS – founded in 2004 – is to “promote and provide advocacy for the humanities, arts and social sciences and to serve as a coordinating forum for academics, students, business, practitioners and the broader community”.
CHASS aims to build recognition, profile and influence for the humanities, arts and social sciences akin to the influence acquired by the science and technology sectors, with the specific aims of:
- Promoting the work of the sectors to government, industry and the public
- Advocating for policy reform and resources to allow Australia to further develop and use the knowledge and skills it has developed in the humanities, the arts and the social sciences.
- Providing a coordinating forum for discussion in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences sectors in Australia
- Creating networks linking experts and researchers in the sector with industry, policy makers and media
- Building the innovative capacity of Australia through better linkages between these sectors, and science, technology, engineering and medicine
- Supporting members by building an effective and well-resourced organisation able to provide policy briefing, advocacy and communications advice, and leadership in promoting the sector.
From the first session, which provided an overview of making the case for the value of the HASS sector, two points caught my attention. The first was from Professor Stuart MacIntyre, President of the Academy of the Social Sciences, that higher education in Australia accounts for 1.6% of GDP, of which 0.8% is contributed by private sources, primarily domestic and international fee-paying students. The private contribution ratio is second highest in the world after the United States, but the public contribution in the U.S. is considerably larger. This is another way of saying that Australia has one of the most market-driven higher education sectors in the world, and one of the lowest proportionate contributions of government to higher education funding.
The other point was from Jan Fullerton, Director-General of the National Library of Australia, and her description of the NLA’s process of digitizing Australia’s newspapers. As of June 2009, 4.3 million articles are now available and full-text searchable, with 1.95 million pages scanned from microfiche, and now available through the Google news Archive service. Following the Web 2.0 principle, participants are encouraged to scan, correct and tag text, and users have corrected over 3.4 million lines of electronic text in over 150,000 articles, while adding 70,000 tags to articles and including comment and further information about articles. The plan is to have 40 million searchable articles by 2010, and you can put a link to Australian Newspapers beta from your own website: http://ndpbeta.nla.gov.au/.
Then it was off to lunch at the National Press Club to hear Peter Garrett on a national cultural policy. Underwhelming is the term that stays with me. The National Press Club is an underwhelming venue, with its mix of leathery steaks, bad red wine, and rules that only the journalists can ask questions even if they – by their own admission – know nothing about the topic. And when did the guy from sciencemedia.com.au (he kept adding the domain name in his questions) become such an authority on the arts that he gets to ask two questions about Australia’s future population! Future historians and archaeologists may well draw a link between the general dodginess of the National Press Club and the poor quality of Australian newspaper commentary.
The last time I saw Peter Garrett on a stage, it was 1982 at the Royal Antler Hotel in Narrabeen, at a Midnight Oils show. After hearing a decidedly underwhelming presentation on an Australian national cultural policy here, I was certainly a bit nostalgic for the old days. There are certainly a series of old debates about a cultural policy that invariably generate what Peter would call “deep thinking” and a “fair dinkum exchange of views”. What I found most odd was how readily Peter Garrett accepted the formula the arts = culture = flagship companies and big festivals. Its not odd because it’s a view – not everyone subscribes to a cultural studies zeitgeist – but because its coming from someone who has had such an impact on Australian national culture from completely outside of that institutional terrain. It feels like a determined disavowal of his old tribe of the live musicians.
Afternoon involved a debrief on how to deal with an MP or a Senator, with six presenters doing their pitch to a panel in an event described by one panelist as “Australian Idol for smart people”. It was pretty engaging and quite a lot of fun, even as we all wondered who is meeting with Wilson Tuckey MP tomorrow.