Thursday, October 29, 2009

HASS on the Hill 2009 - Day 2

Day 2 of HASS on the Hill, being written a day after due to late flights and lots of October 30 deadlines around the place.

Going to New Parliament House (using that term because we had dinner the previous night in the Old Parliament House) is a lot of fun. This is the political class in its natural habitat, and the designers of the building created a cavernous space with lots of nooks and hiding places which seem to facilitate plotting. The famous cafe Ossie's also facilitates arriving early and staying late, with its collection of breakfast cereals, wines, toilet paper, noodle packets, condoms and so on alongside the standard cafe fare. A chance meeting there with Rhys Muldoon revealed many fascinting stories about the political world and the arts world in particular (no spoiler alert here).

The main event for me was meeting Senator Mitch Fifield. Mitch is a Liberal Senator from Victoria, and was a Senior Political Advisor to former Treasurer Peter Costello prior to entering the Senate in 2004.

From Mitch's well designed web site, I gauged that an area of potentially fruitful discussion could arise from his being a patron of The Song Room, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing music education opportunities for children in disadvantaged schools. We were also both at the University of Sydney in the 1980s, so there were some common touch points, ranging from smuggling items into the Fisher Library stack, to students form the era now in the Federal Parliament, including Anthony Albanese, Joe Hockey, Greg Combet, Belinda Neal and (after the Bradfiled by-election, barring a big surprise) Paul Fletcher.

[The road not taken here involves Mitch also being a vocal campaigner for Voluntary Student Unionism. While I have been around universities enough to have seen some truly daft things happen in student unions, withdrawal of the funding that came from student union fees has left a funding hole on campuses that has proved difficult to fill. At any rate, it can be noted that perhaps the daftest thing ever done by a student union was by Liberal Students at the University of New England, in their creation of a position of Heterosexuality Officer.]

Anyway, the meeting was off to a good start. I noted that I wasn't asking for support for any paticular project, which met the affiring respomse from Senator Fifield that being in the Opposition, he couldn't give me anything anyway, so just go ahead and ask. I was also struck by the fact that, just as I had Googled him prior to the metting, he had similarly Googled me, and fould this very blog.

My points from the meeting were:
  1. The National Library of Australia's digitising newspapers initiative is something well worth supporting, not least because it may mean that Sydney Uni. students spend less time in the Fisher Library stack;
  2. 50% of Australian universities' funding coming from non-government sources (discussed yesterday) of which the largest is student fee income, has had a distorting effect on what happens in the sector that is a problem for developing strength in the arts, humanities and social sciences;
  3. A case can be made, and I sought to make it, for a national audit of Media and Communications courses around Australia (including areas such as journalism and public relations as well as areas of multimedia design) to see if they are still growing, and how they are responding to a plethora of industry and technological changes, as well as their general balancing of vocational skills orientation and contextual material.
In realtion to the last point, the last major study in this area was the report prepared by Peter Putnis and his team at the University of Canberra, which was recognised internationally as a landmark study. The time may well have arrived for an equivalent new study, and CHASS may be the entity through which this can be pursued in conjunction with ANZCA.

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