Here are just a few examples of how the Social Sciences are of value to Australian society, taken from the Acadmey of Social Sciences in Australia’s 2017 report ‘The Social Sciences Shape the Nation’.
Social Science and Native Title
Native Title Claims are one of the most important and politically contentious aspects of contemporary Australian law and social justice. These claims are underpinned by anthropology, a social science discipline sometimes overlooked. Slowly but surely anthropologists as well as historians and linguists are generating evidence that improves understanding of the injustices of the past, interpreting that evidence to suggest pathways to shape a more equitable future for Indigenous communities.
Supporting Working Parents through Evidence-Led Policy
Prior to 2011, Australia was one of the only two developed nations that did not have some form of nationally mandated paid maternity or parental leave scheme. Evidence provided by social science researchers showed that the lack of a legislated provision for paid parental leave was a blight on the nation’s endeavours toward gender equity and social fairness. The work of a number of social scientists in this area helped build a body of research which, in turn, informed evidence-based policy development. It has been five years since social science research led to the introduction of Australia’s current national paid parental leave scheme, yet there still remain further areas for research and improvement. The social sciences have contributed to the existing scheme and new research will continue to assist government to provide effective ways for parents to manage both work and family responsibilities in the future.
Human Rights Legislation in Australia
For the majority of its history, Australia had been the only Western democracy without a written statement of rights in any of its jurisdictions. Yet, thanks to the work of a few social scientists in the ACT, by 2007 the United Nations was showcasing the Australian Capital Territory Human Rights Act 2004 as an example of global good governance in protecting human rights. A five-year review of the legislation found that the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 had had an immediate impact on policy development and the quality of law-making in the ACT. The Act was also important for protecting the rights of other marginalised groups in the ACT, and for raising awareness of human rights in different parts of society. Today, the work of the ACT social scientists has the potential to guide the development of human rights legislation across Australia and ultimately improve the quality of life for all Australians.
Improve the National curriculum
A recent overhaul of primary and secondary high school curricula aims to improve national education standards, providing all students (not just high achievers) with access to a world-class education. It also hopes to help arrest significant declines in Australia’s global ranking of education quality across all disciplines. To achieve these goals, evidence suggests that the social sciences must be jointly prioritised alongside the sciences within the education system. While recognising the importance of better national performance in STEM, evidence suggests that to lift learning outcomes it should not be a case of either/or but rather one of both, and more. For Australia to reverse the worrying trends in educational outcomes, it must invest in the social sciences and advance reforms that respect and reflect national needs and aspirations.
The world’s climate is changing more quickly than at any other time in the last million years. For Australia, sea level rise as well as an increased frequency of bushfires and extreme storm events, offer unprecedented threats to national security. Social scientists hold the key to determining how Australia can best mitigate and adapt to a rapidly changing environment. By designing policy solutions which efficiently and equitably address the complex challenges, experts from economics, law, management, geography, and health can help deliver solutions to one of Australia’s most intractable social and environmental problems
The compulsory superannuation contribution is considered one of Australia’s greatest policy initiatives. Introduced in the 1990’s, the scheme allows retired Australians to live well without imposing a burden on taxpayers. Yet, it is only because of the ongoing work of economists, accountants, statisticians, sociologists, demographers, and behavioural scientists that Australia can proudly say it has the third best retirement income system in the world. The models, papers, advice, and opinions of these social scientists have provided the critical evidence needed to develop a system that is effective and efficient. As Australia’s population ages and new demographic challenges arise, ongoing support of social science research is necessary to ensure that Australia is able to support a program of social innovation and enhancement.