About the Social Sciences
Social sciences are everywhere
That’s what the social sciences are all about. They impact every facet of our lives, wherever humans live, work and play. From our ancient past to developing our urban futures, the social sciences have been there to capture and influence some of Australia’s most significant moments.
How the Social Sciences have shaped Australia
It has been almost thirty years since one of the most important and politically contentious aspects of contemporary Australian social justice was made law. Native Title recognised the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over their traditional lands and waters and since it passed, hundreds of Indigenous communities around Australia have had their claims approved. But there is still more to be done. Slowly but surely, anthropologists, historians and linguists are generating evidence that improves our understanding of the injustices of the past, while their colleagues in law work towards finding pathways to shape a more equitable future for Indigenous communities.
Paid Parental Leave
Without the research and evidence provided by social scientists, Australia might still be without a nationally mandated paid parental leave scheme. These researchers helped build a body of data to inform evidence-based policy development and demonstrate how a nation-wide scheme could push us toward more equitable outcomes for all working parents. Since 2011, social scientists have continued to research and critique changes to our national Paid Parental Leave Scheme, to ensure governments are abreast of the changing employment and social landscape in which fathers and partners are looking to take on greater responsibility for child-rearing. Our economists, sociologists and business researchers working together will continue to provide the data to support the implementation of effective ways for parents to balance work and family responsibilities in the future.
Human Rights Legislation
For most of its history, Australia had been the only western democracy without a written statement of rights in any of its jurisdictions. If it weren’t for our social scientists in the ACT laying the groundwork for the Australian Capital Territory Human Rights Act 2004, that may still be the case. 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. Since then, both Victoria and Queensland have implemented their own Human Rights Acts, while in Tasmania and NSW, campaigns are running to get their own Acts off the ground. The work of the ACT social scientists set the stage for the development of human rights legislation across Australia with the goal of improving quality of life for all of us.
Improving the national curriculum
The introduction of the National Curriculum in 2010 was the culmination of years of work by social scientists and education researchers. It was designed to make sure each state was on the same page when it came to learning and to draw on the evidence provided by experts in every field of education. In its latest version, history has been elevated to a compulsory unit for students up to year ten, in line with evidence suggesting the social sciences must be prioritised to help arrest significant declines in Australia’s global ranking of education quality. As critical thinkers, questioners, problem-solvers and explorers in the world of human interaction, social scientists are essential workers providing the empirical groundwork for society in the future. 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.
More than three decades after its introduction, Australia can lay claim to a superannuation system that is the envy of the world. The scheme launched in 1992 and with it came the prospect of a more financially secure retirement for every working Australian. Yet, it only came to be through the combined powers of the social sciences: economists, accountants, statisticians, sociologists, demographers and behavioural scientists. The models, papers, advice, and opinions of these social scientists provided, and continue to provide, the critical evidence needed to develop an effective and efficient system. And with the current state of global uncertainty, the research of these social scientists will continue to be relied upon to ensure that our superannuation system can support an aging population and new demographic challenges.
Australia, amongst its peers, currently stands alone in not recognising our First Peoples in our Constitution. After long years of research and community consultation, sociologists, constitutional lawyers, Indigenous researchers and government have come together to enact the Uluru Statement from the Heart, with a national referendum on the Voice to Parliament due to be held later this year. As one of the most significant and impactful constitutional reforms yet placed before the nation, it will be up to our social scientists to continue to provide the history, evidence and data that will allow Australians to make the decision to bring our nation in line with the United States, Canada and New Zealand, and formally recognise the contributions and culture of our Indigenous communities in our Constitution.