Thesis_OSullivan_R H_Redacted.pdf (106.01 MB)
Download file

Understanding federal education policy 1987 to 2003

Download (106.01 MB)
posted on 2023-05-25, 05:57 authored by Robert H O'Sullivan

The principal argument underlying this thesis is that Federal Australian Education Policy Documents are not developed or couched in a coherent philosophically defensible understanding of what constitutes 'education'. Rather, the policy documents reflect and construct a view that so-called 'education' practices and institutions are part of a continuing and complex national defence strategy responding to a specific external threat.

These threats range from the fear of actual military invasion present up to the end of the Cold War, the economic threats posed by the increasing globalisation of industry in the 1980's and the threat posed by globalised higher education at the turn of the 20th Century. The defensive reaction to all these external threats has resulted in an increasing Federal Government encroachment into education delivery and funding, despite the Constitutional provision under Section 107 that education is a states' matter.

While recognising that reactions to perceived external threats have existed from Federation in 1901, this thesis will specifically examine the text of Federal Education Policy Documents from 1987/1988 to 2003. The examination and textual analysis of these policy documents will commence with ALP Minister John Dawkins' 1988 White Paper Higher Education: A Policy Statement and conclude with the discussion papers issued by Liberal Minister Brendan Nelson as the precursor to the 2003 policy document, Backing Australia's Future.

The overview of Federal Education Policy prior to 1988, and the textual analysis of material after that date, indicates that successive Federal Education Policy documents are reactions to identified external threats. The thesis will propose that the Federal Government in the 21st Century through these repeated incursions into the states' Constitutional education responsibility in fact already controls Australia's Higher Education Sector through funding arrangements that the states are unable to refuse.

The current Liberal-led Coalition Government has continued down the path set under Hawke and Dawkins whereby the Commonwealth has positioned itself to dictate the program content and management of Australia's Higher Education institutions though increasingly pervasive funding arrangements. This has been accomplished without a Constitutional change, initially by using Section 96 which allows the Federal Parliament to make grants to the states under conditions which it sees fit and later using the corporation powers of Section 51xx. In doing so, the Federal Government with the compliance of state governments, has shifted the purpose of universities to serve national ends. However, there does not appear to be any recognition in policy papers of the urgent need to debate or define the nature, purpose or aims of education in a philosophically rigorous manner.


Start Page


End Page


Number of Pages



Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Queensland

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No


Dr Robert Kelso ; Dr Andrew Wake

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • By publication