Tony Vinson

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Tony Vinson

BornPhillippe Anthony Vinson
(1935-11-11)11 November 1935
Died17 February 2017(2017-02-17) (aged 81)
Woollahra, New South Wales, Australia
OccupationAcademic and writer
SubjectDisadvantage, Penal Systems, Education
Notable worksVinson Inquiry into State Education in New South Wales

Tony Vinson AM (11 November 1935 – 17 February 2017) was an Australian academic, regarded as "one of Australia's leading social scientists and outspoken [1] public intellectuals". [2] His career spanned the disciplines of social work, social policy, psychology, education, [3] public administration and social research.



Vinson's long and diverse career in social research, education, [4] government services, prison reform, [5] and community development, has included many projects on social disadvantage [6] and young people. Vinson has also studied the impact of cumulative medico-social problems and life opportunities generally. The determinative influence of education (or life prospects) has remained a theme in this strand of his research, culminating in the recent publication of an influential study on the distribution [7] of social disadvantage in Victoria and New South Wales.

His work as the Foundation Professor in Behavioural science within the University of Newcastle (NSW) in the 1970s followed research into connections between social factors, and pregnancy outcomes, including the health and progress of young children. At Newcastle, an important educational experience was his involvement in the development of the problem-based learning approach adopted for the new medical course. This approach incorporated many of the key elements of the educational approach considered as somewhat radical departures in the field of school education. Vinson also instigated the broadly based admission procedures adopted by the medical faculty.

Following three years as Head of the NSW Department of Corrective Services (1979–81) during a period of intense penal reform, Vinson took up an appointment as Professor of Social Work at the University of New South Wales. Over subsequent years he has served as Head of School and Dean. He has twice been a Visiting Professor at the University of Stockholm and has observed the operation of Swedish social services, including early schooling. There have also been Visiting Professor appointments in the Netherlands and government consultancies in the South Pacific. In 1980 Vinson chaired a Commonwealth Government Inquiry into health and social services in the ACT.

In recent years Vinson has had an extensive involvement in assessing schemes to protect children exposed to the dangers of abuse. Some of these projects have included the evaluation of professional practices, including the co-operation of schools with government and non-government services. Others have dealt with the social contexts and environments in which abusive practices occur. This work has been published internationally in journals such as the British Journal of Social Work and Modern Medicine as well as within Australia by the Institute of Criminology and other authorities.

On Vinson's initiative, the UNSW School of Social Work, in partnership with the NSW Department of Housing, residents, and local community bodies, formed a community development centre on the Waterloo Housing Estate. Tony Vinson has had the title Professor Emeritus conferred on him by the University of New South Wales.

Tony Vinson Centre for Community Development

This purpose-built community centre in Mildura, named after Vinson is designed to co-locate agency programs Chances for Children, Reading Discovery, Learning for Life, The Portland House Project and the proposed Youth Engagement Program for Early years. It opened in 2008. [8]

The Vinson Inquiry

The Vinson Inquiry [9] was commissioned by the New South Wales Teachers Federation and the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations in 2002 to consider the state of public education in New South Wales and provide recommendations for the future. The inquiry visited and conducted public hearings at schools and TAFE colleges throughout the state. [10]

The recommendations of the inquiry caused controversy, in a large part due to its recommendation that the number of academically selective high schools and opportunity classes be significantly reduced. [11] However, despite support for the report from the Education Minister John Watkins, [11] most of the recommendations, including those on academically selective education, were not acted upon.

Dropping off the Edge

Dropping off the Edge: [12] the distribution of disadvantage in Australia was the most comprehensive national study of its kind. The report, which is a joint project with Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia was written by Vinson, providing a picture of areas of entrenched disadvantage nationally. The report found that just 1.7 per cent of postcodes and communities across Australia accounted for more than seven times their share of top rank positions on the major factors that cause intergenerational poverty. Vinson said:

"Our findings demand recognition of a common pattern associated with inadequate education and training–unemployment, low income, poor health and 'making ends meet' by criminal means, resulting in high rates of convictions and imprisonment. Where these characteristics are concentrated there, too, we find high levels of confirmed child maltreatment."

Judicial accountability

In September 1986 Vinson released a report dealing with the sentencing of drug cases in the NSW District Court between 1980 and 1982, which purported to find that a particular judge had exercised leniency in dealing with clients of a particular solicitor. It was revealed later that Judge John Foord was the judge in question. He was stood down from the District Court in September 1986 and resigned on medical grounds later that year. One consequence of these and other events was the passing of the Judicial Officers Act 1986, establishing a formalised system of judicial accountability. [13]

Australian Social Inclusion Board

On 21 May 2008 Vinson was announced as a founding member of the Australian Social Inclusion Board, which brought together leaders from around the country to tackle disadvantage. [14]

Other work

Vinson once wrote a jazz single which was aired on ABC radio. [15]

Honours and awards

Vinson was appointed a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day honours list 2008 for service to social welfare through academic, government and community roles, as a contributor to state and federal policy formulation, and as a champion of social justice. [16]

Vinson was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters in Social Work (honoris causa) from the University of Sydney, as well as being an Honorary Professor in the School of Social Work and Policy Studies at the University of Sydney from which he graduated in 1956. He is also an Emeritus Professor of the University of New South Wales. [17]


Vinson died at Woollahra, New South Wales on 17 February 2017. [18]

Academic qualifications

B.A., Dip. Soc. Studies (Sydney) 1956; Dip. Sociology (N.S.W.) 1962; M.A. Hons. (N.S.W.) 1965; PhD (N.S.W.) 1972: Thesis – Social Factors Associated with the Occurrence of Low Birth Weight

Selected published works

Tony Vinson has been published in a range of international, referred journals including British Journal of Criminology, British Journal of Social Work, Anglo-American Law Review, Journal of APLET, Scandinavian Journal of Social Welfare, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology.

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  1. Vinson, T (23 March 2004). "Some effective ways to target and combat community disadvantage". On Line Opinion. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  2. "Honorary Doctorate for Professor Tony Vinson". University of Sydney. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  3. "Chair of the Public Education Inquiry". Public Education Inquiry NSW. 2001. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  4. "Selective Schools – Professor Tony Vinson". ABC Sydney. 2002. Archived from the original on 28 January 2005. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  5. "Photograph of Tony Vinson as Chairman of the Prison Reform Commission". State Library of New South Wales. 1979. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  6. "Community adversity and resilience". The Ignatius Centre for Social Policy and Research. 2004. Archived from the original on 25 April 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  7. "Postcodes and Poverty". The National Interest. Australia: ABC Radio. 2005. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  8. "Funding for the Tony Vinson Centre for Community Development". The Ian Potter Foundation. 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  9. "The New South Wales Public Education Inquiry". 2003. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  10. New South Wales Teachers Federation (20 February 2017). "Former public education inquiry head Tony Vinson dies" . Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  11. 1 2 Axe hovers over selective high schools Sydney Morning Herald. 24 July 2002. Retrieved 2 August 2006.
  12. "Dropping off the edge". Jesuit & Catholic social services. 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  13. "Principles, Personalities, Politics: Parliamentary Privilege Cases in NSW". Parliament of NSW. 2004. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  14. "PM announces board". 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  15. "From Report Writer to Song Writer". The National Interest. Australia: ABC Radio. 2004. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  16. "Lost in our own Bermuda Triangle". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 January 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  17. "Emeritus Professor Tony Vinson staff profile". University of New South Wales. 2007. Archived from the original on 17 June 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  18. Death notice, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February 2017.

Further reading