Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
Educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

CHAMBERS, Mrs Bronwyn, Elder in Residence, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

DAVY, Mrs Madelene, Community Engagement Coordinator, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

EVANS, Professor John, Deputy Chair, Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Training

GORDON, Mr Sean, Chief Executive Officer, Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council

HEITMEYER, Mrs Deirdre, Head Teacher Aboriginal Education, Singleton High School; President, Kunnar Ngarrama, Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc.

KINCHELA, Mr Derek, Student Engagement and Experience Coordinator, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

MORGAN, Professor Bob, International Engagement Officer, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

PERRY, Mrs Colleen, Elders in Residence Program, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

WILLIAMS, Dr Laurel, Member, Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Training

Committee met at 10:40

ACTING CHAIR ( Ms Claydon ): Good morning, everybody. I want to formally open proceedings this morning. I am the federal member for Newcastle, and I feel very much at home here. I am really looking forward to evidence from everybody in the room today. Before we begin proceedings, I would just like to hand across to Bronwyn, who is going to formally welcome us to country.

Mrs Chambers : [Darkinjung language not transcribed]. I have just said good morning to you, men and women. Some of the language I have just spoken is the language of my ancestors, the Darkinjung people. I would like to acknowledge that we are all meeting here on the traditional lands of the Pambalong clan of the Awabakal people. I would like to pay my respects to all elders past and present and acknowledge everybody in the room here today who has come here to have their say at this forum.

Before we even start here this morning, could we all stand and observe a minute of silence. We were notified on Friday of the passing of one of our members from the community who was a graduate of the Wollotuka Institute and had been there since the Wollotuka Institute was formed. We will observe a minute of silence not only to pay our respects—and I am not going to use his name as a matter of protocol here, as he just passed away on Friday—but also to remember all of our members and people from the community who have passed and to pay respects to all of those and their ancestors. So if we could all please stand for a minute of silence.

A minute of silence was observed—

Mrs Chambers : Thank you, everyone.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I would like to extend my personal condolences, and those of the committee, for the loss of a man I knew well. It is a great loss. My thoughts are very much with the community and his family and loved ones today. Thank you for the opportunity to acknowledge that formally.

I need to go through a few formalities before we start proceedings. These meetings are formal proceedings of the parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest. It can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee.

This hearing is open to the public. Before we begin proceedings, the committee would also like to pay our respects to the Pambalong clan of the Awabakal people and extend that respect to all Indigenous peoples present today. Thanks very much for having us here and we really look forward to the evidence today. I know there are quite a number of people in the room. Only those that are sitting on the front line actually have microphones, so I understand if there is a need to move around. We will just have to try and accommodate that. There is 45 minutes allocated for this session and so we have some time constraints, but we will do as best as we can.

I would like to invite anybody from The Wollotuka Institute if there are some opening statements that people might like to give to the committee.

Prof. Evans : Yes. I will just make a quick statement. I think the committee should be congratulated for being here today. I think that the members of Wollotuka have some significant background in Aboriginal education that they can contribute to your hearing today and that the way forward is about working with institutions like Wollotuka to make a difference. The submission that has been put forward to you is a start of a conversation with government about how we can improve outcomes for Indigenous kids and provide for them a future that is based upon high expectations but also having their cultural identity reaffirmed within the education system. That is an opening statement. I will be interested in what my colleagues and peers have to say as follow-up. Thank you for the opportunity.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Professor Evans. Are there any other opening statements that people might wish to make?

Mr Gordon : Am I right in seeing that it is all Labor members sitting at the table?

Mr NEUMANN: It is, Sean, but in fact there are Liberal members on the committee. It just happens to be that there are only Labor members here today.

ACTING CHAIR: Your observation is correct but this is a House of Representatives committee and it is a bipartisan committee.

Mr NEUMANN: Very much so.

ACTING CHAIR: Normally Dr Sharman Stone would be chairing this. She was unable to be here and the Deputy Chair, Warren Snowdon, was unable to be here. They will be joining us a bit later on. It was my home town, and they gave me the great honour of being able to chair, so I am really delighted to do that today, but please do not think that this is just a Labor committee because it is not.

Mr Gordon : It was more just observation and making sure that the other party is fully supportive.

ACTING CHAIR: We will be hearing from you a bit later on today, I understand, so if there is anyone else that would like to make some opening remarks or to launch straight into what you would like to bring before the committee, please feel free to do so.

Dr Williams : I will kick it off because I notice that there is not very much time allocated, and I think that is one of the things that we really need to take into consideration. When you are dealing with Aboriginal communities in particular, there must be enough time allocated for people to process and assimilate all the information that has come forward and be able to provide appropriate responses. I am talking about community involvement in developmental processes, particularly in education provision across the whole spectrum. What we need to do is make sure there is adequate time made available to organisations like the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, for example. Quite often it is at the end of any inquiry, meeting or anything like that that recommendations and decisions are pushed through, because of the lack of time made available.

The other thing that I would like to mention is appropriate funding or adequate funding for community organisations so that there can be long-term planning put in place. The quick fix does not work. We all know that. Politicians in particular have been trying to do things to benefit all aspects of society, and that does not work in Aboriginal education. Short-term funding does not allow people to make long-term plans to benefit our own communities.

Finally, I would like to say that mainstreaming is an ongoing process of assimilation. We have seen what has happened in the university sector and we need to ensure that there are targeted centres available in universities in particular, because whatever training or education takes place in the universities will flow on into society. So we need to have Aboriginal people at hand to provide proper consultation to faculties, schools, institutions—whatever. That is across the whole of Australia. It is no good having little piecemeal, targeted groups. Newcastle university has done a lot of stuff associated with Aboriginal education and Aboriginal studies through curriculum development and all that sort of stuff, but it needs to go across the board.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I am acutely aware of the decades and decades of service that you have given to education in this region. It is great to have you sitting at the table.

Dr Williams : Thanks, Sharon.

Mrs Heitmeyer : I might go next, because I bounce off what Auntie Laurel has just said. I have worked at the University of Newcastle since 1990. I have since left. I am now head teacher of Aboriginal education at Singleton High School and I am also President of the Kunnar Ngarrama AECG in Singleton.

I would like to talk about what is actually happening on the front line. We are really struggling. The threat of the cutting of Gonski is absolutely critical. We strategically use our funding at Singleton to provide a cultural space. We are able to employ cultural educators to come in and help our kids. We also use that funding academically, because NAPLAN funding is weak in the way that it is structured. I know that that is a New South Wales thing. I have written letters on behalf of our community in the Upper Hunter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to Leslie Williams, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales, to Joel Fitzgibbon, and to Michael Johnsen, our MP for the Upper Hunter, telling them that if you cut Gonski you are actually going to do a huge disservice to Aboriginal education at the very front line, which is our schools. I have just had to put off two of the best tutors I have, because I have to be really careful with my Gonski funding because of our NAPLAN results.

We do such a good job at Singleton. Our kids systematically come near to or top the state in literacy and numeracy, and therefore our funding is dramatically cut. The better you go with using the funding, the less you get. That is ridiculous, because we keep getting new students in who need funding.

It needs to be looked at holistically from preschool to tertiary, and we really need to look at helping our parents. A lot of the time when we try to put some intervention in for our students, parents who do not understand it will white-ant it. I will not go into lots of details. Every day we are really struggling to provide the right culture and academic support for our kids in the schools. I really would beg you to lobby for the continuing of Gonski to our schools. Thank you.

Mr PERRETT: Whilst we are a bipartisan committee, I should point out that we are all Labor members.

Mrs Heitmeyer : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: We have made a full commitment to years 5 and 6 of Gonski funding.

Mrs Heitmeyer : I realise that.

ACTING CHAIR: We will continue to advocate for the remainder of the parliament.

Mr NEUMANN: 'Your Child. Our Future' is the policy that we have announced.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much for your contribution, Mrs Heitmeyer. It is very much appreciated. Does anyone else wish to make some comments at this point?

Mrs Chambers : I am Elder in Residence with The Wollotuka Institute and also a member of the BATSIET board through our Nguraki committee, which is our council of elders within The Wollotuka Institute. I have also worked in education for many years, from early childhood up to secondary education. I am also a member of the Muru Bulbi AECG on the Central Coast.

I would just like to reinforce what Auntie Laurel and Deirdre have said. The funding is always an issue with any program that we run within schools. It is always such a short-term program. We all know that to get statistics and data and to really look at the outcome we need years for those things, like 20-year programs. It takes about that long—20 or 25 years—to get that data and information to really analyse what is going on with those programs. In my many years in education I have seen good programs such as Deirdre was talking about engaging communities, like our PaCE program, which was a parent program which was fabulous. Again, that funding stopped. That was a very significant program within our schools because you could engage the parents, show them how schools work, look at the curriculum and give them a fuller understanding. As you know, past policies with our Aboriginal community meant that education was denied to us for so many years. Fortunately, policies have changed now and we have the opportunity of education.

As I said, it comes down to the long-term funding which we need to bring back those programs which really did engage the community. When we look at our schools and things like that it is about involving our community and our parents. I really think sometimes that we need to look at leadership within the schools and at who is running them. We have a lot of schools that are working really well with our Aboriginal education, and then we have some that are just not engaging. When we talk about community it is not just the community inside the school. We have to look at the broader community of our organisations and our parents and caregivers outside of the school. I suppose that is where I was looking—that long-term funding. Look at the good programs that we did have in place, which were successful and which did work. The funding goes and those programs just drop off.

As Auntie Laurel said, it is about having adequate time to sit down and talk. We cannot just do it overnight. We have to analyse and look at all of these things. I suppose that is what I wanted to say just to reinforce that, because we have had such good programs that did engage our community.

I think we need to look at the fact that our community is our schoolchildren too. They are not just students within the schools, but they are part of our community too. They sometimes get a bit overlooked as to what they want to see and how they want to see things operate within the schools for their betterment. Sometimes our students just sit back very quietly, but they are very eloquent speakers and they are very educated. They know what they want, but sometimes I think they are not involved enough. I do not know in this inquiry whether the students' school and leadership organisations are being involved, but our students do have a lot to offer.

ACTING CHAIR: They certainly do, and I just want to assure you that we have been meeting with students in each of the locations we have been to—and we are having a round table with some students later this morning. Your point is very well received. I note your reference to PaCE. There is a terrific section in the submission that Wollotuka made that was prepared by Professor Bob Morgan. We might get an opportunity to tease that out a little later on—I am hoping around one of the recommendations about how we might better engage parents as first educators. Thank you.

Mrs Davy, do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mrs Davy : I am also here in the capacity as the regional campuses nominee for BATSIET. It seems that we are all on the same page. I do not have a lot else to add to everything that Auntie Laurel, then Deirdre and then Bronwyn said, except to reiterate that the PaCE program and the parents as first educators initiative is something that is very close to my heart. I have delivered programs within that arena and my current role actually delivers programs into schools and universities. So I have my foot in both worlds. I also want to reiterate that the long-term funding is a theme that is going to come up again and again, so that we can actually make a difference and the data that we do collect in such a short time does not just get lost. That is my main focus, but also that we incorporate the fantastic learning and opportunities that happen in universities in all education areas, from early childhood through to secondary learning as well.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Kinchela, you might be the only person we have not heard from. I do not want you to think there was not an opportunity for you to say something, so please go ahead. Firstly, do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Kinchela : I am also a member of BATSIET as the professional staff representative. I am also a trained high school teacher. As Maddie just said, I do not have anything further to add to what they have said. I grew up in Ipswich in south-east Queensland in a small suburb called Riverview. It was a very low-SES area with a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the school I went to. From my experience, as a younger member of this group, I found that the one thing that got us through was our homework centres. It got our parents involved a lot within the school and it really helped a lot of us go through and complete primary school and then high school.

I started at Bundamba secondary college, where we had the same sort of thing. We had a very supportive parent and community aspect which really helped us get through. I went to university and graduated, and went back to teach in Ipswich and found all of those programs had gone. It was very hard to get the community or parents involved to come in after school. Schools were not supportive of it because there was no money available for that sort of stuff. I started to see a disconnect in the students. The strong community involvement that my cohort had when I was in school was not there anymore because the students were not getting together after school and doing those sorts of activities with each other. That is my view.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I expect that amongst us we have a few questions from the submissions and from the comments you have made this morning. Sorry, Mrs Perry, did you wish to add anything?

Mrs Perry : No, not at the moment; I am thinking.

ACTING CHAIR: Okay—feel free to jump in at any time. Does anybody else want to make a comment before we ask some questions?

Prof. Morgan : I want to pick up on the point about community and parental involvement. It is critical to make the point that, in my opinion, one of the factors that contribute to poor parental engagement and community engagement is the fact that most of the parents and most of the community have been traumatised by their own experience in a system of education which has fundamentally failed them and is assimilationist. I do not think you can look simplistically at the lack of community engagement and say that parents are not concerned about their kids' education. It is not a simple as that.

We have to be smart enough to know how to better engage the parents in the learning experience of our kids. That is a totally different exercise from just saying that our parents are not engaged. I cannot stress enough that we need to change our thinking about the way we perceive education and the relative role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in the systems. There is no doubt in my mind that the systems have continued to fail our kids, rather than our students failing the systems. I have looked at your terms of reference and will talk about this more later; I just want to make the point now that in your deliberations—I have read some of the other submissions made to the inquiry—there could be this mistaken view that Aboriginal parents and communities are not interested in the education of their children. That is a fallacy. We have always been interested and always will be, but there has to be a smarter way in which we can be engaged.

ACTING CHAIR: Your point around the system failing the kids, rather than the kids failing the system, is a very strong one in your submission. We really appreciate that.

Mr PERRETT: Professor Morgan, the focus of this is where Commonwealth dollars might be best spent. Hopefully, state governments would take note. If you had to make a decision as to whether money might go to community and parents versus people who work at the front line providing support, either as teachers or teacher aides to Indigenous students, are you suggesting that it would be best to go to the communities to provide cultural affirmation and the like? We had comments from other people about it going to peak bodies, but they did not say 'instead of'; I am putting to you that if it had to be one or the other, where do you think it would be best spent?

Prof. Morgan : I do not think the question of funding and where it is distributed is in the way that you describe. One does not necessarily mutually exclude the other.

Mr PERRETT: I know; I am being devil's advocate to turn it into one or the other. If you have Sophie's choice, where is it going to go?

Prof. Morgan : In respect of Sophie's choice, I would say that there would have to be a better balance. I think the distribution patterns that currently exist probably favour one—and that is the system—over the community. I think the current distribution of dollars needs to be re-examined so that there can be a better funding arrangement and so that parents and the community can be better empowered to make some of the choices about their children's education. One of the models that we promoted in our submission and a colleague and I put together is a concept of parents as first teachers. There is a critical need for us to examine that and to develop the research around how to better equip our parents so that they can provide the level of support to their kids in the learning environment.

Mr PERRETT: Would you agree that this is in the context of parents or grandparents who were traumatised through assimilation policies? I think the quote from Dr Williams was that 'mainstreaming is a continuation of assimilation', so that, in that context, parents and/or grandparents were traumatised by the education system and therefore—and I have to get the balance right—come to education a little bit wary. I think the suggestion was: keen but wary.

Prof. Morgan : Absolutely.

Mr PERRETT: So taxpayer dollars should go to the parents to compensate for that trauma—not compensate in a legal sense—but to get the scales right. Would that be your position, or the position of the people at the table?

Prof. Morgan : I am not sure about the others, but it is my position that the way in which the funding is currently distributed lacks balance.

Mr PERRETT: When you have $530 million cut from Indigenous programs, there has not been a big focus on cultural affirmation or communities. Obviously the education funding has not been cut yet, but the Gonski train has been flagged as being about to be derailed. I think we had evidence on that. I am just interested in why, in a constrained budget—and we just had Mr Turnbull announce that we are about to go to a double-D election—where there is competition for taxpayer dollars, funding should go to communities and parents ahead of education establishments, which, when all is said and done, are professional educators of all children, including Indigenous children. I should direct this question to everyone rather than just to Professor Morgan.

ACTING CHAIR: Don't feel like you are in the hot seat alone there!

Mr PERRETT: You were just the last person speaking. The question is prompted by the evidence given by all of you so far.

Prof. Evans : You will not get kids into primary schools or the higher education system unless they are well supported by their parents, so whatever initiative you put in place needs to have the support of parents. That is my global understanding of where Professor Morgan is trying to take the conversation. You can give all the money you like to higher education institutions, which has been the pattern in the past, but you have to have well-adjusted kids turning up to primary school, high school and university—and the best way to do that is to help support parents or work with the parents to create that transition.

Mr PERRETT: So that would be outside of the Gonski model? Gonski does provide extra funding for disadvantage, and being Indigenous might be one of the factors, but this would be outside of and/or parallel to that process?

Mrs Heitmeyer : Can I just jump in here and say that one model does not fit all. How we operate in the upper Hunter would be totally different to how someone on the Central Coast operates. I was given open slather with my budget because I have a really good boss and I do not take no for an answer. What we did was get all our elders in and we said: what do you want to do with this bucket of money that we have? They decided then and there how they wanted to operate, and that is what we did. As I said, they would have come up with a different decision to Karuah or the Central Coast, but they feel that they own it. So now we have an AECG representative on the land council; we have memoranda of understanding with all our local organisations, and we are using their services to help us, because that is the way the elders wanted to go.

Mr PERRETT: Where is the money coming from?

Mrs Heitmeyer : We are using Gonski.

Mr PERRETT: So state education funds are going into that program?

Mrs Heitmeyer : Yes. We have state with NAPLAN for our academic support and then we have our Gonski budget, which we use for girls' programs and boys' programs. Our elders actually come in and facilitate those programs.

Mr PERRETT: This is the New South Wales education department funds?

Mrs Chambers : Yes. Each state has a slightly different take on this, which is the issue here. This is the New South Wales government.

Mrs Heitmeyer : I think that each community has to be given the opportunity to decide how they want their children to be given the opportunities. It is not one size fits all. I think you have to trust the communities to be able to do this.

Mr PERRETT: If the committee results are consistently failing, should we continue to trust the communities for 20 years—I think that was the suggestion—while the data is gathered?

Mrs Heitmeyer : I trust my community explicitly. They have come up with better ideas than I have ever seen come out of government.

Mr PERRETT: But in terms of results. Whilst there are flaws with NAPLAN, it is a moment in time that reflects some aspect of academic achievement. If schools are continuing not to turn out students who are earning or learning, what should the government's role be? That is why we are here. You say are saying just to trust the communities implicitly?

Mrs Heitmeyer : I am saying that because so far governments have not trusted our voice. That is what I am saying.

ACTING CHAIR: Are other communities—at least in this region—following the kind of model that you are talking about: bringing in community elders, maybe talking to students as well? I am not sure how you might spend those Gonski dollars or NAPLAN money. Are you spearheading this yourself?

Mrs Heitmeyer : I am really not sure. I would have to turn it over to Auntie Laurel because she has got broader knowledge.

Dr Williams : I think that what Deirdre is doing in her part of the country is a really new initiative. I can only speak from my point of view down here around the lake. Ae AECG we have parents and members of the community going into schools to support schools in Aboriginal studies, but that is on a voluntary basis. There is no identified budget.

Mr PERRETT: No taxpayer dollars for those people.

Dr Williams : Yes. More schools want us to go in when we are not charging them anything.

ACTING CHAIR: But this is actually empowering people in the community to have a seat at the table and decide how that money gets spent?

Mrs Heitmeyer : Yes.

Mrs Chambers : On that: when I was working at Walla high school as the Aboriginal education officer there for 14 years, we stated an Aboriginal parent committee, which all schools should have as an Aboriginal community representative body. That was made up of representations from land councils, housing, the health services, parents and AECG. To make sure that they were in the curriculum and that programs were culturally appropriate, we did not have a separate committee; we sat with the faculties and looked at their programs. That was another way to make sure that what was being put into curricula and being taught was culturally inclusive and correct. You had the community members, who were the knowledge holders, sitting there and having a look at those things. That worked really well for many years because you were not to-ing and fro-ing. You met at the same time the faculties did within the schools, you had a look at the curriculum, you had your say and you were bringing representatives from the broader community. You also had parents on that. That was a really good system that we did for many years. I am not there now and I am not sure if it does happen still, but that was just another way to ensure that what was in the curriculum happened and you were having a say. I thought that was another good program.

When that happened, it made the school realise the value of the community knowledge and what it brought to the table. I think that is still an issue. The schools do not value the knowledge of the Aboriginal people. Above all, for thousands and thousands of years—look at career paths today—Aboriginal people have been educators and are knowledge holders. I think that is a real thing. That comes back to the leadership of the schools. I think there should be training for all staff within schools—in cultural competency or whatever they want to call it—to value the knowledge that Aboriginal people bring to the table and how it is a positive outcome not just for the Aboriginal students within the school but for the whole school. If we can value Aboriginal knowledge and what we bring as people, I think that would go a long way. But how do we do that? I do not know.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I flag that there was a part of your submission that goes to the issue of what now will replace the funding that is coming to an end.

I know Mr Neumann has a few questions, but Professor Morgan, you may go first.

Prof. Morgan : I want to pick up on a point about funding. Funding is not a policy. If it was then the Cape York Institute would be successful. Look at the disproportionate funding that goes into the cape—the millions of dollars that goes into the cape—

Mr PERRETT: We were there a fortnight ago to look at it.

Prof. Morgan : That is right—that props up probably the same amount of kids across the five or seven schools that they have in three or four areas around New South Wales. So it is not funding. There is a hell of a lot more that needs to be considered. That process has been evaluated and reviewed. It did not come out looking too good. The same thing could be said for the recent evaluation of the Connected Communities program in New South Wales. It was supposed to empower communities. It was supposed to create a relationship between the community and a school. Lots of money was poured into that, but the recent evaluation showed that out of the 15 schools that were funded, very few of them are honourably engaging with their communities. I do not disagree with Deirdre; I think there is no one panacea or model, but there are principles that should be identified that drive the things that need to be looked at so the funding is principle based rather than just responding to an individual set of circumstances. Funding is not the answer; it is part of the answer.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you.

Mrs Davy : I want to refer back to a comment that Deirdre had made and the question you asked about whether this was a specific thing that was happening in that area. I can talk about the fact that it is happening on the Central Coast and there is a real partnership between the schools and, from my involvement with the regional AECG as a stakeholder and also how I feed into the local management groups with the school system and the lakes learning communities in particular, it is not just specific to the upper Hunter area. We are engaging with the community and the schools and we are also branching out into other education providers as well. I think it has started but it needs to move further.

ACTING CHAIR: Are your parents and/or your students having a say as to the spend of those dollars?

Mrs Davy : Probably not specifically as in explicitly asked that, but just recently with a number of schools I am involved with there was a blanket survey sent home to families and there were also some community after-school forums held where parents were asked questions. Students involved in those forums, so the questions are being asked and the students are having a say in what they would like to see; however, as this is something that is very new, I am not certain yet what the outcome of that is going to be.

ACTING CHAIR: That is okay. I just wanted to check. I will hand to Mr Neumann.

Mr NEUMANN: Professor Bob Morgan, you are right: the schools in Ipswich that Derek Kinchela mentioned have significantly more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids than the schools that we visited up in the Cape. I am interested in whether we can get more information about the first teacher program, because you are currently developing that as a concept. That is just a request for more information. I have read exactly what you have said here, and it is not very specific. I would be interested in getting more information about that.

Prof. Morgan : I would be happy to provide you with a copy of the submission that we have drafted to go to the Australian Research Council to establish and to investigate that model, and to put that model together.

Mr NEUMANN: That would be great. Something that you mentioned, Derek—I am interested in what you have to say, but also Bob, particularly—was in relation to Parental and Community Engagement, the PaCE program. The school that you mentioned, Riverview State School, has about a 25 per cent indigenous population. It is a significant medium-sized school. Bundamba, the school that you went to, is a fairly big school.

Mr Kinchela : Yes.

Mr NEUMANN: I am interested in why PaCE is seen as a pivotal policy and why it is so impressive as a program.

Mr Kinchela : Like you said, growing up in those areas, there is a large population of Aboriginal people very close together. Like Bob mentioned before, a lot of our older generation disengaged with schools. They do not like going to schools and those sort of things. However, by them banding with each other, that was a driving force for them to go, 'All right, we didn't have such a great experience in schools and our parents didn't have that experience.' They wanted to make sure that their kids, my generation, felt comfortable in going to school, so that was the way that they formed that group, to ensure that we felt comfortable going to school and that their voices were heard so that we did not suffer the same fate that they did with their schooling and so that we were not disengaged so that our future kids and the generations after us are not disengaged from schools from the start. I guess that is why it was very important.

Mr NEUMANN: The submission says, in relation to the PaCE program, that there was a 'measure of success'. Do we have any empirical evidence for that? That would also be useful. Can I say, my observation, as a local federal member, is that it was an excellent program. John, do you have anything to add?

Prof. Evans : I was just asking my colleagues here how long ago PaCE was actually shutdown. The difficulty in getting empirical information can sometimes be that—

Mrs Davy : 2012.

Mr NEUMANN: Did anyone do any evaluation? It would be useful. In my observation, it was a very fine program, so I have an agenda here in asking if you had any evidence that proved what a good program it was.

Dr Williams : Four or five years ago, the Hunter region AECG put in a submission to receive funding to train parents, the membership parents, across this region about all the things that were not supporting Aboriginal students in schools, like suspension; about failure, I suppose, in academic success; and about all of the policies that the Department of Education have that will have an impact on those students. We were lucky enough to receive three-year funding arrangements, and that was to train all the management committees across the nine local AECG groups in the Hunter region at that time.

The funding was pulled by the Commonwealth after two years. We had a three-year program to support Aboriginal parents to interact on a positive note with schools in this region. We were not able to finish that program because funding was pulled. We were able to employ a coordinator to go around and train those people. That was something that was successful. I would be happy to get a copy of that to you.

Mr NEUMANN: That would be great. My final question relates to Aboriginal leadership colleges. In the context of the fact that you said that there is no empirical definitive study that shows that boarding schools assist Aboriginal students, you talk about the concept of the ALCs. In the submission, you have not explored that in detail. I would like you to describe what you mean by that and how that would benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. You have linked it in within the involvement of parents and caregivers as being an idea that you could enhance that, because certainly criticism has been made about boarding schools that there is not enough involvement. It could be the tyranny of distance. It could be other reasons. We have met some incredibly lovely people with great interest in children who have banded together to make sure that they are involved, and parental involvement in the school has been terrific. But I am interested in that issue of the ALCs.

Prof. Morgan : The concept of the Aboriginal leadership colleges arose out of the 2005 review of Aboriginal education in New South Wales. There is a paper that I could make available to you that is specifically on that matter. Fundamentally, it also argues that there have been other international models of similar types of colleges that have worked in other Indigenous contexts for many, many years—in New Zealand with the Maori schools, in North America, Canada and in Hawaii with the Kamehameha Schools, which is one of the most successful schools in Hawaii if not in the USA. So there are a number of precedents that are established across the world that we should be learning from, and we should be prepared to at least try and think outside the square. I believe that it is incumbent upon us as a country to explore some of the things that we have not been prepared to explore up until this point in time. Those schools that I mentioned in the international context have been fantastically successful.

The other point I make is that research will show that there is empirical evidence to show that many of the kids that we are now enrolling in universities have come from a failed schooling background. So there is nothing there that tells me that we are not capable, as a race, of the rigour of knowledge and learning. We are as capable as any other race of people on this planet. What we need is to contextualise the way in which education is structured: who is involved in teaching, the teaching methodology, the curriculum, the pedagogy—the whole range of what goes to make a good school. They are the types of things that we need to have control of.

The current systems do not provide for Aboriginal people's real involvement or their real involvement in the decision-making process. We are their guest, and I have used the 'guest' paradigm as an argument for years and years. Aboriginal people are guests in the other paradigm. Until such time as we shift the paradigm to empower our people so that we have a greater degree of control over what is being taught, how it is being taught and the involvement of our caregivers—parents included—then we will always be having these types of inquiries. So it is a frustration. I have been involved in this game, Aboriginal education, for over 35 years. It saddens me that, even with Closing the Gap, there is no traction that I can point to and say, 'This is what needs to be done, because the evidence is there to say that we're doing better things for Aboriginal students.' The evidence is not there. We are continuing to fail our kids.

I think the leadership colleges are a tremendous concept that can and should be given an opportunity to try and come to terms with some of the challenges that exist. Failure is already there; so in trying something different, even if it fails, it is our failure and we could learn from that. Some people talk about separate schools. It is not a separatist anything; it is a school that is specifically designed to address specific needs and aspirations.

ACTING CHAIR: I have two questions. You made the observation that the evidence that you are seeing now is of kids and adults enrolling at university coming from a schooling system that failed them. So what is it that you are doing right here? Why is a kid that has a failed schooling background is making it into this university and graduating with a degree? What are you doing right?

Prof. Morgan : Can I qualify my statement by saying that we may have kids coming out of high school with their higher school certificate but the level of that higher school certificate comparatively is not the same as non-Indigenous kids' achievements. So even though we are retaining kids into the senior levels of high school, the academic output is not the same for a whole variety of reasons. I think that what we do at places like the University of Newcastle and at Wollotuka is we create a culturally safe environment so that any of the kids that come to Newcastle and Wollotuka know that it is culturally safe to be Aboriginal, that they do not have to defend. I would argue that in this world we spend 80 per cent of our time fighting for change and development; the rest of the time we defend our right to that. So you do not have to defend here; all you have to do is be Aboriginal and get on with the work of learning. I think the provision of a culturally safe environment is a really important point as is the staff that we have. The staff are all culturally known. We have 100 per cent Aboriginal employment in the institute so we do not have to train people because we all come from that cultural background so we know what our students want and we are then in a position to deliver the types of support that we think they need.

ACTING CHAIR: I know that we are really pressed for time and I will come back to Colleen Perry to see if she would like to add any comments towards the end. I want to get on the record one of your recommendations around establishing a project that was similar to NATSISS. You made the observation that most students in fact have non-Indigenous teachers navigating them through the education system. From your perspective, it made sense for there to be a similar project around how we might help teacher training for non-Indigenous teachers so they are more effective in their work at the school level. Have you put together a proposal for such a project or is this in the early stages?

Prof. Morgan : No there is not a proposal at the moment; it is still just a concept. But can I argue that the concept is based upon the premise that MATSITI was about our Indigenous teachers and about making them better in the classroom. If that classroom though is fundamentally Western then you can be the best Indigenous teacher you want but unless that system supports your perspective and your world view then it will be problematic. This project is about dealing with the reality that for the foreseeable future, for the next five years or even more, the majority of people that will be teaching our kids will be non-Indigenous—that is a fact—in every Indigenous learning environment whether in the Northern Territory, in Queensland, in New South Wales or wherever. It is it message to teacher education institutions like Newcastle and others that we need to do better. I think that we are not doing as well as we can in preparing teachers to go out to work in some of our schools. I work with a number of schools in far western New South Wales and I know from experience that the teachers that we send out to those schools flounder because of very poor preparation. That is not to suggest that we are not trying but there is something that is missing in the equation.

ACTING CHAIR: We had MATSITI giving us evidence last week in Canberra. Your observation is a unique insight and an add-on that they had not raised with us so I really appreciate that. I do note that we will have the Australian Council of Deans before the committee as well so I will be putting it to them about their involvement in scoping out such an initiative. Auntie Colleen Perry, would you like to say anything about that?

Mrs Perry : I am concerned. I come from a community and the children that graduated from high school, you could count on one hand and that is appalling. I would like to see more people come out there and speak to the parents, have meetings and tell them that their children should be educated because they do not seem to care if their kids go to school or not. It is a real sad thing to see the children out there not going.

Mr PERRETT: Are you saying the parents in that community are not connected with the education process? Would you like to put a finger on why that is so?

Mrs Perry : We are on a reserve and of course they get together and have a good time. They do not want to go to school.

Mr PERRETT: They would not be the first kids in the world that did not want go to school.

Mrs Perry : And they are not made to go to school half the time.

Prof. Evans : Can I also raise as a contribution to that discussion on the notion of racism in schools and about how that is addressed. There has been a bit of publicity lately around issues of diversity but I think the more critical area is around racism, how racism is dealt with in schools and how we can provide an environment where kids do not have to defend who they are or where they are from. I think racism is probably the one thing that has been missing in today's discussion.

ACTING CHAIR: We are going to move into the teacher education roundtable discussion now. We will be talking with some students after that as well. Thank you so much for the evidence you have given to the committee today. It is a really useful part of our deliberations. I remind you that each of you who have had anything to say will receive a copy of the transcript, probably in about 10 days time. It is an opportunity for you to check over it. If there are any corrections to be made, feel free to contact us if it does not reflect what you said.