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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7875

Dr STONE (Murray) (10:17): I too rise to speak to the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011, which amends the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 by extending the existing funding arrangements, including indexation, for the 2013 calendar year. The bill extends funding totalling $133.5 million for non-Abstudy payments, including a number of Indigenous school programs. It will align the payment period under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act with other funding for school education legislation and agreements. We are supporting this bill because these were originally coalition initiatives.

What concerns us, though, as the previous speaker said, is that this is a recognition that we are not doing well enough in terms of outcomes for Indigenous students. Today there has been a lot of media focus on the fact that Australian children do well comparatively internationally in terms of life chances, with the exception in particular of Indigenous children. There is a growing gap, in fact, between the life chances and outcomes for Indigenous children—including both remote and metropolitan Indigenous children—compared to those for non-Indigenous young people in the Australian society. Quite obviously, that cannot be tolerated in a country like ours.

I have to say that I am very disappointed that, while this government has paid a lot of lip-service to our intervention program, which we introduced just before they were elected nearly five years ago, and to closing the gap as a policy package and an ideal, we are not seeing any major indicators of improvement. For example, with Indigenous adolescent incarceration, the rates of incarceration both for young men and women—teenage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders—are increasing at a dramatic rate. The recidivism rates are increasing dramatically. These are wasted lives—lost lives—with young people spending much of their lives behind barbed wire. On the health of young Indigenous Australians: while morbidity rates are declining, we still have diseases you would expect to more commonly find in Third World countries. The levels of deafness and eyesight damage are just intolerable. In mainstream Australian society, a condition like otitis media, for example, is absolutely preventable or able to be cured in a way that does not leave permanent damage. But it too often leads to deafness in Aboriginal children before they reach their second birthday. There are implications of loss of hearing in terms of education, lifelong opportunities and even being able to participate in your home community. All of your chances are fewer if you have deafness and there is very little opportunity to get aids or even to learn signing to deal with it. This just should not be the case in Australia.

Then there is the business of car injury. Transport related injury is a leading cause of death and serious disability among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, but it is often overlooked that Indigenous infants, children and adults are all much more likely to have a fatal transport related injury than their non-Indigenous peers. Compared to people in non-Indigenous Australia, Indigenous people who die from this sort of injury have more often been a vehicle passenger or a pedestrian. The risk factors are environment related, vehicle related and behaviour related and are different to those for the rest of the population.

Indigenous people have generally not experienced the reduction in road fatalities that the rest of the Australian population have experienced through effective road safety interventions like wearing seat belts or reducing road speed. Indigenous people are two to three times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to have a transport related fatal injury and 30 per cent more likely to have a transport related serious injury. Seventy-five per cent of these injuries or deaths are in regional and remote areas. But even in urban locations Indigenous people have a two to three times higher rate of transport related fatal injuries. In some areas, the death rate may be 17 times greater than it is for the general population. This death rate occurs for all ages, including infants and children less than four years old, and there is a peak among 18- to 25-year-olds. The rate of 18 to 25-year-olds having accidents is a serious problem for non-Indigenous Australians too, but in the Indigenous community we have these young children and babies being killed as well. There are more likely to be single vehicle rollovers, and Indigenous people are 10 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to die as a pedestrian—35 per cent versus 13 per cent of all transport related fatalities respectively.

This seems an extraordinary set of data. Why are Australian Indigenous people more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to die in cars—as drivers or passengers—or as pedestrians? The answers are not very hard to find. The conditions of outback roads are very bad. Often there is less maintenance available for vehicles. Often these vehicles are poorly maintained, damaged and unroadworthy. Most cars in remote communities develop mechanical problems within six months and last less than 2½ years.

We need to look very closely at this whole business of deaths in vehicle related accidents. With this bill targeting Indigenous education assistance, we are talking about more students having opportunities to be mobile, to move away to other places and to be involved in sports related programs. Some of those programs are very excellent indeed but, unless we also go to the nub of the problems associated with young people being killed in car accidents, we are not paying attention to the whole problem, with its complexities and its cultural differences.

One of the clear problems for Indigenous young Australians in remote communities is that they do not tend to speak English. They cannot get drivers licences. The nonsensical requirements now applying in most states and territories stipulating how many hours of pre-licence driving you do with a mentor or a parent in the vehicle just cannot apply in outback Australia. In Queensland you are supposed to have some 100 hours of pre-licence driving experience, but some islands in the Torres Strait, for example, might only have a couple of kilometres, if you are lucky, of main road. So how can a young Indigenous person from a Torres Strait island abide by the law and get their drivers licence lawfully with proper experience of driving during the day and night and in all sorts of conditions? They simply cannot. So they are set up to fail in terms of their own safety behind the wheel and also in terms of being law-abiding when it comes to being stopped by police and asked for their drivers licence. These young Indigenous people do not learn English because they are not at school long enough, because their attendance is poor or because the teaching of English at their school is inadequate. There is no special provision for that situation when it comes to these young people being given special driver education. Perhaps there should be a special drivers licence for people from remote areas. That would acknowledge the special problems associated with pre-licence driving experience by providing them with assistance from someone who has a licence.

We often ignore the impacts of the remote geography of our country. I have been quoting these statistics from Monash University and the Foundation for Surgery, which have been doing a lot of work researching injuries and health outcomes of young Australians, particularly Indigenous young Australians. They have come up with some suggestions on what to do to prevent Indigenous mortalities from road trauma. They suggest that there should be more school based education and post-licence education. They say there should be educational and social marketing—in other words, fear messages—in relation to these problems on the road.

The trouble is that it is not just post-licence education; we are talking about pre-licence education. The Foundation for Surgery, Monash University and also the National Trauma Research Institute say we have dealt with these problems for non-Indigenous populations through street lighting, red-light cameras, the promotion of seatbelt use, random breath tests, mass media campaigns on safe driving and speed limit enforcement through speed detection devices. Clearly none of those measures makes much sense for Indigenous populations when we are talking about dirt roads out the back of Uluru or Halls Creek or Kununurra in Western Australia, so we need different approaches.

The coalition supports any measures that will assist Indigenous Australians to have a better life and to have the same opportunities as other Australians. Extending the funding for these programs is important but, I am sad to say, this is just a very small measure in terms of the huge task that confronts us. We have a lot of evidence that we are not doing any better in terms of how our Indigenous young Australians are experiencing life in our great country. I began by saying they are more likely to be locked up, homeless, have mental health problems, have alcohol and drug dependency problems, be assaulted and experience violence. They are more likely to be killed or seriously injured as a result of road trauma. The carers of those road trauma victims are more likely to have their own lives disadvantaged by the fact that they are caring for someone who is physically or brain injured—those with brain injuries may be damaged for life—and they are trying to deal with those things in a remote community.

Along with my coalition colleagues I support this bill, but we have to look much harder at the situation in Australia for Indigenous people. We cannot go on having Indigenous Australians being out of sight and out of mind because of where they live. We need an integrated approach to what we do with the states and territories and non-government agencies. We need to collect a lot more data and monitor the outcomes of a program if it appears to be successful, because too often we do not properly monitor outcomes. The program has short-term funding. The staff who are working with that program become disenchanted when they are on a six-month or 12-month program lifecycle. And, if it succeeds, then maybe in five or 20 years time there will be another program echoing almost exactly the parameters of the first—reinventing the wheel. Meanwhile, Indigenous communities become despairing of a churn of people coming to assist them. They have no sense that there is any continuity of care or understanding of their issues and problems. And we go on having children in Australia who are more likely to be blind through, for example, the instance of cataract conditions; more likely to be deaf; more likely to have brain damage due to foetal alcohol syndrome; more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to suffer death and injury through road trauma—all in all, in every way not able to fully enjoy the opportunities of this great country of ours.