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- Start of Business
SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1996-97
SUPPLY BILL (No. 2) 1996-97
SUPPLY (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL 1996-97
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Coalition's Election Promises
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr FAHEY)
(Mr RANDALL, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr CREAN, Mr HOWARD)
Unfair Dismissal Law
(Mr BOB BALDWIN, Mr REITH)
(Mr McMULLAN, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr FORREST, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr MARTIN FERGUSON, Mr HOWARD)
Industrial Relations: Small Business
(Mr LLOYD, Mr HOWARD)
Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme
(Mr GARETH EVANS, Mr FAHEY)
- Coalition's Election Promises
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Mr CAUSLEY, Mr REITH)
(Mr ANDREN, Mr WARWICK SMITH)
Apprenticeships and Traineeships
(Mrs ELSON, Dr KEMP)
Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme
(Mr O'KEEFE, Mr ANDERSON)
(Mr NUGENT, Mr DOWNER)
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr DOWNER)
(Mrs ELIZABETH GRACE, Dr KEMP)
- Union Membership
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- INDIGENOUS EDUCATION (SUPPLEMENTARY ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- AIRPORTS BILL 1996
- AIRPORTS (TRANSITIONAL) BILL 1996
- SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NEWLY ARRIVED RESIDENT'S WAITING PERIODS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1996
- THERAPEUTIC GOODS AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- Start of Business
- INDIGENOUS EDUCATION (SUPPLEMENTARY ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- HAZARDOUS WASTE (REGULATION OF EXPORTS AND IMPORTS) AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Thursday, 23 May 1996
Mr NUGENT(10.08 a.m.) —As this House will know, this is an area in which I have taken a personal interest for some years. I am therefore very pleased to speak on this particular bill this morning.
One of the things that has struck me over the six years I have been in this place is that not only here but also as I have travelled around the country—with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and with other members on the standing committee and through other outlets and avenues—I have heard many claims from different people about what the keys are to addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage in this country. And there is acknowledged and quite clear disadvantage, by whatever indicator you care to use.
When people talk about the key to addressing that disadvantage, they sometimes talk about health; they sometimes talk about housing, education, employment, the importance of land, the justice system, and so on. It seems to me that those things are all important. It is not just one of those items being the key; they all play an important part and it seems to me that it should be an interactive process. You have to improve housing and health in parallel with education and gradually develop that total environment.
I know the next honourable gentleman to speak from the coalition—he comes from the Northern Territory and we welcome him to this parliament—will probably have more first-hand experience of this than I, but I have certainly travelled extensively around the country. What we have seen and heard as we go around the country, in terms of health and the delivery of educational services to indigenous people, has been generally a very sorry tale.
You do not get a good education if your health is not up to scratch. If you have a middle ear infection—and in some schools that you and I have been to, Mr Deputy Speaker, 50 per cent of those in the school have middle ear infections—you have a health problem. But you have also got an education problem because you cannot hear what the heck is going on. So we need to look at education in the Aboriginal field in a broad sense.
We also need to look at overcrowded housing. I have seen overcrowded indigenous housing all around this country. I remember particularly going to Maningrida, which is well known for its arts and crafts, where the average number of people per house in that community is about 38. If you are going to school during the day and you want to advance yourself and do some study or whatever, going home to 38 people in a three-bedroom house with one toilet and a shower, in a warm climate, is not exactly conducive to becoming a diligent student, even if you want to.
The aspect of culture is interesting. Again I would be interested in the comments, perhaps later on, from the honourable gentleman from the Northern Territory. I remember going to Yirrkala which is often held up as a model school in terms of indigenous involvement in running its own education process. It is a school at which Mandawuy Yunupingu, to whom the previous speaker referred, was a teacher some years ago before he moved on to greater fame in other fields. There was great pride, and appropriately so in many senses, that the teaching was conducted in the local language. That was culturally appropriate and was acceptable to the community, but if you went down the road and talked to the major employer in the area, which was Nabalco, the management there said, `One of the problems we have with trying to offer jobs to Aboriginal people is that, although they go to school and they go through the school system, because they often do not have a basic command of English to the standard we need we actually cannot employ them.' So you have this dichotomy of culture and education, and you have to get that mix right.
Similarly, in the home environment the problem is not just the crowding. If there is substance abuse at home and there is violence or other problems of that sort, clearly you are not going to sit down and do your homework and have the right environment in which to study. Those sorts of problems, coupled with peer pressure and so on, I think are often worse for our indigenous community than for people almost anywhere else in the country.
I specifically address my comments to the parliamentary secretary, who is here representing the minister. The point I would make is that we can talk about these education bills, but what the government has to understand and what the government must do—I said this in opposition and I will continue to say it in government—is address all of these issues because addressing just particular sectional areas is not going to fix the problem.
This bill is about increasing funding until the turn of the century and restructuring the Aboriginal special programs in this area to make them more responsive. This bill is about moving primarily, in one sense, to a per capita system. It is about looking for who can best provide education. I think that is important. Often the providers may not be from the conventional sources. I think that is a more relevant factor in indigenous areas than perhaps in many other parts of the community.
It is particularly about looking for outcomes and not just inputs. I have been critical of many of the things the previous government did in this and other areas but I never basically questioned its good intentions. One of the things that struck me in the life of the previous government and that caused me concern was that we did not get the improved results. I think there was too much focus on providing the inputs and not enough on saying, `Has it been effective and have we got the right results?' So I think that looking at outcomes is fundamental.
This bill is about providing certainty for the education providers, not living year to year on short-term time frames, because you cannot organise anything properly on that basis. It is about performance and outcomes, and it has also established quite clearly an objective to achieve educational equity for indigenous Australians by the turn of the century. It is about improving the lot of indigenous teachers as well.
I am not sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether you were on this particular visit, but I have graphic memories of one visit we paid to a school which I think was in Mission Beach in Queensland where outstanding Aboriginal teachers really were teachers' aides, if you like, and had nowhere to go. There was no advancement and the level of pay was derisory. Anybody who had real ability in the Aboriginal teaching field was often lost to the field because they went to other jobs where they could get better advancement. It seems to me that there are special needs in terms of improving the lot of indigenous teachers. Of course, it is important to make education culturally appropriate, and we need—above all, perhaps—to take a practical and not a doctrinaire approach.
As members of the House would be aware, I have spent some years as the coalition's representative in opposition and now in government on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Reconciliation is something to which the Prime Minister has reaffirmed his commitment on a number of occasions since 2 March. In that context, let me say that next week we are going to celebrate National Reconciliation Week in this building. There will be a major function on Monday at lunchtime, co-hosted by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) and the Leader of the Democrats (Senator Kernot), and there will be a special motion moved in the House at the start of business on Monday.
The reason I mention that is that you do not and will not achieve reconciliation until you have addressed many of the problems that are almost endemic in the disadvantage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Improving that disadvantage, it seems to me, is one of the issues at the core and that is why bills such as this are so important. I would just remind members of the House that in the second reading speech the minister said that this bill was all about funding levels that reflect an increase of $7.85 million on the existing appropriation.
The bill is talking about major changes to the Aboriginal education strategic initiatives program from January 1997 with a new funding triennium. It is talking about cultural appropriateness and a more cost-effective, transparent and manageable system, and it would do this in two basic ways: on the basis of either per capita entitlement or strategic results projects. It is all about value for money and about getting results. As I have said before, I have never doubted that the previous government wanted to try hard in this area, but I have concerns that they did not achieve outcomes, and that is why it is important that we develop a new way of going about some of these things.
In doing that, we must of course remember that we need to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents in their children's education process. You cannot just devise a system and expect that it is going to work. Given the many tight-knit communities, it is important to involve parents because without that parental commitment—and that often is not there these days—and given some of the problems of health, housing and so on that I referred to earlier, you will not get children motivated to do the work they need to at school.
We need to very much improve the preschool education level because, unless you can set at an early age the right approaches, attitudes and even disciplines to education, you will get the wrong attitude set at an early age; and if a few years later you come along trying to change the attitude of the young people to education, you will not be successful.
Obviously, it must be about employing and training Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education workers. There simply are not enough of them in the field and we need to encourage far more people into that area. The employment and training of those workers—acknowledging that it may have to use techniques that are not necessarily standard in terms of the main community—will be important.
The appropriate professional development of staff at all levels involved in indigenous education is important, and I have mentioned the cultural sensitivity of curricula as also being important. Probably more than anything else, we have to make sure that in all the things we plan and do; in all the changes we look at and the things we implement, we have indigenous involvement in how we develop the programs, in the measures that we take and in the mechanics of the system. History has taught us that we cannot impose those things from the outside. Unless there is indigenous involvement the measures will—in all sorts of ways—not be appropriate and there will be no commitment in the communities themselves to make them work successfully afterwards.
This legislation seeks to achieve for indigenous Australians literacy and numeracy outcomes that are similar to those of non-indigenous Australians. It also seeks to make sure that we regularly review progress so that we can try to achieve the objective, or get very close to it, by 2000. I do not think we are going to bring everybody up to scratch in the next four years, but we have to make significant progress. Everybody in our community, whether an indigenous or non-indigenous person, is very frustrated with the fact that all the effort and all the talk that has gone on for some years has not produced the outcome. I am not attributing blame or pointing a finger, but we all acknowledge that the improvements are not there and, therefore, people are getting frustrated. We must start to see some impact being made on some of these areas.
It is important that we give priority in that process to addressing the development of sound foundation competencies, particularly in literacy and numeracy, so that we can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make the transition from education and training, where they get those basic skills, into the work force. Until you have the basic skills, you will not get a job; if you do not get a job then you cannot afford the housing; and if you do not have the housing then you do not get the health standards. If you do not have a job and money, you get into substance abuse, because you have been sitting around doing nothing. This happens when you have time on your hands—we all know the cycle. So this bill is a very fundamental part of providing intervention at an early stage in that cycle.
We all recognise the need in this area and it is no good standing up and making emotive speeches. That has happened over the years. There have been a lot of problems and mistakes made in the past. What we have to do now is sit down with legislation such as this and put in place some practical measures for dealing with the problem. This is one small part of the jigsaw. This is the educational piece of the jigsaw. There are other parts: health, housing and so on. We have to recognise the special circumstances of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: not only their disadvantages but also the cultural differences, and we have to have them involved.
This bill not only continues what was set in place before—and some of the special measures worked, and some of them did not work—but also improves what was there, based on experience. I think that is to be commended. It is not a cure by itself, but it certainly helps. The thing that we must do, as a nation and as a parliament—the lead has to come from the parliament—is to put aside party political differences in these sorts of areas. Those of us who have worked in indigenous affairs over the last few years have tried to put aside a lot of those party political differences because, as a nation, we have a responsibility not to fail our citizens. In so many areas, including Aboriginal education, we have failed them in the past and it is important that we now address these problems. This bill will go some considerable way towards doing that, and I therefore commend the bill to honourable members.