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Monday, 26 March 2007
Page: 67

Mr SNOWDON (4:39 PM) —Today I want to talk about two educational outcomes: one bad and one good. The first relates to Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal College, at Yulara, near Uluru. It has campuses at Mutitjulu, Kaltukatjara and Imanpa. There is a fiasco which needs to be discussed in this place. The Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation, the NAC, was established in 1994 by the Anangu people of the central desert. Its aim was to foster community development and establish economic independence from government handouts for the Anangu communities of Imanpa, Mutitjulu and Kaltukatjara.

The NAC identified three main pathways to the future: education, employment and economic development. In order to improve education, the NAC established the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal College. It was established on four fundamental tenets of educational philosophy: firstly, teaching should be conducted on traditional lands; secondly, there should be a properly functioning boarding college which should be gender segregated in line with cultural traditions; thirdly, appropriate Anangu houseparents from their own community environment should be employed as careers at the boarding college; and, fourthly, education should be secular, having regard to cultural tradition.

This was a well-conceived and determined attempt to improve the education outcomes of people in the community. Indeed, this much was noted in a review of the college commissioned by the Department of Education, Science and Training in December 2005. That review concluded:

... this has been a courageous initiative on behalf of the Corporation to meet better the needs of the Anangu indigenous people. Their initiative has provided vital means to a future of hope derived from a sound education which is seen as fundamental for its young people being able in the future to integrate with and contribute to a wider Australian society. The provision of a residential, central campus has been part of that initiative.

                …            …            …

... it must be stated again that the alternative of having no secondary schooling is unthinkable in its consequences. The education so keenly taken by so many young Anangu would be lost, in consequence of which there would be consignment to a life for many of total welfare dependency and little hope for change.

In April 2006, the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations, with the endorsement of the federal Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, appointed an administrator to the NAC. The Anangu Governing Committee was dismissed by the registrar. This was despite the fact that the NAC and the college had at all times been solvent. There had been no concern expressed by members of the NAC or by parents or students of the college about its operations up to that time.

I am told that the new administrator has no background in education or qualifications in educational administration. He is an accountant who is currently administering a number of Aboriginal corporations and receiving substantial sums of money from the federal government for doing so. Since the new administrator was appointed, a number of events that can only be called disastrous for the educational hopes and aspirations of the Anangu people have occurred: firstly, the boarding college at Yulara has been closed down and the campuses at the three communities are either not operating or barely operating; secondly, the Anangu parents have become alienated from the college because the administrator and the delegate of the registrar have refused to hold community meetings requested by Anangu or to properly consult with parents about their actions and intentions in relation to the college; thirdly, as a result, parents are not sending their students to school and the funding of the college, which is dependent on student numbers, is now in jeopardy; and, fourthly, there has been a total turnover of teaching staff who have been professionally frustrated by the actions of the administrator.

The federal government has thus effectively destroyed a successful model for independent Aboriginal education. It has brought about what the 2005 DEST review described an ‘unthinkable consequence’ for young Anangu students and has sabotaged the hopes of the next generation of Anangu for a new direction. At the time of the appointment of the administrator, the NAC had four fully operational college campuses with a full staff complement, fully funded budgets, some $200,000 in surplus funds and 86 enrolled students.

Over the last 10 months the college has had a 100 per cent staff turnover, with staff quitting or on stress leave due to the mismanagement of the college by the administrator. The central campus has not been open for six months, student numbers have collapsed and, with this, the funding for the college. The administration has been an unmitigated disaster for the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal College, the communities and the children concerned. There have been four college principals since the administrator took control, and it is thought that there are now only 20 students attending the school. Due to the decrease in student numbers, substantial forward education funding will have to be returned to the funding agent in August 2007. This could quite possibly bankrupt the college.

This is in fact the only Aboriginal college actually run by the federal minister for Aboriginal affairs, and he has destroyed in 10 months the efforts of its Aboriginal owners to build it over the past 14 years. When are the minister and the Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations going to hand the corporation and the college back to their Aboriginal owners? When are they going to restore the educational programs that have been operating in this community? And, when they do that, will the minister ensure that sufficient funds are there to repair damage that has been done over the past 10 months by the administration? This is clearly an instance where things have gone off the rails and, as a result, Indigenous educational outcomes for the poorest and most deserving of Australians have gone out the window.

The second matter I want to refer to is a very successful educational opportunity for Indigenous Australians that is run by the Clontarf Foundation. The foundation achieves its outcomes using Australian Rules football. Football academies are established in partnership with mainstream schools. Young Indigenous men between the ages of 13 and 18 are encouraged to enrol in these. Members of an academy are provided with high-quality coaching, specialist physical conditioning, health education and mentoring in life skills, whilst the school caters for their educational needs. In order to remain in an academy, participants must consistently endeavour to, firstly, attend school regularly; secondly, apply themselves to the study of appropriate courses; and, thirdly, embrace the academy’s requirements for behaviour and self-discipline.

This academy first began operating in Western Australia some years ago. In 2000 there was one academy catering for 15 students. The academy was founded on the leadership of Gerard Neesham, whom you may well know as a coach of Fremantle. He is also a former schoolteacher. In 2003 there were two academies catering for 119 students. In 2006 there were six academies catering for 424 students. The foundation predicts that by 2008 there will be 1,100 students involved in the program. It anticipates 10 academies in Western Australia to cater for this number.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the opening of a new academy in Central Australia. Participant numbers have stabilised for the core groups in this particular place, the Clontarf Foundation of Alice Springs: Alice Springs High School, 43 students; Anzac Hill High School, 35 students; and Yirara College, 70 students. Each school is training three mornings a week before school, with breakfast afterwards. Training has been well attended, with the majority of students achieving well over 80 per cent attendance at training. Most significantly, attendance at Alice Springs High School, I am told, has risen to 96 per cent for these students.

This is something that we need to understand. What this academy is doing is providing a pathway for young people who would otherwise not be attending school. What this does is address the real issues of intergenerational poverty. The cycle of Indigenous disadvantage is permanently broken by this educational outcome. What we are seeing is the development of potential in these young men who hitherto would not have attended school. They have been attracted to staying at school by being involved in this program, which has been developed by Gerard Neesham and others through the Clontarf Foundation. It is a very rewarding thing to be observing.

Last week, as I said, I went to the launch of this fantastic opportunity. I must commend all of those involved, including in particular, of course, Gerard Neesham and his team and the Alice Springs Football Academy Director, Brad Puls, and his staff because of what they are doing to advance the interests of Indigenous kids not only in Alice Springs but also across Australia. I am indebted to them for the work they are doing. I know that the outcomes they will provide for our community will be an example for many others across Australia.

I know that the Clontarf Foundation is partly funded by the Commonwealth government and, in this case, the Northern Territory government, but they insist on local contributions. I am enthused by the fact that, as a result of work which the Clontarf Foundation has done in the Alice Springs community, a number of Alice Springs business leaders have decided that they will be involved in a significant way by making a financial contribution to the foundation. Not only do we have community partnerships in terms of the business community but also we have government involved as well as, of course, the community itself through the parents and the students.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of these sorts of initiatives. It stands in stark contrast to what has happened at Nyangatjatjara College. I will conclude by saying that the government needs to keep its eye on the ball, not only in terms of Aussie Rules and the Clontarf Foundation but also most particularly by ensuring that mistakes like those that have been made at Nyangatjatjara College are corrected immediately.