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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 157


Mrs GASH (12:42 PM) —In late July this year I had the pleasure of witnessing the signing of the Wonya Iringi shared responsibility agreement at Batemans Bay in the Eurobodalla Shire of New South Wales. The agreement was signed on behalf of the Australian government by my colleague the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, and signalled an undertaking by 30 young Indigenous people to stay engaged with the community. The young signatories were students from the four local high schools of Batemans Bay, Moruya, Eden and Bega, and aged between 14 and 17 years. It is an incentive based program where participants agree that they will not commit any offences, they will not be involved with illicit drugs and they will assist in fundraising for the community.

As part of the incentive program, 13 young Aboriginals undertook to walk the Kokoda Trail, revisiting the places where their forebears served their country in World War II. The purpose of the excursion was to encourage leadership, individuality and confidence and, by all accounts, the initiative proved tremendously successful in achieving its goals. The group was accompanied by Sergeant Janeene Michelle and Senior Constable Scott White of the Batemans Bay Police Crime Prevention Unit, as well as a corrective services officer, a teacher and a councillor from the Eurobodalla Council. Janeene Michelle said that the kids were absolutely fantastic and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

During the journey, the group performed a dawn service at Isurava, which included a traditional dance ceremony honouring all those Aboriginal soldiers who served in World War II. Apparently, on the last day some of the young people in front, when they had finished, dropped their packs and went back to help other members of the group. To me, that gesture is reminiscent of what our diggers symbolised all those years ago and I applaud those youngsters for doing what they did. That is team work and mutual support, the very things we are trying to encourage. One of the students who participated was 15-year-old Ashley Peachey from Batemans Bay. I would like to read part of her report onto the record:

My experience of Kokoda Dreaming was a dream achievement that I may never be able to experience in my life again. I found it to be physically and mentally extremely challenging yet very satisfying to know that all participants helped each other to get through rough times.

Peers and students had to help each other get through one day at a time.

We had 16 legends to show us the places that the indigenous people of Australia and Papua New Guinea fought to save the land we live in now.

The legends had showed us the weapons as well as giving a demonstration of how they were used in the battles to fight for the country that we all call home.

Along the way, we had the chance to interact with the men, women and children of each village we had visited.

It was eye opening to experience just how disadvantaged these people are compared to modern day society.

We had provided the children of each village with small gifts, and it was quite an emotional experience to see the excitement and appreciation on their faces.

I am confident that young Ashleigh is going to grow up into a worthwhile and responsible young woman, such is the power of programs like this. It is not enough to demand of another human being your expectations of them. Rather, if you want change, help set the framework for that motivation to grow and to thrive. The shared responsibility agreement to which we are signatory is the type of intervention that will produce results because it fuels pride in oneself and the confidence to help others while you are helping yourself.

On 2 November the participants, family and sponsors will be having a reunion dinner and screening of photographs. There is also a possibility that a DVD will be prepared. Already plans are underway to extend this program into other areas, one suggestion being walking the rabbit-proof fence. I commend all those concerned with developing the program and giving it life, for in a way we have energised young people who conceivably may have taken another life path, far more arduous than that of the 96-kilometre Kokoda Trail.

I can say that already the school absentee rate for Wonya Iringi youth has improved over that of nonparticipants. For my part, I am anxious to follow up on the program because the high level of juvenile offenders within Gilmore in the program goes to show that we can interact with young people. It will be a challenge for me to see this program introduced on a national level for, as Minister Hockey said on the day, if the pilot was successful, others would follow.

I give my personal thanks to both Janeene and Scott, who travelled to Nowra to ask me for support for the program. I am very proud to say that the Australian government did partly fund the trip, but so also did many of the businesses in Batemans Bay and local residents and especially the main sponsor, Campbell Page. They never wavered in their faith in these young people.

To Batemans Bay High School, I know how proud you are of your students. Principal Neil Simpson could not stop smiling when he told me of the way his students had behaved. I too am so proud, as is, I know, the whole community. You showed by your personal achievement that it can be done. It is something from which good will flow, and it can flow into other areas. We must support success and not accept that the work is finished. It has only just begun.