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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1269


Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) (09:33): On Saturday week Geelong will hold one of the largest street parties in Australia, Pako Festa. It is our annual celebration of cultural diversity. In the midst of the many cultural groups that will participate in the multicultural parade down Pakington Street will be marching students from North Geelong Secondary College. Late last year, I had the pleasure of visiting this most remarkable school on the occasion of the school's own multicultural festival. To look upon the morning assembly and see faces drawn from almost 30 nations around the world was to look upon modern Australia. It was a beautiful, happy, rainbow nation.

The way North Geelong Secondary College welcomes newcomers to our city and to our country—both new migrants and refugees—is deeply impressive. Around 30 per cent of the students at North Geelong come from a refugee background. Among them there are students from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Africa and Burma. Many arrive after having spent years in refugee camps; there are students who have spent up to nine years of their childhood in these camps. Their schooling has been highly interrupted. They may have little or no English language skills. In January I visited refugee camps in both Kenya and South Sudan, and it is from camps like these that many of the African community in Australia have come into schools such as North Geelong. These camps have their own stories of hope and inspiration, but they are hard places to live, hard places to learn and hard places to grow. North Geelong is helping these students pick up the strands of their schooling and gain the best possible prospects for their future in their new homeland. In the process they are radically changing lives for the better. In the process they are also changing the Geelong community for the better.

North Geelong has developed an innovative program for language training which makes the transition from no school to high school much easier. At North Geelong, the English language program is embedded into the school curriculum so that refugee students can get the specialised help they need at school, rather than by travelling to another school or language provider for their lessons. This specialised support is provided in the school's English language centre. As I walked through the centre and spoke to the students about their lives—where they had come from, and where they hoped to go with their future—it was a profoundly moving experience. The room was full of a wisdom that is born of hardship and pain and a determination that is born of a motivation to grab this opportunity to create a new and unimaginably better life. In truth, the room was full of people who are, and will be, wonderful Australians. The students join the rest of their classmates for maths, PE and art and spend the remainder of the day focusing on their English. After 12 months of intensive English, these students continue to receive support for up to seven years.

North Geelong is the only school in south-west Victoria that offers this type of learning. It may be the only school in the state. And the results speak for themselves. Students are finishing school, completing their VCE and making it to university. North Geelong is giving these students hope for a stable and secure life. We know that education is the key. For these students it might take them a bit longer, and require more persistence, but at North Geelong the door to a better future is well and truly open.