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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3992


Senator CHAPMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. The Labor government had 13 years to improve the education, training and employment of indigenous Australians. However, their legacy in this area was appalling. Will the minister inform the Senate what action the government is taking to address these deep-seated problems?


Senator VANSTONE —I thank Senator Chapman for his question. It is true that for 13 years in government Labor saw the problems that indigenous Australians faced. It is also true that for 13 years they cried crocodile tears but in the end offered no effective solutions.

After 13 years, we can all look back on Labor and their achievement or failure—an indigenous unemployment rate of 40 per cent; the infant mortality rate unchanged at two to three times the rate of non-Aboriginal children; and the life expectancy of an Aboriginal male is still 16 to 18 years—nearly 20 years—less than others. There was a small glimmer of hope between 1985 and 1992 when the retention rate of year 12 indigenous students rose 11 points, and we welcomed that. But the retention rate for the rest of the student population in that period rose by 20 points.

We all remember Richo's conversion from Labor number cruncher to concerned politician, genuinely taking an interest in indigenous health. We remember the photo of him at Wallaby Creek near Katherine in 1994, but Labor hardly progressed the issue of water supply to indigenous Australians at all. Perhaps Richo should come back. He put a bit of spine in Old Jellyback, and he could give Labor a few good ideas now. In this, as in so many other areas, we inherited Labor's failure and we are determined to address it.

In 1994-95, Labor's last full year of government, there were a mere 817 indigenous trainees. This year there will be about 4,000. We have increased funding by $80 million over four years for indigenous education in the preschool, primary, secondary and TAFE sector. There will be recurrent funding to educational institutions only if their annual performance targets to improve indigenous education outcomes are met, so that we will get real results. We have extended funding to encourage parents to help their children at school, including making that available at the preschool level.

In higher education, we have allocated an additional $72 million over three years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education—including a number of special initiatives such as indigenous higher education centres, developing on-line delivery arrangements for indigenous communities and $1 million for innovative technologies to deliver university courses to indigenous communities. We sponsored the youth reconciliation award—which we were very pleased to do—at the reconciliation conference.

But Labor did not just fail the indigenous population. They failed the Australian population. They destroyed, in the recession we had to have, 420,000 full-time jobs. They destroyed the livelihood of 330,000 men and the futures of 220,000 young Australians in the recession they said we had to have. It was a disgrace.

As a consequence of that recession, there was a rise in youth unemployment from 14 per cent to 30 per cent, and the number of long-term unemployed increased by 235,000. No tears and no apologies for the wrecked families and ruined lives—ruined because of Labor's shocking financial mismanagement. It was just an absolute disgrace.

I mentioned that we sponsored the youth reconciliation award. I know Senator Chapman has a particular interest in the reconciliation issue and, since my time is running out, I just advise him that I might not be able to give him the whole answer. But I saw a photo in the paper today of Pat Dodson—(Time expired)


Senator CHAPMAN —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister did refer to the youth reconciliation awards in her answer, but I am wondering if she could give me a more detailed explanation of those innovative awards.


Senator VANSTONE —Thank you very much, Senator Chapman. As I said, we did sponsor the youth reconciliation award. Senators will have seen a photograph of Pat Dodson in the Telegraph today next to a reconciliation logo which says, `Remember the past, reconcile the present and rejoice in the future'. Those sentiments I agree with, and I note there is no space in there for cheap politics.

That is why it was so unedifying yesterday to see someone who is genuinely interested in Aboriginal affairs—Senator Bob Collins—seemingly caught in the trap of so many Labor politicians who use indigenous Australians to score a point. If he really wanted an answer to his question yesterday and he did not want to try to score a cheap point, he would have asked the minister responsible and that is me. It was a most unedifying spectacle to see him trying to score a cheap point.


Senator Bob Collins —Madam President, I rise on a point of order.

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators on my right will cease interjecting. It is absolutely unedifying to have senators shouting at each other across the chamber.


Senator Bob Collins —Madam President, I simply ask for clarification in relation to that—


Senator Ian Macdonald —That is not a point of order.


Senator Bob Collins —Yes, it is.


Senator Herron —He wants to be seen on his feet.


Senator Faulkner —You don't.


Senator Bob Collins —You don't—that's dead right.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Collins, what is your point of order?


Senator Bob Collins —It is a question of the portfolio responsibilities in this chamber. Madam President, I simply ask for clarification. I have just been accused of addressing a question to the wrong minister, so it is appropriate to ask this. Madam President, could I ask you for clarification? Abstudy is received only by Aboriginal students in Australia. Is it not, therefore, relevant to direct a question on Abstudy to either the minister for education or the minister for Aboriginal affairs, unless he of course wants to absolve himself from any responsibility for Aboriginal affairs in Australia?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Collins, resume your seat. There is no point of order. There was shouting amongst senators across the chamber after a question had been answered. It was behaviour that ought not to have been occurring at the time and there is another occasion for that issue to be raised.