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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7878

Mr HAASE (Durack) (10:30): I rise today to address the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011. This proposed legislation amends the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000, the IETA Act, by extending the existing funding arrangements, including indexation arrangements, for the 2013 calendar year.

The Sporting Chance Program and Indigenous Youth Mobility Program, IYMP, are Howard government initiatives. Both programs have achieved success in retaining students in school as well as increasing their participation and success rates. The Sporting Chance Program was originally announced in the 2006-07 budget, with the objective of using sport and recreation as a tool to not only increase the level of educational participation of Indigenous students but also improve their final learning outcome. The Indigenous Youth Mobility Program allows Indigenous youth aged between 16 and 24 to relocate from remote communities to gain qualifications to increase their chance of getting a good job. Indigenous youth from cities and regional towns are also eligible for the program if they relocate to another IYMP host location to gain qualifications or to take up an apprenticeship.

I fully support this bill as I have seen firsthand what the Sporting Chance Program is achieving in Durack. Since opening its first academy for 25 boys on the campus of the Clontarf Aboriginal College in Perth, Western Australia, in 2000, the foundation has grown rapidly and has been consistently successful. They now cater for over 2,500 boys in 45 schools across Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Victoria.

Using the passion that Aboriginal boys have for football allows Clontarf to attract the boys to school. But it is not just a sporting program; rather, the Clontarf Foundation exists to improve the education, discipline, self-esteem, life skills and employment prospects of young Aboriginal men and, by doing so, equip them to participate more meaningfully in society.

The Clontarf Foundation has nine academies in Durack, with 658 students in total. The achievements of the Clontarf Foundation are remarkable. With school attendance rates of 80 per cent, year-to-year retention of not less than 90 per cent and 75 per cent of graduates gaining full-time employment within one year of leaving school, something is right. Wouldn't it be great if, rather than needing to use the passion for football to educate our Indigenous people, we could instigate a passion for education at an early age. Indigenous teenage males have a life expectancy of 17 years less than non-Indigenous teenage males and are 28 times more likely to be imprisoned. They have a truancy rate of about 45 per cent and are more likely to leave school prematurely, some as young as nine.

I, along with the rest of Australia, would like to, in the not too distant future, view these statistics simply as a relic of the history of Indigenous education. I want the Indigenous people of Australia to be able to stand proud and say, 'That was what it used to be like,' when they get up on the podium of success and reflect on how much they have achieved.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-14, released in early June this year, tells us:

Attending school and engaging with learning is fundamentally important in helping young Australians to acquire the skills they need for life. Successful learning cannot be built on irregular attendance. There is evidence to suggest that the more regularly students attend school the greater their success in learning.

Whacko; this is mind-boggling stuff—a 49-page report, at a huge cost, to tell us what we already know: if you do not go to school you cannot hope to learn! Amazing! Whoever would have thought that would be the case! The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-14 is without doubt well intentioned; however, I do wonder, given this Labor government's love of rhetoric and lack of discipline in following through, whether any of the report's goals will ever be achieved.

In fact, we have seen several cases of where even the reporting of this government's many and varied inquiries, committees and commissions cannot be achieved due to the lack of data. Recently the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council confessed on behalf of the Gillard government that they do not know if people with disabilities are getting improved services under the National Disability Agreement. The COAG Reform Council's 2009-10 performance report into the National Disability Agreement said:

In this second year report, the council finds that out-of-date data for some indicators, the lack of any data for a number of further indicators, and the absence of agreed measures for others, make it difficult to determine whether progress has been made toward meeting COAG’s overall objective.

This is consistent with the National Affordable Housing Agreement performance report 2009-10, where the COAG Reform Council could not provide a progress report on four partnerships that make up the agreement—again, due to lack of data. Page 39 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-14 states:

Data improvements may also lead to the development of more refined measures and reporting of performance against the closing the gaps targets. For example, there is currently no agreed trajectory associated with the target to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities have the opportunity to access to an early learning program in the year before school. The COAG Reform Council has recommended that data development in this area be given high priority. However, as an indication of work in this area, Figure 1 presents an Australian Government estimate based on Commonwealth funding for Universal Access to early childhood education. Once this data is refined to report on children from remote areas, reporting to Ministers will also be updated.

There we go—an admission of the inability to reach targets due to the lack of data, before the pursuit even begins.

The recent COAG Reform Council data released recently—data which I am sure the Labor government would prefer had not been released—proves that the great Closing the Gap idea is not working. In fact, the gap has widened between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in year 9. The report, based on the NAPLAN data, shows that less than two-thirds of Indigenous year 9 students can read at the national average standard. This, so early on in the plan to halve the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students before 2018, is very troubling news. In what appears to be a distortion of the NAPLAN data, some believe assessments are actually being skewed to what is being taught rather than what children know.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-14 report is full of outcomes, targets, performance indicators, national collaborative action, systemic level action and local level action. But I note the report has not once mentioned the two words that are needed when dealing with Indigenous education: tough love. Instead, we have a report tarted up with socially and academically acceptable words so as not to offend anyone. Well, I think it is time that we offended people. I think it is time we set it straight and stopped pussyfooting around. For far too long Indigenous communities have existed rather than thrived, due to welfare handouts. We cannot educate the young before educating the educator.

In mainstream society, school attendance and education are accepted as the norm. That is not the case in Indigenous communities. The necessity of sending children to school needs to be embraced by the entire Indigenous population. An entrenched welfare philosophy exists within our Indigenous communities. Our passive love has not worked and will not ever work. We need more rigour. We need to impose welfare recipient restrictions in line with school attendance. We need to make full welfare payments dependent upon full school attendance.

The biggest issue in Indigenous education is, without doubt, attendance. It is all very well to spruik enrolment figures, but these figures are generally much higher than the true attendance rate and skew the picture completely. Exceptional headmasters and teachers and strong parental involvement can break the pattern, but school attendance in Aboriginal communities generally is far below that of the rest of the community. There is a culture of non-attendance because of funerals, extended absence for numerous reasons, overcrowding, housing, revolting abuse, sleep deprivation, lack of motivation through lack of purpose, lack of role models, no appreciation of need and no parental insistence.

The longer we keep handing out welfare with no expectation in return, the longer we will have a society within a society. First and foremost, we are all Australians; we are not Indigenous or non-Indigenous. We must stop the inequality of expectation between black and white. We need to change our mindset. We need to expect the same of all children, regardless of their colour or cultural background. By lowering our expectations for one sector of society, we do not allow them choices in life that other sectors take for granted—choices such as education, employment, success and, above all, hope. We can keep throwing money at communities with no real expectation of anyone improving their lives—it has worked for decades. Sure, we all feel better—out of sight, out of mind. We have done our bit, given money, eased our conscience, got to sleep nights and moved on—moved on until a hungry young reporter or a seasoned photographer pricks our conscience with a story about the trouble in our Indigenous communities.

Let us be honest with ourselves: it is just not working. Because the do-gooders of this country have brought a race to its knees, it is time to show tough love in order to restore dignity to our Indigenous people. All people need to have an education. As was pointed out in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014, there is evidence to suggest that the more regularly students attend school, the greater their success in learning.

The actions and initiatives of this Labor government are not working in any area, but especially not in Indigenous matters. Prior to the 2007 federal election, Labor promised it would contribute funds towards the construction and operation of three new boarding colleges for Indigenous secondary school students in years 8 to 12 in the Northern Territory. In 2008-09 the federal budget provided $28.9 million over four years towards this project—$18.8 million was to be spent in 2008-09 and $5.1 million, $2.5 million and $2.5 million over the following three financial years to 2011-12—with the Indigenous Land Corporation to contribute a further $15 million towards construction costs. So far, construction has begun on one site, and that has progressed to formwork only. Nearly three years after the specific commitment made by Mr Rudd, only one of the promised 38 Indigenous children and family centres will have been opened by 30 June this year. The Indigenous children and family centres, part of the Indigenous early childhood development national partnership, are designed to provide quality early childhood services to Aboriginal children and their families.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, which recently tabled Doing timetime for doing, the report of its inquiry into the high level of involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system. The inquiry showed that not only are Indigenous youth 28 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous youth, but if you are an Indigenous woman you are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised by partner abuse than a non-Indigenous woman. Those figures are atrocious, yet the Greens have the audacity to demonstrate their ignorance by introducing to parliament bills condemning the intervention on the basis of human rights. Basic human rights, proclaimed and agreed upon, say that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind—such as those of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. These rights recognise that a child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment—in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. A child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society. To deny children an education is to deny them basic human rights. So long as we continue to accept a culture that says, 'We will pay welfare with no expectation of something in return'—that is, the right of children to be educated—we are denying those children their natural human rights.