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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7881

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (10:45): I am going to provide some summing-up comments on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011, noting the contributions that have been made by members in this debate and reflecting that we do have support in the House for the amendments that have been identified in this bill.

The bill's primary purpose is to extend existing funding arrangements under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000, including indexation for the 2013 calendar year. Through the act, the Australian government funds a range of programs to support the attendance, engagement and learning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. I will take the opportunity to provide a few examples of the kinds of programs that are funded under this act and draw the attention of members opposite in particular to those programs.

On literacy and numeracy, funds from the act are expanding the use of personalised learning plans for Indigenous students—learning plans which look at where each student is up to and which help teachers tailor their class work to ensure gaps are filled and every student is making progress. I consider as Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth that personalised learning plans are an essential component of the education provision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. I will be looking to work very closely with state jurisdictions as we continue to roll out this program.

On attendance, the act funds the Sporting Chance Program—which members will be aware of—engaging mainly Aboriginal boys who are passionate about sport, but taking that passion and using it to drive attendance and a connection with schools. I had the opportunity last week ,when we had a community cabinet in Darwin, to visit Casuarina Senior College, which is funded under this program and currently in its third year of that program. The school now has its largest ever cohort of Aboriginal boys undertaking year 12. That is a significant achievement and something that Casuarina Senior College and its students can be very proud of. It represents a quantum increase in the number of boys getting to year 12 and, once in year 12, having the opportunity to go on to further education, or to skills and vocation.

On community support for schooling, the act also fund projects that strengthen links between schools and parents, community members and, especially, elders. One good example is the Connecting Country initiative in New South Wales where new teachers in high Aboriginal enrolment schools are given an induction into the local community prior to taking up their position. This helps new teachers understand community needs and expectations. It builds a solid and productive working relationship with community leaders, which can be very useful in resolving attendance and a range of other issues that can arise from time to time. These are just a few examples of the programs that are funded under the act and which members need to be very aware of. The fact is that funding provided under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act is not the only way this government is supporting better results, better outcomes, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Under the Smarter Schools National Partnerships, the government is providing some $2.5 billion to expand literacy and numeracy programs and to improve teacher quality, specifically in schools serving the most disadvantaged around the country. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, like all students around the country, are benefiting from this significant investment, as well as from the investments that we are making in modernising school infrastructure, in providing technology for classrooms, in a high-quality Australian curriculum, in professional standards and improved training for teachers, in meaningful vocational training opportunities that students can still access while in secondary school and, again, in the provision of trade training centres, including those in the Northern Territory.

The fact is that this government has almost doubled federal investment in Australian school education, compared with the previous coalition government. That is the salient fact as we look at the resources that are being applied to make sure that every child, regardless of where they live, gets a great education. And the fact is that this government has set ambitious targets to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students, to lift our efforts to meet the enormity of that challenge. We know that, within the aim of closing the gap, that task is a really urgent one.

I noted some of the comments by the member for Sturt about these targets, and they were reprised by the member for Durack. In particular, the member for Sturt mentioned that the COAG Reform Council found that data to monitor our commitment regarding early childhood education was not currently available. But what the member for Sturt failed to mention—it is always important to look at what he does not say as much as what he does—was that the COAG Reform Council reported that the work to collect those datasets is well advanced and will be in place for future years. So I caution the member for Sturt, when he comes into this House, not to make misleading use of statements and commentary by institutions such as the COAG Reform Council.

The member for Sturt also failed to mention that it was the previous coalition government that left us with no adequate national mechanism to actually collect data on participation in early childhood education. The member for Sturt failed to mention that it was the previous coalition government's policies that left an unacceptable number of young Australians without access to early childhood learning. So, when we came to government, we were faced with this deficit of policy, resources and support to enable young Australians, including young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, to get the best start in life that they can. So we started the massive task of improving service delivery and data collection, coming off a very inadequate base—the inadequate base that was the legacy of the Howard years—and when we finish, every child, no matter where they live in Australia, will have access to a quality preschool program delivered by qualified early learning teachers and access to the education resources that they need to make the best of their education journey.

I recently released a detailed blueprint describing our actions to ensure this universal access to early childhood learning is achieved for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Universal Access Strategy incorporates work on issues including the supply of places, workforce capacity and community awareness. Additionally, I should make mention of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan agreed through COAG, signed off by first ministers and chief ministers, which binds both the Commonwealth and state jurisdictions to specific, on-ground, targeted actions to make sure that our efforts in Indigenous education continue unabated. Of course, as members know, all aspects of school funding are currently under review, with the new funding model for schools to be put in place from 2013.

I will make one final comment about the contributions of the previous speakers. I too agree that attendance is a key and important issue in education for Indigenous kids, and we want to especially work closely with education authorities and school systems to make sure that attendance is given the priority that it both needs and deserves—and I will have more to say about that in the coming months. To summarise, the bill provides clarity that the Indigenous education funds under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act that the Australian government uses to support Indigenous school students will continue at least up until the new system comes into place and that there will be time for proper planning and consultation regarding any changes that might arise as a result of the review.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.