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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7872

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (10:07): Highly respected Aboriginal woman Yvonne Butler said:

Education is the greatest single weapon to overcome disadvantage and the impact of this denial of education affects me and other Indigenous people to this day. Education is the base upon which society relies, passing on our knowledge and teachings from one generation to the next.

Why should one group in society miss out on the wonders of education just because this government cannot commit to a decision of extending its financial aid?

The purpose of the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011 is to amend funding under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to include an additional calendar year, 2013, so that the facilities providing educational assistance can make a long-term commitment to bettering future generations of our Aboriginal population. The bill provides for the appropriation of $133.5 million for non-Abstudy payments over 2013. This funding amount also includes adjustments to appropriations made as a result of previous decisions of government, including in relation to the new federal financial arrangements framework. In accordance with the government's policy, the legislated figure will be adjusted for price movements. The bill also provides $25.5 million for Abstudy away-from-base payments. The total appropriation for both components is $159 million in 2013. The Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 provides a legislative basis and appropriate funding for a variety of Aboriginal education programs for the tertiary sector.

Sporting Chance and the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program are two initiatives of the previous coalition government that have been continued by the current Labor/Greens/Independents government. Both programs have achieved considerable success in retaining students in school as well as increasing their participation and success rates. However, this Labor government has not committed to long-term funding for these two initiatives. Instead, it has simply provided a 12-month extension in the past two budgets. The extension has been described as being necessary to allow for the completion and release of the Review of Funding for Schooling report, which is due some time in 2011. But by the government's own admission the review is focused on the mainstream. There may—only 'may'—be some implications for the design and operation of programs run by the IETA Act.

The Australian government, along with all state and territory governments, endorses and promotes the 21 common and agreed national goals of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy. Labor is paralysed by endless reviews. It has described this year as the year of delivery and decision. I say it is the year of more debt and more delay. At least the Prime Minister got the Ds right. A one-year extension of funding for the second year in a row by the Gillard Labor government limits the funding and therefore holds hostage future planning for more successful programs and long-term funding prospects. It seems this uncommitted government is trying to drive a wedge in good programs which re-engage Aboriginal students with learning and bettering their future.

The original initiative was a great initiative, introduced by the coalition government in 2000. The act allowed the minister to make an agreement with education providers, or other persons or bodies, authorising payments during the 2001 to 2009 calendar years. There is enormous frustration that this Gillard-Rudd government is simply without ideas. We have had 4½ years of Labor rolling off figures about Aboriginal disadvantage; however, even when the solution is handed to it from the previous coalition government, it still does not seem fit to implement it. It may want to set a 'closing the gap' figure for 2020, long after this government is gone and hopefully some of its mess is cleaned up; however, it will be unable to account for its lack of action. That will lie in the hands of future generations.

Following from this, if there is not proper funding for the education of Aborigines then we may not see a future generation. This government is quite happy to apologise for the actions of others generations ago, but it seems it is unable to face up to its own inaction and apologise for it. There are many opportunities for Aboriginal youth to do better and to involve themselves in the community, and with help from government a re-engagement with learning can be instilled into these children. But, if this government will not commit to ensuring long-term education funding, how can the children commit to their own education? This government is not really showing a good example. Given opportunity, Aboriginal children are just as capable as any other children of succeeding in our community.

In the Riverina there are just so many sporting opportunities, and we should be doing everything we can to involve Indigenous youths in one of their passions: sport. It is a passion that they are so very good at. Too often Aboriginal youths are overrepresented among those displaying antisocial behaviour. That seems to occur across Australia and it certainly occurs in the Riverina. It is because in some cases they do not get the proper parental direction, or because they have nothing meaningful to do with their lives because there is not the opportunity that should be encouraged more and more by government, or because, in some instances, they just do not know how to be involved in the wider community.

There are avenues other than sport, and one that comes to mind is participation in the Australian Defence Force Cadets. Those young Aboriginal men and women who do join cadet units have the time of their lives. I encourage Indigenous youth to participate. We have seen over many, many years—over decades—how Aboriginal men and women have engaged in our defence forces and been remarkable participants in keeping our nation safe so that today we may live in peace and in a democracy. In Wagga Wagga we have an Army cadet unit, and cadets of all races and ethnicities have risen to the highest ranks of this service. It is a mark of just what can be achieved. I never fail to be impressed with the young men and women in the cadet forces. They are future leaders of our country, and by continuing the funding at great length we can and will encourage Aboriginal Australians.

There is no denying the commitment both sides of the chamber have to Indigenous programs. The Gillard-Rudd Labor government has made a lot of promises under its Closing the Gap initiative; however, we and they, the Aboriginal population, need more than just words. Aboriginal Australians are counting on the Prime Minister to deliver real action and real results in education, housing, health care and, of course, sporting opportunities. Unfortunately this government has proven too many times to be nothing but talk.

The bill today provides more funding for a successful coalition government program. This is highly commendable and I thank the government for supporting the coalition initiative that has been developed over so many years. The previous coalition government was committed to Indigenous programs and in the 2007-08 budget $4 billion was put aside for Aboriginal programs and services. There was a 67 per cent real increase on the amount that had been spent by the Keating Labor government in 1995-96. The coalition government was particularly committed to Indigenous education through initiatives such as the Clontarf Foundation. From 1998 to 2005, the participation of Aboriginal students in year 12 increased from 32 per cent to 40 per cent. Participation in year 11 increased from 52 per cent to 62 per cent. But we can always do better and we must do better. Education is one of the many ways to the future for Aboriginal Australians.

These are just some of the outcomes of some of the projects carried out by the previous coalition government. The Labor-Green-Independents government has professed the same commitment but we have yet to see any real positive action. There is a long way to go in Indigenous education. On such an important issue, the government needs to do more than just expand coalition initiatives. However, it seems that this government just wants to take the easy option and that is costing Aboriginal students the right to a better life.

In recent times, this has been evident with the suspension of the live cattle trade in the north. The largest population per capita of Aboriginal Australians is in Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and Northern Western Australia, the predominant areas for live export. Many Aboriginal men and women have worked long and hard to gain experience in managing all aspects of the live cattle trade industry. Jobs have not just been lost in droving the herds onto boats. There are also bookkeepers, jackaroos and jillaroos, farm managers and drovers. And many of those workers are Aboriginal people, who through the benefits provided by the coalition government, have re-engaged with the need for better education and worked their way into good jobs—only to have them suspended in another misled decision by this government. And what is the government's solution to this suspension? They have banned the live cattle trade. They have sent all of these Aboriginal workers to Centrelink for compensation—the very place that many like to avoid.

More programs such as the Aboriginal Environmental Education Centre in Brungle in New South Wales in the Riverina in my electorate need to be operated. This is an area in my electorate where education on Aboriginal tradition is threaded into the curriculum. Brungle Public School, which is close to Gundagai and Tumut, has developed programs and the grounds to provide a better understanding of Aboriginal culture. I commend them for the work that they are doing. Students will experience traditional greetings and meet Aboriginal elders in the dreaming room. They will also learn traditional skills, history, Dreamtime legends, implement making and the Wiradjuri language. They will learn about scar trees, bush tucker and plant and animal usage. Aboriginal activist and lawyer Noel Pearson once said that there is no self-esteem and self-worth without capability and there is no road to capability without education.