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Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Page: 11

Mr TUCKEY (9:51 AM) —Whilst much can be made of issues surrounding the education of Indigenous persons, the purpose of the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment (Cape York Measures) Bill 2007 is to amend the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to appropriate additional funding to facilitate the improvement of educational opportunities for Indigenous students in the communities of Coen, Hope Vale, Aurukun and Mossman Gorge in the Cape York region of Queensland. That must be endorsed. It is the Howard government finding additional money to hopefully improve the educational opportunities of a disadvantaged people.

Nevertheless, in answer to the question put by the member for Jagajaga—‘How are a very large number of Aboriginal children managing at the moment?’—they are not. The principal reason they are not is that they are not going to school at all. It took the efforts of a government school principal in the north of Western Australia, in recognition of this problem, to approach Centrelink, and to say, ‘There is only one solution to parents accepting their responsibilities to send their children to school, to give them that first start and get them through the door: you will have to threaten their welfare payments.’ And Centrelink agreed with that. It became an unofficial program. The statistics are there to be seen. The attendance of Aboriginal children in school went up exponentially in that community. Then the Western Australian state education department and the Labor minister found out about it and threatened the teacher with the sack for taking this very practical measure of getting kids to school.

We are told about Labor’s programs in this pious amendment—and we seem to get one attached to every bill—which says nothing because it intends nothing. That is Labor’s positive policy approach towards narrowing the gap. Labor is running the state education system in every state and territory of Australia. It is not positive, yet the message we get from this new positive initiative is that Australian taxpayers have to pay twice.

It is not the blame game; it is a defence of the rights of taxpayers to pay once. I personally have no objection to a takeover of the education system by the Australian government, if that means the taxpayer only pays once, but that is not what we are talking about in this place. We are talking about doubling up. It is about asking all the residents of Australia to pay for something that many of them are already paying twice for through their choice of private schools. The biggest indictment of state education providers is the considerable financial pain that a number of people put themselves through so that they do not have to send their children to a school run by state education unions. And, if anyone thinks that is exclusive to white people then they should check again, because it is a similar choice made by the Aboriginal elite—those who are active in the Aboriginal industry and who, in many cases, are getting a better salary than that available to members of this House. Why are they the Aboriginal elite? Typically, because they are also the stolen generation. Whether we approve or disapprove of that practice, the reality is that they were educated by highly dedicated nuns and other religious orders who believed they were doing the best for those people. Amongst them are those who will stand up and honestly say that their removal from a dysfunctional family was the reason that they could stand in the community, articulate and capable of taking employment in many areas.

We are talking here about this being a better program: more money is being provided, and you can double, treble or quadruple that money but if you do not get the kids through the front door it is no good having some survey system that tells you how they are doing at school; they are not at school. Some credit must be given to the government for trying to provide some formality to that approach, which put pressure on the parents of students to see that they attended school.

Nevertheless, another area of significant funding which this government has provided—and I thank the member for Canning for his interest in this matter in the early stages—is to the Clontarf scheme, run by Gerard Neesham, the one-time leading AFL coach. It is to be looked at as a magnificent alternative. It has what are called, I think, Clontarf institutes of sport, and they have now spread. What did Gerard Neesham do? He went down there virtually as a volunteer and said to the numerous Aboriginal kids of that district, ‘I will teach you how to play football. We will have a top-class youth football team, but there’s one rule: you will be registered as present in your classroom at nine o’clock in the morning and you will still be there at three o’clock in the afternoon or there will be no football.’

That had a twofold outcome. The first outcome was that we recognised the high level of natural skills existing in Indigenous people, particularly as to the rugby codes. They are good at it, and they are entitled to earn the good money which is available in professional sport today. But the other thing is the incentive. The initial incentive—the professional opportunities—probably featured very little in the minds of those children. They just wanted to play football. Consequently, Neesham gave us politicians a lead as to how these sorts of things can be achieved without compulsion.

This is a very difficult area. The intrusion of well-meaning people over more recent years, and more particularly this parliament since it obtained the right to be involved in 1967, has done little good. My wife and I became small businesspeople in the north-west town of Carnarvon in 1958, nine years before the referendum that brought the Australian parliament into the business of Aboriginal affairs. You might be interested to know that there were no unemployed Aboriginals in that town, notwithstanding that collectively they represented 30 per cent of the total population of that town. One reason was that they had all gone to school. Their parents had work and they were accepted in the community as being no different from anyone else. In addition, the hinterland was where very large numbers of these people lived and, whilst their employment could not be defined as permanent, they lived on pastoral properties and were paid for the work that was available and of course they were provided with food, medical assistance and other things of that nature.

The trade union movement thought that was a downright terrible situation and went out and said that if anybody were resident on a property and worked occasionally they were full-time employees. So they were all kicked off the properties. That was the commencement of the degeneration of these people, because out on the pastoral properties there was no grog—nor did they need it—and yet they had entitlements. When they had accumulated their wages—and there was nothing to spend them on out there—they came to town and had a party. I well remember—I was one of the hotel proprietors.

The reality was that their children typically stayed back on the property and were looked after by neighbours or relations or elderly people. The point I want to make further is that in that circumstance there was a mission—and that is almost a dirty word after silly people ran the campaign of the stolen generation. In reality it was a hostel and the kids from those pastoral areas came in and lived in ideal conditions and were bussed into the school every day. Nobody even thought that was unusual—they were the ‘mission kids’. During the school holidays they went back to the pastoral properties and joined their families. And it all worked. It had no help whatsoever from the Australian government. It was the expectation of those Aboriginal people that they had to have a job. They worked in my hotel, they worked for the main roads department and the council electricity undertaking. Some owned their own trucks and were in business on their own behalf.

So where are we now exactly 40 years after 1967 and what has been the achievement of the Australian parliament regarding these people? We handed responsibility over to a lot of people who knew nothing and we created an Aboriginal elite. I return to Carnarvon infrequently these days but all of the people that I knew as productive workers in the town, and their kids who went to school, now work in the Aboriginal industry. They produce nothing and they are self-sufficient. This parliament funded a $4 million or $5 million interpretive centre for them. The building has been constructed and on my latest advice—though it is from a little while ago—it has never been opened because the locals cannot agree on which family is going to get the administrative responsibility and the wages that go with it.

This is what we are talking about—an absolute failure of this parliament—and I will spread the blame across political parties in managing a problem that arguably did not exist, certainly not in the areas where I lived for 25 years. The other day we met with a group—and there were quite a few members of parliament there including some ladies from the opposition—and I said I was probably the only person in the room who had voted in the 1967 referendum. Not one of the ladies wanted to correct me, and I thought that was interesting—

Mr Danby —Which way did you vote?

Mr TUCKEY —for two good reasons: one, they did not vote and, two, they were not going to declare their age, and I do not blame them on that matter. But the fact is that I voted yes. I voted to give this parliament a responsibility. With hindsight I regret that decision because I think this parliament has made a mess of it in every possible regard and we are now being confronted with it.

The member for Jagajaga of course used the opportunity—considering this is a bill of fairly narrow moment, but important moment—to extend her views and make comments about the general education system. I would not like to make any predictions as to where it might go but in terms of the involvement of the Australian taxpayer—

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr TUCKEY —If my ‘shadow’ ministers want to chat while I am talking would they please go outside the room. Did you hear me, Bruce? If you want to talk, come up here, mate!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member will ignore the interjections.

Mr TUCKEY —This is the second time in two days. There is no courtesy coming from the desk. Put in that context, when one talks about education there is an ongoing misrepresentation about who pays the bill for education. If anybody studies any of the state governments’ budgets—be they Liberal or Labor, and they are all Labor at the moment—one will find by proper analysis that 50 per cent, give or take one or two per cent, of all expenditures of state governments are provided by the Australian taxpayer through the generosity of this parliament—half. We have a constant and ongoing argument that the Australian government—and not necessarily only this particular government—does not put in a fair share to state government schools. The evidence is that this parliament provides half.

I am fed up with advertisements showing little kids in a white car that is driving away from a school because it is a state school—outrageous stuff. I think that type of advertising is at the bottom of the pit. It is wrong, because this parliament has no money; we just administer the Australian people’s money. The inference is that they have to put their hands deeper into their pockets to prop up a failed system which, by their own evidence, many on low incomes choose to take their children away from—that is, state government education. We still call them state schools, yet we are told in this place that to refer to them as such is the blame game.

I am most in favour of doing the right thing by state schools and by the parents who choose to send their children to a state school. There is a simple solution that should be endorsed by all members of this House. It is a well-argued case involving vouchers. Fund the parents, not the school. There is the basis that in round figures it seems to cost something a little less than $10,000 per annum to educate a student in a state school; there is your base figure. Wouldn’t it be better to sort out this argument, get rid of those outrageous advertisements, withdraw all funding of state and private schools by direct grant—and that means 50 per cent of the operating costs of state education departments—send that money out by way of a voucher to parents who have children of school age and let them then take it to the school of their choice?

The member for Jagajaga tells us we have to have more oversight and more indexes so that the teacher and the student’s parents know better how the student is going, but one would think the teacher would have a good idea from day one. Why did teachers oppose public examinations? They knew that those examinations were a test of their teaching abilities. If at any socioeconomic level you have a class full of kids who all fail, there is some question about your teaching abilities. But who is going to be able to tell?

Of course, if every parent got a voucher, they would make up their minds. Be they Indigenous or otherwise, they would have a pretty good idea of where the best benefits came from and each and every parent would get equal resources. Of course, if they took their voucher to a state education institution, it would be up to the state government to fund the other half of the operation from its other revenues; and, of course, if they took it to a private school, it would be up to the parent to pay for the rest. But when one looks at some of the fees that are paid in Catholic and other religious schools, the $5,000 would get them nearly all the way. What is more, it would open up opportunities for targeting: you could increase that $5,000 to $6,000 in some socioeconomic or geographic circumstances and in others you could reduce it and make it $4,000. (Time expired)