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Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Page: 24

Mr SNOWDON (10:51 AM) —As I am the first person to stand up after the member for Fadden, I want to thank him for his contribution to this place. I say that even though he sits on the other side and we throw things at one another, metaphorically speaking, in terms of that side against us. I have been an observer of and a participant with the member for Fadden since I became a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, about which he spoke just a moment ago. I was on that trip to Bagram with the honourable member and I have to say that his observations were 100 per cent correct. More importantly, I think that, when a member gives their last speech in this place after such a distinguished career, whether or not you share their partisan views is fundamentally irrelevant. What is relevant is that we acknowledge the contribution they have made to the community in which they live and the community which they represent and, most importantly, how they behave in this place and the contribution that they make here. I say to the member for Fadden that he will leave this place knowing he has many friends on both sides of the chamber, knowing that he has made a contribution and has earned the respect and admiration of many among us and knowing that he leaves this place with our best wishes.

I say to the member for Fadden: you and I, along with others, have been participants in the committee system in this place over many years, and your observations about the committee system and the way in which people participate in the committees are something which we all need to reflect upon, even when we are involved in the partisan barbs that cross this chamber. There is no doubt at all that on these committees we have the capacity to work profitably and constructively together despite our different views. I think I am right in saying to the member that, in the time that I have been on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, there have been few occasions—I cannot recall one precisely—when there has been a dissenting report to one of our committee reports. That in itself is a commendation of the productive nature of, and the productive way in which we engage on, those committees. To the member for Fadden, I say thank you for your friendship whilst you have been here. I know that we will be friends long after you have gone.

My other purpose in rising today is to speak on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment (Cape York Measures) Bill 2007, which has already been addressed by others, including the member for Jagajaga, the member for O’Connor and my friend the member for Banks, Mr Melham. I want to hark back to the contribution of the member for O’Connor. I want to do that, not because I particularly want to pick a fight with him—although I should not pick fights with anybody and I would not. I do have points of disagreement with many, and on this occasion I have a few points of disagreement with him. I do not want to spend my time needlessly repudiating his observations. Mr Melham made a very appropriate contribution in responding to the member for O’Connor’s comments about the 1967 referendum. I want to make a couple of observations about his comments about the stolen generation. From his comments, the member for O’Connor would have you believe that members of the stolen generation were taken away because it was in their best interests. Frankly, that is an insult to those members of the stolen generation who were stolen from their parents for no good reason other than that they were Aboriginal kids from mixed partnerships.

I know a story about this. Not so long ago, within the last two years, I met a person who had been taken away from his family in Katherine in the Northern Territory when he was a small boy. The day he was taken away, a person whom this House will know, Patrick Dodson, was taken by a girl into the long grass and told to lie down. He was told to lie down because the troops—or, in this case, the police—were out after kids. Patrick observed this young boy being taken by the police, not because he came from a bad home but because he was a young Aboriginal kid from a mixed relationship. He was taken away. He would have been no older than eight or nine, if that. Patrick was not taken away at that point because he was hidden. I say to the member for O’Connor: you might argue, as you have done, that, for many of the Aboriginal people who were taken away, it was in their best interests, but I absolutely refute that 100 per cent.

I ask him to read a book—I assume he does occasionally—not the form guide. The book that I would ask him to read is a book produced by the Institute for Aboriginal Development Press in Alice Springs, co-authored by Gerard Waterford and Alec Kruger and calledAlone on the Soaks: the life and times of Alec Kruger. I would ask him to read this, because it is the life story of Alec Kruger. Alec Kruger was a member of the stolen generation and was taken when he was five or six. Alec was effectively handed over to a pastoralist and became dependent upon the pastoralist, and the pastoralist treated that person almost as a slave. Under no circumstances could you argue that it was beneficial, that it was in his best interests.

So I would say to the member for O’Connor: whilst you make these absurd generalisations, reflect upon them, because there is no doubt in my mind that the business of taking kids away from their families was appalling, insulting, demeaning and racist. There are no other words for it. It has not been in the heart of the Prime Minister to be able to apologise to the stolen generation on behalf of this nation, but I am pleased to say that the Leader of the Opposition has made it very clear that, if Labor is successful at the next election, he will apologise on behalf of the nation to the stolen generation. I say to him: good on you; well done; it is about time.

That is all I want to say about the stolen generation, but I say to all members of this House and anyone who might be listening to this debate that if you can get hold of this book by Gerard Waterford and Alec Kruger called Alone on the Soaks: the life and times of Alec Kruger, read it, because it will do your heart good but make you cry. It will give you an insight into the experiences of these members of the stolen generation and put to rest the absurdity of the argument which has been put by the member for O’Connor.

I thought the member for Jagajaga summed up the purposes of this legislation very aptly, but it is well to remind ourselves what this bill is about. It will appropriate additional funding under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to support the expansion of the Making Up for Lost Time in Literacy—MULTILIT—teaching methodology and the establishment of student education trusts for Indigenous students in the communities of Coen, Hope Vale, Aurukun and Mossman Gorge in the Cape York region of Queensland. I commend the legislation and I say to the government that I am happy to support it, not because I agree with everything the government does—I damn well don’t!—but I because, when it comes to putting money into providing opportunities for young Indigenous Australians, wherever they might be, if that can be done in a way which ensures effective and better outcomes for their education then it is well and good and should be supported. In this case I am happy to do so.

I would not want it to be thought that for some reason Making Up for Lost Time in Literacy was something other than just another program which has been successful. There are numerous literacy programs operating in Indigenous communities in various parts of Australia which get support, deserve support and are successful. This particular program, as we have been told, was first developed by Professor Kevin Wheldall and Dr Robyn Beaman of the Macquarie University Special Education Centre. I commend them for their initiative but I want to make sure that we do not leave this place without understanding that the other programs, some of which were mentioned by the member for Jagajaga—the accelerated literacy program that operates throughout the Northern Territory and other places and the Yachad Aboriginal Accelerated Learning Project—are also quite successful and deserving of support. Again I acknowledge that the government have not been reticent in supporting those proposals either. I acknowledge their support.

I want to talk for a moment about the accelerated literacy program in the Northern Territory. By 2008, 100 schools in the Northern Territory will be operating the accelerated literacy program and 90 per cent of those schools will be in remote areas—that is, schools in communities which have been targeted by the Commonwealth government’s intervention in the Northern Territory. The program will support in excess of 10,000 students in accelerated literacy by 2008. Over 700 teachers will have been trained in the program, 370 of whom will be in a position to coordinate programs in schools and train others. The progress of this scheme is being monitored jointly by the Charles Darwin University and the Australian Council for Educational Research. It is a program which provides a systematic and stepped approach to the learning of literacy and works in conjunction with other programs which might operate in schools.

I want to talk about some of those programs in a moment—specifically, bilingual education. I want to speak about bilingual education because we do not hear it mentioned much in this place from anyone other than me. I have been talking about it since I first came into this place—as far back as 1987. I am proud to say that my support for bilingual education has not subsided. I think we need to get back into the debate the construction of a discussion about the merits of bilingual education operating in conjunction with these other programs.

There are a number of reasons to support bilingual education. I have an article in front of me from the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 November 2006, headed ‘Aboriginal literacy project is good news in any language’. It refers to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and the results of a pilot project about helping Aboriginal kids in the Northern Territory read and write in their own language. It should come as no surprise that the cofounder of the foundation, Mary-Ruth Mendel, a speech language pathologist, described first language literacy as the missing link in efforts to improve social and economic outcomes in Indigenous communities.

I mention that because it has come to be seen by many that literacy and numeracy in the first language is not important and that we have to have these kids succeed in year 1, year 3, year 5 and year 7 in these MAP testing arrangements. If they fail at years 1 and 3, then, somehow or other, we have failed them. We need to look at the success or otherwise of bilingual education and the way in which bilingual education is stepped. What happens in bilingual education is that, when a child starts school, they might get 90 per cent of their lessons in their own language. Each year, it changes so that the proportions are eventually reversed. What people have discovered is that by year 5 those children who have been undergoing intensive bilingual education in their schools from appropriately trained teachers perform very well on these universal tests. We should not presume that because kids in bilingual schools may not achieve the same level of results on MAP testing at years 1 and 3—or whatever years you choose to pick—somehow or other they are failing in literacy. These tests are all in English, not in their first language.

The other point to be made here is that teaching kids in their language is not only just about language: it is about them, their community, their family affiliations and their culture—that whole range of things which intermingle to make up the person. It is important that we have a strong endorsement of bilingual education as well as these other literacy programs. It is very important also that whoever is teaching whatever program—it does not matter what it is—has knowledge of the culture of the country in which they are working. I am talking about countries in a generic sense, meaning Aboriginal nations across Australia. They identify land as part of their country and can talk about their country and all that happens on that country. It is important that the teachers who are trying to impart knowledge in those communities understand the relationships which come with those obligations about country. If they do not have that understanding, they are going to find it very difficult to appreciate the learning difficulties that might be in these communities.

On that basis, I want to refer the House to another book, one by Richard Trudgen called Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. I would ask members of the parliament, and indeed those others who might be fortunate enough—or unfortunate enough in one sense—to be listening to this debate, if they ever get the opportunity, to read this book. Like the one that I spoke about earlier by Gerard Waterford, Alone On the Soaks, if you get the opportunity to read Why Warriors Lie Down and Die you will immediately get an understanding of the importance of culture and language for Indigenous communities across this country. If you as a person get that appreciation and knowledge of language and culture, it will make it a lot easier for you to be able to impart knowledge to those communities. You will see yourself in a different light and you will see those communities in a different light. You will see individuals in those communities in a different light and that will make it easier for you to impart knowledge and produce and develop different approaches to pedagogy, which will produce results we can all be proud of.

The other point that I want to raise very briefly is that the one element of this which we must contemplate and which is not addressed in this legislation is the whole question of Indigenous poverty. Until we address Indigenous poverty we will not improve educational outcomes. I was going to make some observations about Wadeye, which was on national television last night. It has the highest incidence of rheumatic heart disease in Australia. Thirty-four people live in two-bedroom houses, as we were informed last night. Under those circumstances, it will not matter what educational system we have because the kids will just not learn.