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Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Page: 28

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Minister for Education, Science and Training and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) (11:11 AM) —In summing up the debate on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment (Cape York Measures) Bill 2007, I thank all members who participated in this debate for their contribution. The Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment (Cape York Measures) Bill 2007 will appropriate funding of $2 million for the 2008 program year to improve education opportunities for Indigenous students in the Cape York region. The funding will be used by the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership to embed the Making Up Lost Time In Literacy—MULTILIT—accelerated literacy program and to work with parents and guardians to establish student education trusts in the Cape York communities of Coen, Hope Vale, Aurukun and Mossman Gorge. These initiatives represent a key component of the broader welfare reform agenda to tackle disadvantage in Cape York communities. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in the House.

The bill will provide additional education support for up to 800 Indigenous students and their families in Cape York who may require intensive literacy support or additional assistance to save for the costs of education. The MULTILIT component of this measure will enable the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership to address what it describes as the Cape York literacy crisis. Strong literacy skills are a critical factor in school completion and in longer term success. Under this measure, those Indigenous students with the greatest literacy need will have access to the accelerated literacy program, MULTILIT, in their classroom and through a MULTILIT tutorial centre in their community.

The Cape York institute also identifies that poor literacy outcomes are exacerbated by the fact that upon entering the school system many Indigenous children fail to make literacy gains and in some cases slip increasingly further behind. The Cape York institute estimates that by the time Indigenous students are in year 2 some 60 to 80 per cent already require additional support compared with 10 to 25 per cent of non-Indigenous Cape York children. The intensive MULTILIT approach has already produced positive outcomes in Cape York. A trial of MULTILIT conducted in the community of Coen in 2005 saw participating students experience improvements in their reading, with a 43 per cent increase in the number of words that they could read correctly per minute and average comparative monthly gains of 4.3 months for reading comprehension, 13.6 months in reading accuracy and 15.9 months in spelling.

In looking at a range of best practice early literacy engagement strategies, the Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2007 report identified the establishment of MULTILIT in the Cape York community of Coen as an example of an initiative that worked to improve the educational outcomes experienced by Indigenous students. The intensive support provided through MULTILIT will be complemented by the establishment of student education trusts. Through the establishment of these trusts, low-income families will be provided with the right support to better use their income to ensure that their child is school-ready and to have the support to meet education related expenses. This may include school expenses such as fees, uniforms, textbooks and excursion fees, as well as home based expenses such as reading books and learning aids.

This measure reflects that, while some Indigenous parents in Cape York already contribute financially to their child’s education, the high number of schoolchildren who start school without the required uniform or equipment and with minimal learning support in their home indicates that many do not. The roll-out of the student education trusts into the communities of Coen, Hope Vale, Aurukun and Mossman Gorge will enable parents, guardians and extended family members to make regular financial contributions to meet their child’s ongoing education related expenses from birth to graduation. The trust accounts will establish normalised financial expectations in relation to a child’s education and, in turn, will increase the perceived value of and commitment to education. This initiative is an important part of the Cape York institute strategy to increase the demand for education in Cape York.

Education trust accounts were successfully trialled in the Cape York community of Coen in 2005 and are now a permanent component of educational reform in Coen being driven by the Cape York institute. The trial in Coen in 2005 achieved an outstanding 80 per cent take-up in the first two months and successes from the trusts trial included that 70 per cent of primary schoolchildren had their school uniforms purchased and were ready to start school on time, 80 per cent of primary schoolchildren had on average two books purchased through the school book club and children participated in sporting and education excursions, subsidised by savings from their student education trust.

MULTILIT and student education trusts will have a positive impact on the education outcomes of Indigenous young people and their families in the Cape York region. They will enable the provision of educational assistance to Indigenous students with the greatest need and will improve the financial capacity of individuals and families to contribute to their child’s education.

While I am pleased that the opposition supports the measures that are opening up educational opportunities for young Indigenous people in Cape York, the government will not be supporting the amendment as proposed and moved by the member for Jagajaga. Her amendment is just about catch-up. The fact is that spending on Indigenous specific programs has gone up by almost 50 per cent in real terms over the past decade. All of the Australian government’s policies over the past 10 years have been directed towards reducing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous processes; however, as the Prime Minister has said, it is a long process. The government will continue with practical measures to improve health, education and employment.

In relation to preschooling for Indigenous children, in July 2006 all ministers for education endorsed the Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005-2008 paper. Preschooling for Indigenous children is already a key direction for all jurisdictions. We are already providing significant supplementary funding for Indigenous preschool initiatives. In 2006, for example, I announced $5 million in funding under the Parent School Partnerships Initiative, which is specifically targeted at preschool for Indigenous children.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as you know, the Commonwealth does not own or run schools. Each of the five bilateral agreements that have been signed with state and territory leaders has specific education priorities such as early childhood education, school retention rates, improving literacy and numeracy, and improving vocational training and employment opportunities.

In relation to the provision of intensive support, the Australian government already has underway a series of accelerated literacy pilots that set out to extend and systemise proven methodologies and build teacher capacity in over 150 schools. Over $19.3 million has been invested in taking successful methodologies and approaches, such as accelerated literacy and the MULTILIT program, to the next level. For example, the accelerated literacy program is training 700 teachers in 100 schools in the Northern Territory in the successful methodology, which is improving the literacy outcomes of up to 10,000 students, including those in remote schools. This approach is being replicated in 15 Western Australian Aboriginal independent community schools, in six Catholic schools in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, in 12 schools in the Aboriginal lands district in South Australia and at Shalom Christian College in Queensland.

The Australian Early Development Index is one of the many prevention and early intervention initiatives supported by the Australian government. The AEDI is a community based population measure of the health and development of children undertaken at the beginning of the first school year. The Australian government will re-run the Australian Early Development Index in up to 61 current AEDI communities, implement it in a further 14 disadvantaged communities and develop and trial an Indigenous index. The development of an Indigenous AEDI will enable us to more accurately assess the early development needs of Indigenous children and take into account cultural and language differences.

Just prior to coming into the House, I was meeting with the chairs of the Indigenous education consultative bodies here in Parliament House. They have been providing me with a snapshot of what is happening in their jurisdictions in terms of strategies and initiatives that are working for young Indigenous people. A number of them referred specifically to individual learning plans. Back in July 2006, all ministers for education endorsed the Australian Directions in Indigenous Education paper, as I said. They have committed specifically to delivering personalised learning plans for all Indigenous students that include targets against key learning outcomes, incorporate family involvement strategies and provide professional learning for teachers to enable them to adopt approaches that result in high levels of academic expectation and achievement by Indigenous students.

The measures in the bill are all part of the Australian government’s support for welfare reform in Cape York. They reflect the recommendations made by the Cape York institute and the Australian government’s continuing commitment to ensuring that Indigenous students, wherever they live, have access to educational opportunities.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DJC Kerr)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Jagajaga has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.