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Tuesday, 11 March 2008
Page: 1292

Mr HAASE (1:30 PM) —Previously I had pointed out the justification for the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment (2008 Measures No. 1) Bill 2008 and the realistic need to close the gap between the standard of education achieved by Indigenous children in community schools versus the standard achieved by mainstream students. The reasons for this bill are quite obvious. There exists a huge gap—a great disparity. But why is it so? Is it to do with the quality of teachers? Is it to do with the availability of teachers? I suspect not. I suspect it is much greater than that. In fact, this bill is being put up as an attempt to better resource education facilities in communities when that is not the great problem. The real problem is the fact that we are trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The quality of education achieved by community children is poor because they simply do not attend those educational institutions. The primary reason for that, I believe, is that they see no justification for gaining an education, because there is no example set for them of the benefits of employment: an enhanced self-esteem that comes through financial independence as a result of holding down a job. They see no example of what we loosely term the Christian work ethic these days.

‘Why is that so?’ you might ask. I will assert that it is simply because in mainstream Australia we are so well accustomed to the connection between place of residence and employment. We live where we live because we can be employed in proximity to where we live, and we gain that self-esteem through the employment and the wages we receive. When you cast about regional and remote Australia and observe the location of Indigenous communities, the commonality is that they are not located adjacent to sites of industry. Unfortunately, on so many occasions they are not enriched with resources, mineral deposits, petroleum et cetera. So we have an artificiality right from the start. We have this Australian parliament, this current government, putting up a bill to improve the teacher resources in institutions where there is, on the most basic concept, almost no justification for education. Most certainly that is the perception of Indigenous parents: ‘Why send my child to school when the education they receive will be meaningless because there are no jobs?’

Indigenous Business Australia has been established for a very long time. A number of Indigenous businesses have been resourced with seed funding and created, with all of the boxes ticked in relation to the formation of a business, such as projected cash flows et cetera. But how often do we see an abject failure in the business proposed? How often do we see that the targets theorised about are never met? How often do we see that the administration processes put in place for the running of that business fail? How often do we see that heads are turned when it comes to the failure of that business?

We are trying to put a round peg in a square hole because we are talking about the level of education being produced by community schools without looking at the major reason for education not being valued in communities. We must, therefore, question the whole issue of the existence of communities where there is no justification for them. Some of you may say, ‘Shock! Horror! Is the member for Kalgoorlie proposing that there are today communities being funded that should not be funded or where there is no justification for funding them?’ Yes, I am. I ask the question: is this government prepared to constantly go to the taxpayer of this nation and say, ‘We are going to keep pouring your tax dollars into communities that cannot be justified’? There is no end point in sight where that funding can be justified in communities where there is no number of inhabitants that will create meaningful service industries, where the community is located so far from any source of genuine employment, where the community is at the end of the track, wandered by no-one except lost tourists and the people that live there.

The purists will say that everyone has the right to live where they want to live in Australia. That is the case right across my vast electorate in Western Australia. Remember: it is 2.3 million square kilometres. I see it all. There are so many communities that cannot be justified except to say that people are being funded to live where they want to live. Even that base statement I question. So often the members of those communities are not living where they want to live; they are living where they have been coerced to live because of a particular community leader who wants to bolster his numbers to justify his leadership in the community and the cashflow from government that allows him to maintain his leadership. What so many members of remote communities that are unsustainable really want is a job. They want a future for themselves and their children. They want sustainability. They want employment. They do not want to be seen to be living in a remote location with their families. They do not want to gain the self-respect that comes from employment by having to travel hundreds of miles to employment on a temporary basis, leaving their families behind, able to be predated on by those who carry out those acts that have been so clearly demonstrated in the Little children are sacred report.

I support the bill in principle because we do need more teachers everywhere, but I put it to you that this is but a tiny, almost misplaced, step. One of the major reasons that children in these unsustainable communities are not attending school today is that their parents do not value education—a reason being that there is no employment. Worse than that, so many children enrolled in these community schools do not live in conditions that are conducive to attending school. They are often malnourished, in the true sense of the word; they are sleep deprived; and there is no home environment that encourages them to take part in the education system—I refer to something that mainstream society accepts as a norm: homework. Imagine a student from a community school being allocated homework, going home to their residence and having even the remotest expectation that they might get parental guidance in an environment that was conducive to doing homework. It is out of the question, yet we talk about imposing mainstream values, conditions and achievements on Indigenous communities’ schools.

If this government genuinely wanted to solve the problem, it would go to the taxpayer and say: ‘We are going to represent this percentage of the population ad infinitum with your dollars and create high standards of education comparable with those achieved in mainstream Australia. The first thing is that controls that we would have in normal mainstream communities will be put in place.’ I refer to effective law enforcement. It is not done. The only presence that could be vaguely referred to as ‘effective law enforcement’ may visit overnight on a six-weekly basis, and everyone in the community knows when that is going to occur. I will take much more convincing that this is an effective deterrent for some of the abhorrent acts that are carried out in the communities, which we all should know about because a very valid report has been written. The truth is that, especially in the areas of child sexual offences, the perpetrators go bush when any law enforcement is going to visit the community. Those against whom the acts have been perpetrated, and any adults who know of the illegal act, are frightened into silence because of the retribution that will be carried out by the perpetrator once that 24-hour period has finished and the law enforcement agency has moved on.

If we are fair dinkum about making a change in the standards of education achieved in remote communities, the very first thing this government ought to do right across Australia is to call on the state governments, who are of a similar political conviction, to join with them in solving this problem and achieving the outcome. We should resource these remote communities with an effective, sustainable police presence. That means having at least two people present at any one time. It means accommodation for those persons and their families. It means communications, transportation and an environment that is reasonable enough to expect members of the police force to live there with their families.

We are talking about $7-plus million per annum simply for another 50 teachers in the Northern Territory. If we really wanted to solve the problem, we would spend $7 million in one jurisdiction on building some houses that could accommodate an effective police force, which in turn would maintain social order. Children could sleep in their beds at night instead of hiding elsewhere away from their homes. The teachers would see that the children are well fed and well clothed. They would see them enjoy a home environment that was conducive to carrying out homework and those normal activities that we associate with the students in mainstream Australian schools that do achieve a reasonable level of education.

I pointed out that I have a very large electorate, and you could correctly assume that there is a very large number of remote communities within my electorate. I visit them, and I see these things. For members of this House who are ignorant of the conditions that exist in those communities, I invite them to contact me and I will arrange visits. Before we go off on a tangent and focus our efforts wholly on more teachers for these schools, we need to focus on all the other problems. I have raised the question as to whether the schools and the communities ought to even be there in the long term, because what so many people in these communities want is to be elsewhere so they can enjoy the whole experience of being Australian. And they certainly cannot do that today living in these communities. There are so many forces brought to bear upon them to make sure that they live in these communities. In many cases, although they may want a future for their children because they have had a sniff of mainstream life in town where their relatives have employment, they are dragged back to the community because the leader of that community needs the numbers to attract the funding from government so as to maintain their position of authority.

If you were to seriously ask why these people live where they live, you would find that it is simply because somebody has told them that that is their country, that they have a natural attachment to it, and that they ought to go and occupy that country because there is a thing called ‘native title’ and one day they will all be very, very wealthy because they have gone to the trouble of returning to country. I might add that often there is very little personal effort, because these days there is a great deal of support from the government to get people back onto country. But I suggest to you that it is a philosophical ideal and that it is not very practical. When we have something that is based on romantic philosophy and then we recognise the pitfalls of it in practice, we cast our minds in the opposite direction and say, ‘The standards of education achieved in these artificial communities are not up to scratch. We have got to put millions of dollars into that community to lift the education standard.’ Why? There are no jobs. Are we going to turn out university professors? Are we going to build a university in the community so that they can all be lecturers—in language, for instance?

It is a practical nonsense. We are trying to throw money at a problem in an effort to solve it, with no concept of what the real problem is, and our justification for fixing the problem is ‘because it is sustainable’. Well, it is not sustainable. If you want to build these communities in an environment where they are real, you have to have jobs. The philosophy ought to have been: find a justification for industry, for productivity. Create training to put people into jobs, and then look to the success of those individuals, because those individuals will have a full life in an environment that is sustainable—rather than having an artificially-sustained situation which has been created simply with the input of taxpayers’ dollars via government.