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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7490

Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (16:36): I rise today to speak in support of the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011. In doing so, I am reminded of some comments I made at a recent event for Mabo Day. In honouring the life of Eddie Mabo, I stated that this country had come a long way in achieving a true reconciliation between Indigenous and white Australia.

It was a proud day for me as a citizen of this country to watch the former Prime Minister make a historic apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples. However, an apology alone is not enough. While important in acknowledging past wrongdoings and hurt, an apology cannot fix today's problems. If we are to achieve a true reconciliation, we must bridge the gap in health, education, jobs and opportunities that exists between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. In the 21st century we should not accept that Aboriginal children have lower life expectancies than their non-Aboriginal peers. We should not accept that they do not have the same outcomes in education. We should not accept that they do not have the same meaningful opportunities for work. Most importantly, we should not accept that it is beyond the people in this place to fix this problem, to ensure that there is no difference between opportunities for all of Australia's children. We have to work hard as a nation to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We have to work hard to deliver the same opportunities to all Australians regardless of their background. I believe that to do otherwise would be a serious failure of government, a serious failure of parliament and a serious failure of each member of this House.

For this reason, I am very pleased to be able to speak this afternoon on this bill and on what this government is doing to support Indigenous education. I have said many times in this House that education through all levels of life is a silver bullet to solving poverty, improving health outcomes and increasing employment and productivity. I am very pleased to be in this place and to be part of a government that has education at its core—to be part of a government that understands the great transformative power of education to build confidence, to create opportunities and to deliver happiness and hope to so many Australians, not least of which are Indigenous Australians. Given that the government have an education reform agenda, it should come as no surprise to any member of this House that our approach to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous includes comprehensive policies designed to support the education of young Indigenous people. This bill provides a raft of programs to encourage and enhance the educational outcomes of students. In my electorate there are a number of programs that are helping Indigenous families and students get the education that is their right as Australians. The federal government has provided as part of the Parent and Community Engagement Program almost $360,000 for the Northside Community Service's Tuck-In education program that encourages parents to play an active role in their child's learning. It also strengthens the community's capacity to involve themselves in the school community.

Similarly, over $70,000 was provided to the Tuggeranong Child and Family Centre for its Our Mob Tuggeranong project that builds the knowledge of Indigenous parents, grandparents, family members and carers so they can engage with confidence and effectiveness with their school communities. There is also half a million dollars for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community literacy project. The project aims to improve the literacy skills of at-risk Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in years 6 to 9.

Finally, 68 of 72 Canberra schools are members of the Dare to Lead program, a $13.6 million program that provides principals and other school leaders with local school situation strategies that promote awareness and provide the drive to address educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Through professional development and cultural awareness activities, workshops and seminars, principals and school leadership teams are able to enhance their understanding of the educational needs of these students and to promote reconciliation in all schools.

These are four local Canberra projects but they exemplify what this act is doing nationwide. In highlighting these examples, I want to pay tribute to the teachers and the schools, to the doctors and nurses, to the community groups and to the Indigenous community themselves who are responsible for the ongoing success of these programs. While it is our responsibility in this House to provide the leadership and funding that allows these successful programs to continue, we should not forget that it is these individuals who are responsible for delivering the success of these programs on the ground day in, day out. It is these dedicated individuals and organisations that are making the changes that must be made person by person, family by family, community by community.

In my electorate, I have seen firsthand the work of dedicated teachers at Richardson Primary School and their commitment to Indigenous education. I have seen the fantastic work of the Winnunga aboriginal health service down in Narrabundah and its dedicated staff who provide a raft of initiatives and programs for people in dental health, diabetes health, infant welfare health, maternal health—a range of programs there; just a phenomenal organisation. It is through the work of these individuals passionate about the cause and committed to the very end that the gap will be bridged, and we must do what we can to support their efforts.

In this light, the amendment before this House today extends the funding for the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to incorporate the 2013 calendar year to line up with the Schools Assistance Act 2008, also recently extended, and timing of the review of funding for schooling. It will appropriate $159 million for 2013 to continue to fund those programs I have mentioned. The government does this to give sufficient time to consider any recommendations from the review of education funding while also ensuring that adequate and appropriate consultation is given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations. This is appropriate as nowhere is there a greater need to improve education than for our Indigenous communities.

I acknowledge that much has been achieved and there have been real successes in this area; nevertheless there is much more that still needs to be done. This will require an ongoing commitment from government across Australia, and I believe that this government has that commitment. This is a government that has the drive and the will to see this through to make policies that close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In my own life a good education changed what was possible for me, and I believe the same is very much true for ensuring what is possible for Indigenous Australians: it is the great enabler. In speaking on another bill in this place, I said that I would always stand up here in support of those bills that seek to enhance the access and outcomes of education for all Australians. I do so again today and I commend this bill to the House.