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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7492

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (16:44): I am pleased to speak on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011. This bill seeks to amend the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000. The bill seeks to extend the funding arrangements, including indexation arrangements, for the 2013 calendar year for non-Abstudy payments. Non-Abstudy payments include funding for a number of Indigenous school programs, including the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program and the Sporting Chance Program, which I want to talk about mostly because I am sure everyone else has covered every other aspect.

I support his bill but I have a number of concerns. The current bill seeks to extend the current funding arrangements only for another 12 months out, for the 2013 calendar year. The Labor government has failed to provide funding security for this education sector and instead has simply provided for 12-month extensions in the last two budgets. Extensions are no good. Ongoing funding in the forward estimates is what is really needed. The government claims that a short-term, 12-month commitment is necessary because of the Review of Funding for Schooling report, which is due some time later this year. The binding up of legislation through inquiry after inquiry and review after review is just typical of this current Labor government, which cannot make effective and timely decisions. This is seen in everything they do.

Thankfully the Labor government was wise enough to continue two important programs originally initiated by the coalition government. They are the Sporting Chance and Indigenous Youth Mobility programs. I could say much about these and talk about the fact that the Indigenous education programs are something that all governments commit to, and some eventually get somewhere towards their commitments.

The program I mainly want to talk about, Sporting Chance, has been a most successful program for Indigenous boys. The program was originally begun by Gerard Neesham of the Clontarf Football Academy. For those who are not aware, I will give a brief history. Clontarf is a former Christian Brothers school on banks of the river in Perth. It fell on hard times and then, in 2000, with a group of just 25 boys Gerard Neesham went there with a number of other school teachers who had decided to do something for Indigenous boys. For those who do not know Gerard Neesham, he was a very good AFL player who played for the Sydney Swans, amongst others. He also played football for Graylands Teachers College, where I knew him. He and I played together on that side. I think he made me look good! Eventually Gerard was the inaugural coach for the Fremantle Dockers. So his football pedigree is unbelievable. His whole family, the Neeshams, the Regans and the Millers are legendary in that area.

For Gerard to begin this, post his Dockers coaching, was something quite admirable. That is when I reconnected with him, after teachers college. With the support of the federal and state governments and the private sector the group of 25 boys grew into 400 boys in six academies. I first met Gerard out there under the ATSIC days when Philip Ruddock went out there to help him get money he was owed by ATSIC—$30,000, which was not much at the time. He then came to Canberra with Ross Kelly, the chairman of the Clontarf Foundation and put a case to the then education minister and, interestingly, his staff member Alan Tudge, who is now the member for Aston, came up with $100,000, which was just fantastic. Gerard then got bogged and came back with Ross Kelly again and asked for $1 million to continue his program. Gerard got this, on behalf of the foundation, through Dr Nelson.

I said to Gerard at the time, 'Be careful whatever you do. Once you start rolling out away from one academy you will lose control of the levers. You need to be hands-on yourself.' I was wrong because Gerard was able to roll out a number of academies in Western Australia by using ex-AFL footballers and people in the AFL and football industry who were very good at what they did. So, his selection of personnel has been the secret to his ability to run academies. The other part of his successful template is that he attaches himself to existing schools. For example, I went to the Broome High School when he launched a program there. I was representing Julie Bishop at the time, the federal minister. State members of parliament also attended, as well as Michael Chaney from the NAB and a representative of Goldman Sachs, who were there to help with private sector funding. This model does not rely on one bucket of money; it relies on money from three sources: federal money, state money and corporate money. This means that it is not dependent on one or the other and that means that should one decide to not deliver then the program would not be left stranded.

Gerard was invited by Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory at the time, to go into the Northern Territory. Some of the Aboriginal communities there, as we know, had become very dysfunctional. But what Aboriginal boys in particular do know about is AFL football. As Gerard tells me, you can ask any boy anywhere in Australia whether they know who the full forward for St Kilda is or who plays centre for Carlton and they can tell you. They wear their footy jumpers with pride in the heat and in the cold in the outback. AFL is a currency among Indigenous kids.

Why is this template so successful? Because it gets them to school with the hook of playing football. Some of them have gone on to be AFL footballers. There are quite a number who are currently playing AFL who came through the Clontarf academy. But the reality is that very few of them end up in the AFL. They end up playing football, but they go to school. That is the secret of the whole program: they go to school. When they get to school, their health improves. Their dysfunctional behaviour improves. Gerard quotes the figure of how much it costs to keeps a boy at Clontarf against the figure of how much it costs to keep him incarcerated. It is light years away. A program like this sees boys not only improve their health and their behaviour but also get into jobs. Clontarf delivers them not only to year 12 but also into employment and the workforce after year 12.

At the moment, over 80 per cent of Clontarf year 12 students are placed in employment or training within six months of completing school. Of the 160 boys who completed year 12 last year, 75 are currently in employment or further training. This goes on. The fact is that this program is highly effective because it gets the boys to school and gets them into a pattern. They stop sleeping in. They get out of their dysfunctional environment, because they are among peers. And this is where Gerard is also successful: he brings in Aboriginal mentors, particularly from the footballing fraternity, and these kids look up to them. They want to be at school.

Clontarf has a very ambitious program. Dare I say that this transcends both sides. This is not a Liberal Party thing or a Labor Party thing; this is a bipartisan arrangement. I mentioned Julie Bishop and Brendan Nelson. But when the government changed in 2011, Kevin Rudd, in an article from Thursday 11 December 2008—and Kevin loved a photo and next to the article there he is with the Clontarf boys in Perth—promised $10 million. And that was delivered. The state government under Alan Carpenter delivered his moneys, $4 million. The corporate world continues, through BHP and others, with their support.

The only thing that I will say to the members opposite is that the money that comes through the federal government and other governments is always a bit slow, because it is handed out piecemeal. There needs to be an ongoing commitment to the funding of these programs into the future, because their outcomes are so successful.

There have been other instances in which Indigenous people post their football life decide to start up some sort of program for Aboriginal kids. It seldom works. They get themselves a car and an office—in other words, a job—and there is no widespread effect; it is a one-man band. Eventually, once the money has gone, the program goes. This is a program for the future. This is a program, dare I say, is in the business of saving a generation of Aboriginal boys. We almost lost a generation of Aboriginal young men through alcoholism and dysfunction, mainly because, as most people know, they became dependent on welfare and the Centrelink model. This is getting them back into real jobs, getting them away from alcohol, getting them away from dysfunctional behaviour and showing them that there is another way. This does not just apply to football—and I will get onto that in a moment for my learned friend from New South Wales, and demonstrate that this model can be rolled out there. In Western Australia there are 21 academies with 1,335 participants. At one stage, three out of every four boys in year 12 were in the Aboriginal academies doing year 12. It was something that was unheard of—17-year-old Aboriginal boys doing year 12. In the Northern Territory there are currently 15 academies with 1,015 boys. In Victoria there are five academies with 190 boys. There is nothing in Queensland and nothing in South Australia.

The federal government currently contributes one-third of the Clontarf Foundation's operating costs—that is, $5.7 million per annum or $2,244 per participant. There is a way forward, and they want the federal government to continue its commitment. In the 2014-15 forward years they would like to have 28 academies in Western Australia with over 2,000 boys; 19 academies in the Northern Territory, with 1,490 boys; and five academies in Victoria with 550 boys—because there is a low Indigenous population in Victoria.

We know that New South Wales does not have AFL but the template works for football, and a well-known rugby enthusiast and champion, Smiley Johnson, is involved in this program and he is going to be part of the template in New South Wales to roll out this program for rugby for Indigenous boys. They are looking to have 44 of these academies and to include 2,820 boys. There is the same thing with rugby in Queensland. Big news: we have got the State of Origin coming up this Wednesday night and we know how big it is. They are looking to have 30 academies with 1,740 boys. In South Australia they are looking to have eight academies with 400 boys.

So we want to go from 2,500 boys in this current financial year to more than 9,000 boys. To make this happen, the federal government has to commit to an increment of $4 million a year so that they can continue building these academies on a sound footing. If the $4 million is not committed over and above current funding per annum, they cannot do this, because it ratchets up the other help from the state governments. They are obliged to come in with complementary funds, as is the private sector.

This is an outstanding opportunity for us to do something meaningful and real through the sporting champions funding for Indigenous boys. Dare I say it will work for Indigenous girls, with netball and other sports. But, as Gerard says to me, where the boys are the girls will be—and, if you go out to Clontarf, you see that the girls are at school, because the boys are at school. That is how it works.

I would advise those who want to criticise and say, 'This is a private arrangement,' et cetera, that this is audited and all the salaries are benchmarked on tertiary pay scales for principals, teachers et cetera. I implore this House to continue the support for this marvellous program for now and into the future. We know that there are lots of reasons that Aboriginal men go so well in the AFL. They seem to be particularly adept at it. It is a bit like the young men from the Balkans—the Jakoviches et cetera. They seem to have the physical shape to play football. Aboriginal kids from the Tiwi Islands through to Tasmania are really good footballers. The fact that about 2½ per cent of the population are Indigenous and yet more than six per cent of the AFL population are Indigenous says something about the ability of Aboriginal people in this sport. I commend this bill to the House and I implore the government to continue its meaningful and ongoing funding, because the program and the template work.