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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7499

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (17:14): I rise today to support the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011, which extends the funding arrangements for the 2013 calendar year. I do so on the basis of my experience within a raft of key areas—not only my personal experiences over the last 59 years but also my experience of involvement with the Commonwealth Schools Commission when it was in existence, and the structures that sat underneath it; of the National Aboriginal Education Committee; of the period of the AESIP or Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program, which became IESIP when 'Aboriginal' was changed to 'Indigenous'; and of two MCEETYA taskforces.

'Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine, and that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation.' That is a set of words that have always been dear to me because Nelson Mandela goes to the crux of the importance of education in all its facets. The programs that are there to support and make a difference are absolutely critical. So this bill is important.

I also want to commend both the member for Canberra and the member for Fraser—the member for Fraser in particular, for having gone out and sat with people and listened to their views and heard their opinions. That is an important element if we are going to change things. Our destiny is shaped by the choices we make and the decisions each of us enact in our professional, personal and social pathways. What is critical to bringing about success is our individual preparedness to challenge and overcome barriers and to deal with the setbacks to our dreams and aspirations. That is often underpinned by good education. A well-grounded education is fundamental to success, although many have transcended this through personal drive—and all of us have experiences of people who did not finish school but who became highly successful and for whom every interaction with another individual provides an avenue to acquire knowledge, information and experiences that enhance their repertoire of skills.

The preliminaries to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations articulate the challenge for all Australian governments:

Despite the concerted efforts of successive Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to address Indigenous disadvantage, there have been only modest improvements in outcomes in some areas such as education and health, with other areas either remaining static or worsening. Even in those areas where there have been improvements, the outcomes for Indigenous Australians remain far short of the outcomes for non-Indigenous Australians.

In December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments, or COAG, agreed to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement partnership between all levels of government. It included a number of other elements in terms of NPAs that went to education, employment, early years and health, but particularly education. It also provided links to those national agreements and national partnership agreements across COAG, which include elements targeted at closing the gap in Indigenous affairs, and particularly targeted at Indigenous disadvantage. The National Indigenous Reform Agreement is the basis of this reform, and the bill, in promulgating funding for another 12 months, is important in achieving closure of those gaps. COAG recognises that individuals and communities should have the opportunity to benefit from the mainstream economy through real jobs, business opportunities, economic independence and wealth creation. Ultimately, Indigenous economic development is about providing Indigenous people with the same opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians. They will not achieve this universally, but education is the cornerstone of change and a prerequisite for employment within our contemporary society for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

I was invited to write the foreword to the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey Volume 3: the Educational Experiences of Aboriginal Children and Young People, which was officially launched on 24 March 2006. I will cite from what I wrote. Of the numerous research projects into Aboriginal education there is none so profound as the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey, Improving the educational experiences of Aboriginal children and young people. It provided confronting evidence that the benefits of education remain poorly realised by the vast majority of Western Australian Aboriginal children, and you could translate that across all jurisdictional regions of this country. The more fundamental issue is the failure over the past 35 years by education providers to improve the educational outcomes of the vast majority of Aboriginal students. It is important to accept the reality that failure over the past 30 years to improve educational outcomes of the vast majority of Aboriginal school children has affected three generations of Aboriginal children and young people who are highly likely to have limited access to lifelong learning, employment and economic opportunities.

There has been tacit acceptance of the nonachievement of educational standards by Aboriginal children and young people, and the resultant acceptance of this lack of educational success has had a cumulative effect—hence my question to the member for Blair. It is fine talking about programs, initiatives and funding, but what of the educational attainments at the end of 12 years of schooling? What of the outcomes after tertiary level education, be they through the vocational education training sector or through the universities? If our results show that the proportion has not increased on a comparative basis to Australian society in mainstream youth and young people going through, then we have a challenge that we still have to address, and we certainly need to look at those targeted outcomes.

It is based on the belief that Aboriginal children and young people will never reach their full potential and if they fall behind society then welfare will protect them. Their low level of educational success is accepted as a normative expectation. This has to change. If we are to change the outcomes, if we are to close gaps and if we are to take the advice that the women gave the member for Fraser, and others that I have been involved with, then we have to raise the bar. We have to say that programs are fine—funding does not solve the problems that become inherent when you fail within systems, because the outcomes that any society seeks will not be attained. Certainly, there is resentment at the level of funding that is channelled into welfare and supporting people who become passive recipients of programs and services. I would want them to be responsive. I would want them to be shaping the direction for the future. I would want them to be, as you described, part of the process, and where people are part of the process, things change. It has become acceptable for Aboriginal children and young people to work at their level unless it becomes problematic or the sociopolitical structures are pressured to bring about change. There is a moral obligation to redress the needs of Aboriginal children and young people to be successful and to achieve the level of educational attainment that builds social and human capital to be achievers in the Australian and global community.

The act as it stands has provided numerous opportunities over a period of time but I think the accountability that I wish we could emulate in what we are seeking in the new structures for the health reform agenda and the accountability of states and territories that go to some critical elements of health reform should be equally applied with passion within this arena. Otherwise, we are inconsistent in the way we address the gap that exists, because the problem with the lack of education and the lack of attainment is that we then see the cyclic pattern of people with generations of family members who have never been employed because their education attainment does not make them competitive within the society in which they move, live, work and play. We have to change that.

There is bilateral agreement. Those societies which continue to invest in the education, training and employment of their people have prospered and enjoy a high standard of living and access to resources , health and human and social capital, which builds upon individual and societal successes. All Australian governments acknowledge that investing in education and training is essential for Australia's economic and social prosperity. It is also about positioning Australia to meet the new challenges and opportunities, as I have said previously, in international markets in a world without economic borders, the emerging new knowledge based society, with the pressures for change, global and international competitiveness, access to information and technology and new and emerging global clients, which we often refer to in this House in terms of other legislation.

Australia will require a flexible, well-educated, well-trained, high-performing workforce to achieve and sustain these reforms. This will pose problems for the majority of Aboriginal children and young people, who continue to perform poorly in their education because they will not access the opportunities which will flow for well-educated Australians. Although I agree that we have had successes and we are seeing some good outcomes, they are not uniform—and we are seeing people succeed, even against the barriers, including barriers of racism in instances. But they have not given up, nor have they surrendered their will to achieve and to contribute.

There is growing demand for an educated, more highly trained and more technically skilled workforce. However, most Aboriginal workers are at the lower, shrinking end of the employment market and are becoming part of the growing underclass. The question that arises for Aboriginal children and people is: why are they excluded from the advantages of being an integral part of a vision in which Australia's global competitiveness and future depends upon all Australians having the necessary education, training and learning ability and that is dependent upon the application of knowledge to support innovation, stimulate business development and improve workforce productivity to live productive and fulfilling lives?

It is important for Aboriginal children and young people to acquire the same proficient standard Australian English, as well as to be taught to recognise the way in which language is used, contextualised, understood and applied in a global and knowledge based society, in order to participate in Australia's economy. The task of developing appropriate resources and teaching Aboriginal students to become proficient in standard Australian English should be achievable. Over a period of 12 years, a student should be able to learn English, when it is considered in this context. English has 26 letters and only 44 sounds. It has an approximate total of 550,000 words, and 2,000 words make up 90 per cent of most speech. Four hundred words make up to 65 per cent of most writing, and there are only 70 main spelling combinations. Graduation from the final year of secondary schooling provides measures of success, including the completion of school entry, to university and higher education, access to TAFE, apprenticeships, traineeships, employment and an income. Aboriginal children and young people who do not achieve secondary education and who do not acquire the basic skills of literacy and numeracy are unlikely to be competitive in the labour market, and that goes for any student who fails at schooling. They will subsequently be vulnerable to structural change within the labour market government reform and therefore will be reliant on government income support. Seriously, if you do not achieve year 10 graduation then you are doomed eternally to welfare dependency, unless there are interventions that break that dependency.

One thing is that we have got to stop focusing on programs, which is the reason I asked the member for Blair the question about understanding what the educational outcomes are. We have to stop focusing purely on money. The question that we as members all need to ask and know the answer to with a degree of certainty within our electorates is: what is the educational attainment not only of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children but of any child who experiences socioeconomic challenges and difficulty? I think it is beholden upon us to know what the gaps are within our electorates so that we can address them and advocate for and champion those who need the champions of this House. It is only through the processes of strong bilateral commitment that we will see the changes that are absolutely necessary for any child who requires a level of support and intervention, in particular in this bill.

I commend this bill to the parliament.