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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7506

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (17:44): I rise to speak on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011 and give it my qualified support. In fact, a lot of my thoughts will be exactly the same as those of the member for Robertson. My wife is in fact an early childhood teacher. One thing that I would like to see in the future is equalised funding going to primary schools and, in particular, to early childhood centres, because that is where the battle is won or lost. If we can get these kids into a classroom, get them to know their alphabet and learn the outcome based education, then we will all be a lot better off.

As I said, a lot of the things I will be covering here will be covered with exactly the same feeling as that of the member for Robertson; I will just come at it from a different direction. The good part of this bill is that it extends the current funding arrangements, including indexation arrangements, for the 2013 calendar year. The funding covers programs such as the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program, helping Indigenous youth move away from home to gain skills for employment. In the city of Townsville a number of people are prepared to assist with this. We have a fantastic TAFE, Tec-NQ and we also have Shalom Christian College. St Pats, run by the Sisters of Mercy, is a great school. It has an incredible population of Torres Strait Islander and Palm Islander girls, who come across there to complete their education all the way through, from grade 8 to grade 12.

The bill also covers funding for the Sporting Chance Program, which uses sport and recreation activities as a means of increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement in school. Both these programs were implemented by the coalition and, to the government's credit, both these good programs have been continued. Both have been successful in increasing student participation and retention rates. This so-called necessary extension of funding is because we have to allow time for the report, which is due sometime this year, following the review of funding for schools. The government has acknowledged that this review may have implications for the programs run under the IETA Act. I would urge the government not to touch the programs that are working to get kids into schools.

This is where I start to have problems with this legislation and, by extension, all the legislation relating to Aboriginal and Islander affairs. For a start we have these good programs, using sport and recreation, which actually get the kids into school. When we get them there, we sit them down and either they participate in the NAPLAN or we make them prepare for NAPLAN. Too many schools these days are wasting time just preparing for tests and going through tests to get them ready. So we say to the kids from the missions: 'Come in, go to school.' We use sport, music, dance and art to get them in there and, as soon as we do, we throw that out of the window and they no longer participate and we wonder why they do not go back to school.

I agree with the member for Robertson: we as a community have to look at and decide what success is. Is the fact that they can actually speak English by the time they finish school a success? In some cases, it should be. But how do we qualify that and how do we ensure that they are getting the right funding? Those are the questions that we have to ask.

I recognise that this is a big issue. But, for the life of me, and the First Australians of my electorate, we cannot see where all the money is going. For all its good intentions, this place must see the frustration. For all its well-thought-out plans, bills and amendments we are still seeing a complete lack of clear results in our communities. Our Aboriginal and Islander school children remain the most troubled group. They are the most likely to be truant. They are the most likely to finish their education early. They are more likely not to possess the basic literacy skills required to achieve anything above menial labour. They are more likely to die young and they are more likely to suffer substance abuse. I have been a member of this House for less than a year, and yet I feel a great frustration when it comes to the provision of services for our First Australians. In my maiden speech, I pointed to people and organisations who were trying to make a difference. They are making a difference in the community by targeting specific groups, specific programs and specific native groups of people to get things done.

I continue to talk about, for want of a better term, federalising the industry of Aboriginal and Islander affairs, and the member for Robertson addressed that matter as well. I am not a federalist by nature. But, for the life of me, when I speak to the mayor of Palm Island, the mayor of Yarrabah or to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders in my community they do not know where the money is going. It goes from federal to state, to local and there is a trickle that comes out the bottom. They are raising concerns with me as to where the money is going. Are there too many consultants? Are the state governments robbing us blind? Is the federal government through the Public Service not getting the funds through? Those are the questions that just do not seem to be heard, because it all leads to money not getting to the pointy end—and that is what we need. Too often we see people falling through the gaps. We now have more people in care than during the stolen generation. When you think about how much money we have thrown at the issue, you have to pause and ask, 'To what end?'

I was at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre recently. They have instigated a program where the boys in the centre are exposed to normal businesspeople who mentor them in life. They do not judge the boys nor do they care what they have done. The people who participate are there to see if there is anything that they can offer, anything in their own lives which they have done which could give these boys a chance they so desperately need. These people are not qualified as social workers; they are qualified as people who have jobs and who have life experience. They spend time with the boys. There are some of the Cowboys players that are so welcome in that place but, more often than not, they are just businesspeople going in and spending time with them.

When you go into Cleveland Youth you see the existence of foetal alcohol syndrome and abuse they have suffered are rife in the inmates in the centre. The blame for that lies across the whole region and the whole community. But the mentors do not let them make excuses. They tell them that sometimes bad things happen; some things are beyond their control; and sometimes you just have to suck it up and have a go. That is the mentors' basic message: have a red hot go, be prepared to fail and fall over but have a go.

It is with this in mind that I suggest that we change the way we do things. The current way is simply not good enough. If it was a business venture, you would have cut its head off long ago—too much money and very little return. I was on Palm Island last week and I sat down with Mayor Alf Lacey and acting council CEO Jeff Brown. Alf's mantra is: 'Do not talk to me about welfare. We are over it. What we want to talk about is economic opportunity to be masters of our own destiny.' To that end, Palm Island council are working as a council and as a community to try to lift the island's profile in Townsville for its economic opportunities.

You only have to come over the hill to see what they are doing with weed eradication, the way the town square has been spruced up with paint and the way the council chambers have been cleaned up. What a pretty place it is and is going to be. There is cyclone damage across the foreshore roads where you still have power poles basically in the sand. It is a long road to travel, but they are heading in the right direction.

We need to look at opportunities for our first Australians but we cannot have some bureaucrat or politician in Canberra telling them what that opportunity is and the money will be that and they will be doing this and they will be getting paid that. We need these communities to stand up and tell us what they want to do. We need to help out as a silent partner with business plans and paperwork. Let the residents have a go. Let them drive their own future. We need to micro manage each of these. We need to see what can be done and fund it directly. We need our ministers to do more. We need our directors-general to do that. We need our public servants to change the basic way they are dealing with this part of Australia's life.

For too long we have been giving money over and patting them on the back and sending them on their way. This has to stop. If there is an Aboriginal or Islander person who wants to change and wants to step up, we should be handling their case as a single unit. We need to set out goals and manage their future along with them until they have made it. We also have to acknowledge that this is not for everyone. The more we look at this issue, the deeper it gets; the deeper it gets, the less we do; and the less we do, the more money it costs us.

This is not a swipe at the government, but I do believe that spreading the portfolio of Aboriginal and Islander affairs across so many portfolios and having it as a small part of mega large departments does not seem to be the answer. I do not question the commitment of Minister Snowdon or Minister Macklin, but it is too easy for staff of the department and for even the ministers to say that it is the duty of another portfolio and another department and wipe their hands. That goes across the state as well.

We need to change our focus. We need to be outcomes focused and not budget focused. We need to have as the focus of each member of the Public Service that we want to educate our Aboriginal and Islander children, teenagers and adults. Those who want to work for it will be rewarded with the gift of literacy and better health and jobs and futures. We have to do this one person at a time. This year's theme for NAIDOC Week is 'The next step is ours'. Let us be right there with those who want to take that step and give them the assistance they require. No-one wants any more than that. They are not asking for any more than that. If I am to be accused of being simplistic, then so be it. My idea may not work. But what has?