Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Page: 9491

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (21:00): In mid-August I was fortunate to travel to the remote Aboriginal community of Ntaria, or Hermannsberg, 130 kilometres west of Alice Springs. This is Western Arranta country on the edge of the beautiful McDonnell Ranges and the birthplace and former home of great Australian artist Albert Namatjira. I was in Ntaria to volunteer at the local school as a member of the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy's role model tour. NASCA is a wonderful not-for-profit that uses leadership figures and trained professionals to encourage healthy living, education and employment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Over the course of my week in Ntaria, I was fortunate to meet some very special people: the hardworking teachers and staff of the school whose passion for and dedication to Aboriginal education is inspiring; the wise elders and community leaders striving to give their kids more opportunity through education; and of course the wonderfully talented students whose infectious spirit and broad smiles brighten your day.

Our role as members of the NASCA tour was to help out in the school, but also to experience firsthand the challenge of improving living standards in remote Aboriginal communities and, importantly, providing Aboriginal kids with a decent education. My time volunteering in Ntaria highlighted the enormous challenge of remote community education. Australia is a wealthy country, with a modern economy and high living standards, yet the ancestors of our First Australians in some communities still live with unacceptably high rates of preventable disease, unhealthy diets, domestic violence, alcoholism, incarceration and low levels of literacy and numeracy. When you experience the tragedy that is many remote Indigenous communities, you cannot help but ask yourself: where did we go wrong? How could it be that in modern day Australia we have treated and failed our First Peoples so badly? And how do we right this wrong? The truth is that there is no easy answer to those questions. Although we are making some very slow progress in improving Indigenous living standards and opportunities, we have a very long way to go in closing the gap, particularly when it comes to Aboriginal education. Despite the bleak social outcome, you cannot be immune to the happiness and positive attitude of the kids whose energy and innocence brighten your day.

Our days in the Ntaria community began early, travelling around on the school bus to pick kids up from their homes. Despite the freezing morning temperatures, many of the students coped remarkably better than we did with the cold, often hoping on the bus in shorts and T-shirts oblivious to bone-chilling wind. Once at school, it was breakfast and then playtime. Throughout the day, I was fortunate to sit in on classes and assist teachers stretched to the absolute limit by some very spirited students. We also helped out with school sports and healthy lifestyle activities. The sporting prowess of these kids is something to behold. A touching community unity occurs at the footy oval as the kids kick the ball with the senior players from the Ntaria Bulldogs AFL Club.

The challenge of remote Aboriginal education is not only mammoth but complex. How do we as a nation and government provide the kids with a decent education that offers the same opportunity as other Australians, yet still allow them to maintain the very important connection with their land, their Dreamtime, their heritage and their culture? It is great to see the kids communicating with each other in Western Arranta language. They all speak it and they all understand it. Yet some start school without having spoken a word of English and naturally struggle with literacy. The teachers expressed frustration at kids who are doing well in literacy and numeracy and then disappear from school for a couple of weeks and return behind the eight ball.

My experience highlighted the importance of one reform that we can and should make that will make a difference: reform and the introduction of a needs based school funding model. All the problems with the current system perfectly highlighted by the Gonski panel were acutely on display in my week in Ntaria. The teachers are stretched to the limit and often without trained teachers aids in classes. The teachers simply cannot devote the necessary time to many kids who are challenged when it comes to learning. As a result they achieve substandard results. The Gonski model was put in place to rectify this. Unfortunately, the Abbott government is removing this.

I want to thank NASCA for the opportunity to join the wonderful role models on this tour.