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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10461


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (09:36): The scale of the challenges facing Indigenous people in remote Australia is not lost on anyone in this House. Among adults, unemployment is chronic and widespread. Among children, only a minority reach national minimum standards in literacy and numeracy. In particular, remote Indigenous communities and homelands face endemic challenges. Those who live there are in a constant battle for food security and basic infrastructure.

As the 2012 Indigenous expenditure report released by the Productivity Commission last week highlighted, and as members—who include the Leader of the Opposition—who have made the journey to remote Australia know, these are not problems that can be fixed by money or government schemes alone. Last year, two young men who grew up and went to school in my electorate of Ryan decided to tackle the issue by thinking outside the square. Working together in Cape York, Arthur Alla and Alex Harper founded Red Earth Connections, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to connecting high school students to remote Aboriginal communities. Both graduates from the University of Queensland and having a rich history of volunteering, Arthur and Alex believed that they could make a difference in the lives of students and Indigenous Australians.

Red Earth Connections gives high school students an opportunity to volunteer on meaningful projects in remote Aboriginal communities. The projects are chosen by elders who know exactly what is most needed. There are chicken coops to be built, fences to be mended and water tanks to be installed. The significance of these projects is clear. Eddie, an elder who has been living in an isolated homeland in the Daintree rainforest for decades said: 'Living up here is never easy. Every day is a struggle. We always talk about reconciliation but before these kids came up here this place was dead. Now it has come alive.'

The impact on the development of the students who make the journey is immense. For Wesley Wei, a grade 11 student from Newington College in Sydney, learning about the hardships of living so far away from civilisation was something he would never forget. Nick Sheehan, a grade 10 student from Nudgee College in Brisbane, described the journey to remote Indigenous Australia as like nothing he had ever experienced before.

In confronting our future voters and leaders with forgotten parts of Australia, Red Earth Connections hopes to see the emergence of a country united by our common struggles and common hopes. After a successful pilot year, and with schools such as Brisbane Grammar making the journey to remote Indigenous Australia in the coming days, Arthur and Alex are looking forward to 2013 as they expand their reach to connect more schools to more communities throughout Australia. I encourage anyone who can assist or would like to see the education of their students or children enriched by such an experience to get in touch with this promising organisation.

Ultimately, Arthur and Alex realised that behind the veil of ideology and political correctness that drives most of the discourse on remote Aboriginal communities there are real people with real problems. To solve problems you must understand them. To understand them you must connect with the people who experience them. Red Earth Connections wants to see that connection between all Australians, a connection based on shared enthusiasm, shared desires and shared hopes.