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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3008

Senator KILGARIFF(12.53) —I take this opportunity to talk briefly about Aboriginal teachers' aides. Aboriginal teachers' aides are, of course, those mostly young Aboriginal people who have had some training in teaching and are used quite extensively in the remote areas of Australia, in the bush, on isolated settlements and cattle stations, where Aboriginal teachers are used to teach not only the children of their own race, but also of their own tribe and clan. I understand that quite a problem is developing. I take the opportunity of discussing it today in the hope that the Federal Government will understand that it is most necessary that this project continue.

I understand that a considerable number of Aboriginal teachers' aide positions in the remote areas, particularly in the Northern Territory, may be lost due to the lack of support, as it appears, of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Clyde Holding. The positions were originally created to fill vacancies created by Aboriginal teachers' aides moving away to teacher training colleges, such as the college at Batchelor. So, what has happened there is that the Aboriginal teachers have gone into Batchelor to the Teacher Training College, and to help to ensure some continuity in educating young Aboriginal children, teacher's aides have been brought in. Situations have been created for these people to come in to take the place of the Aboriginal teachers who have gone on to the colleges. At present, 40 teachers are involved. Their salaries have been paid through a Commonwealth Government grant. However, I understand that this grant expires at the end of June-this month. With the expiration of this grant, there will be a loss of these positions, which will severely handicap education in remote areas.

I understand that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has been advised by the Northern Territory Government and that the Chief Minister, Mr Paul Everingham, wrote to Mr Holding on 10 May requesting an extension of the grant, which is a serious and urgent need. As yet there has been no response. Time is passing, and we are coming closer and closer to the end of the period, the end of June. The Commonwealth funding, until now, has paid the salaries of these teacher's aides, through the special grant. I understand that the Territory Government covers the operational expenses. The Territory Government contributes, for instance, on the operational expenses side, $302,000. It is seeking $388,000 from the Commonwealth Government to continue paying the salaries of these young Aboriginal teaching aides.

The situation is becoming serious because the Northern Territory cannot afford to continue employing these aides without Commonwealth support. An extension of the grant would allow time for the Federal Government to decide whether it supports recommendations of the Australian Education Council regarding funding for outstations. As I understand it, those recommendations were contained in a paper prepared by the Council last year, before the working party which was chaired and co-ordinated by the Northern Territory Government. I am not sure whether the paper has gone to the Commonwealth Schools Commission, which ultimately could make recommendations to the relevant Minister. It was not a specific paper, I understand, regarding funding for outstations. It would have been mentioned only on a general basis. I do not think there is too much concern there that there would be some thought that education at outstations would not be funded. I do not think that anyone would go as far as that, because it is most necessary for Aboriginal schools to be funded and we must ensure that the funds continue to flow.

Perhaps there has been an oversight. I do not believe that anyone would cut off funds for this essential educational work. If the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has decided that funding will not be provided, I call on the Government to review that decision. If Commonwealth funding is not forthcoming, it is obvious that this will mean cutting off this service to some Aboriginal communities. If that happened, it would affect the more remote and, therefore, the more needy communities in the Northern Territory.

I should like to make a few comments about employment, comments that go a little further afield, too. I noticed the other day in a Dateline News Digest of Tuesday, 5 June, that it was said that the Federal Government was taking a number of steps to help remedy the high drop-out rate of Aboriginal students in Australian tertiary institutions. That comment was attributed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Senator Susan Ryan. That is excellent. But bearing in mind that action is being taken in relation to that, surely funds can be made available for Aboriginal people down at the grass roots in the remote areas, where it is essential that they get some basic education. This matter concerns me greatly, because if this scheme is not funded, a group of young Aboriginal people will not be employed. Like so many thousands of their kind in the remote areas, they will go on to unemployment benefits.

As part of my work in representing the Northern Territory, I undertake a considerable amount of travel through the outback, to Aboriginal settlements, outstations, pastoral leases, and so on. I have done that over the last few weeks, during which I have covered many thousands of miles in visiting various people. I was very concerned to see the continuing trend of unemployment on Aboriginal settlements, particularly among young people. Vast sums of unemployment money have been going into these areas so that people can sustain themselves. Matters have reached such a point now that many of the younger Aboriginals-I have spoken about this problem before-believe that if they take a temporary job, that will be a threat to their receiving the unemployment benefit . They see that by accepting work now, that will cut them off from the unemployment benefit, and they believe that the Government does not really want them to work. When I say 'Government' I am referring not to the present Government specifically but to the authority which is the Federal government. I am not blaming a Labor government or a coalition government, or whatever; it is a Federal matter.

The situation has been remedied to some degree. Under the community development employment projects scheme, a vote of money is put into an Aboriginal settlement and from there the people within the settlement get employment and are paid through their council. This is extremely good. It helps in projects such as farming, gardening, fishing, animal husbandry, and so on. It helps to give the people some work and some pride. The possible non-funding of these young teachers will put more on to the unemployed heap. That will not be nice to see. Government spends very many millions of dollars on Aboriginal matters. In some areas I believe that the money is wasted; but I shall not go into that matter now. I believe that there should be a review of government funding and that measures should be taken to see that it is better spent. There is considerable room for that. One area in which I am sure there should be continued funding is the salaries of Aboriginal teachers.

I hope that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. However, there have been indications that the Government will not fund such teachers. I cannot believe that, so I have taken this opportunity of speaking today in the hope that if the Government decided not to fund the salaries concerned, it will reconsider the matter. If the Government decides to continue this funding, will it please tell all those authorities involved in the education of Aboriginal children? Otherwise, at the end of this month the whole scheme will collapse for lack of funds.