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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2323


Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs in her own right and as Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to comments by the State Minister for Education, Mr Powell, in the Queensland Press this week? Also , has the Minister seen an editorial that criticises moves by the University of Queensland to admit Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders into the university without the usual entrance requirements? Does the Minister agree with the conclusions of that editorial that such a scheme is ill-considered, illogical and unlikely to succeed, and is likely to do more harm than good to the cause of anti-discrimination?


Senator RYAN —I have seen criticisms in the Queensland Press, in particular the editorial in the Courier-Mail, about the decision of the University of Queensland to take in a small number of Aboriginal students on a special arrangement, that arrangement being that they will be taken in without having reached the normal tertiary entrance score, and the Government will be providing special additional funding for the special support needed for those Aboriginal and Islander students. I must express my satisfaction and congratulations to the University of Queensland for taking up the offer made by the Tertiary Education Commission in its guidelines. The Commission has indicated that special funding would be available to those institutions that are prepared to make special arrangements for Aboriginal and Islander students.

It is very disappointing to see that a newspaper such as the Courier-Mail has run an editorial criticising not only the particular institution for its progressive decision but also the whole program of special provisions for Aboriginal and Islander students. All Queenslanders, particularly, since their State has a very high population of Aboriginal and Islander citizens, should be aware that Aboriginal and Islander students are generally very disadvantaged from their earliest days. Aboriginal and Islander students have a very low participation rate in secondary education and of course an extraordinarily low participation rate in tertiary education. These defects in educational opportunities provided for Aboriginals and Islanders mean that the cause of Aboriginal advancement is being held back.

I think everybody, perhaps even the editorial writer of the Courier-Mail, would agree that in order for true advancement towards equality and justice for Aboriginal and Islander people to occur there needs to be capable, strong, informed leadership from the Aboriginal communities themselves, and that requires better educational opportunities than have previously been provided.

Our Government has no difficulty in recognising that because of the extreme disadvantages to Aboriginal and Islander children in their school days it is absolutely fair and equitable to make special arrangements for their entrance into higher education institutions. We recognise that they will need additional assistance because they have not been as well prepared for tertiary education as other students, and in order to help institutions give that assistance we are making special funding available. I would have thought that that was something everybody, particularly citizens in States such as Queensland, would endorse.

I should also express my criticism of the view, which has been stated before when the subject of positive discrimination in relation to disadvantaged groups has come up, that by making special entry arrangements for disadvantaged groups we are inevitably lowering standards. This is simply not the case. The fact is that there are very able, very bright students who, if they are given special assistance to get in and get through the early stages of tertiary education, will perform very well. The problem is at the point of entry, as they have not been as well prepared as other students. They need special assistance to overcome that. If that special assistance is properly provided by the staff of an institution-I am sure the Queensland University will provide such special assistance-there is no reason why those students cannot reach the same high standards as other students reach. Indeed, it is one of our aims in achieving more equal educational outcomes that those high standards be available to Aboriginal and Islander students as well as to other disadvantaged groups.

So the real problem is at the point of entry, where TE scores are very high because of the competition for places, but once that is overcome we have great confidence that in the program the University of Queensland is going to undertake-and similar enclave programs are now being undertaken throughout Australia-assistance will be given to bright, highly motivated Aboriginal and Islander students to achieve the high standards which they, the institutions and the Government want to see. There is absolutely no evidence that once the initial stage of entry and the early years of study are completed those students will not be as capable as any other student of achieving the highest possible standards.