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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 265

Senator ELSTOB —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs able to say whether the Government is satisfied with the number of Aboriginals who are undertaking further education in order to establish professional careers in the community service areas of health, education and welfare? Can the Minister say how the present number of trainee professionals compares with those under the previous Liberal Government?

Senator RYAN —In answer to the first part of Senator Elstob's question, I would have to say that I am not satisfied with the overall numbers of Aboriginals in higher education and professional training. But, having said that, I add that I am satisfied with the progress our Government is making in improving what was a pretty disastrous situation when we came to office. We certainly accept that there is a critical need to increase the numbers of Aboriginals who are undertaking training in areas such as education, health and welfare. Until we can train an adequate number of Aboriginals in those areas I think we will not break the back of the chronic problems from which Aboriginal communities suffer. In 1983, our first year in government, there were only about 700 students enrolled in higher education courses leading to awards. That meant that the participation rate for Aboriginal students at that stage was only one-fifth of the rate for the overall population. By last year, 1986, as a result of a number of initiatives taken by our Government, numbers had more than doubled to 1,500-that is, 1,500 Aboriginals in higher education-and a further increase in enrolments of 20 per cent is expected this year. That is something we will be able to tell the Senate about soon, although it seems that honourable senators opposite are more concerned about privileged groups and their access to higher education than they are about Aboriginals.

We have, for example, provided over the 1985-87 triennium 1,100 additional places for Aboriginals in higher education institutions. We have provided significant additional funding under Abstudy for special course initiatives; for example, bridging courses, student support systems and technical and further education initiatives. I point out to Senator Elstob and to other interested senators that these are very important because we cannot expect Aboriginals who have had such dreadful problems in completing secondary education to move straight into higher education without, perhaps, a TAFE or bridging course. So those courses are part of the whole picture, too.

In every year since 1984 we have funded a special intake of 100 special teacher training awards in line with our target of having 1,000 trained Aboriginal teachers in schools by 1990. So while the overall participation rate has therefore improved significantly, we certainly recognise that more needs to be done if Aboriginals are to achieve equity in higher education. We will be maintaining priority in future Budgets for Aboriginals in these programs. I should point out, too, that government decisions that have already been taken on a new range of significantly increased allowances under Abstudy for students in formal courses will further improve this situation when the new increased rates come into effect in 1988. In conclusion, the situation is certainly not satisfactory to us. We clearly want to do a great deal more. But, quite obviously, the situation has improved enormously over our period of office and we intend to maintain that rate of improvement.