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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 10

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) (1:07 PM) —I had the opportunity to listen to some of the remarks made by Senator Crossin in her contribution to the second reading debate on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2004. Of course, given that she is a senator for the Northern Territory, she takes a particular interest in these matters. Despite the fact that there is no doubt that Senator Crossin can make intelligent contributions to debates, I never get the feeling that she ever really tackles the central issues. Having listened very carefully to Senator Crossin's comments, I did not get a feeling for where the real, fundamental problems were and what the Labor Party's approach to those problems was. The Labor Party's approach to Indigenous policy over the years has been marked `F' for `fail', in my view.

I will tackle some of the matters that Senator Crossin raised in her remarks. I think it is important, Senator Crossin, when you make a contribution to a debate, that you get your facts straight. I must say that in my consultation with officers I get the distinct feeling that on a number of key issues the facts of the case have eluded you. I would not say that you have deliberately ignored them, because I would not believe that you would do such a thing, but you perhaps need to carry out some further research in order to make sure that your facts are correct.

This bill amends the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 in order to maintain and enhance the Australian government's effort in improving education outcomes for Indigenous Australians over the 2005-08 funding quadrennium. The bill provides funding for both the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program and the Indigenous Education Direct Assistance program for the 2005-08 quadrennium. IESIP provides supplementary recurrent funding as well as funding for significant national initiatives and special projects. IEDA provides funding for the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme and funding to support a whole-of-school intervention strategy. The bill also provides for the continuation of the away from base element of Abstudy for the 2005-08 funding quadrennium.

The bill provides additional funding for two new government initiatives: the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program, which aims to identify and develop future Indigenous leaders, focusing mainly on remote communities; and the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program, which will assist young Indigenous people who, with the support of their communities, choose to relocate to capital cities or major provincial centres to take up employment and training opportunities, targeting apprenticeships and other occupations such as nursing, accountancy, business management and teaching. This funding is part of a $2.1 billion package of measures aimed at improving Indigenous education outcomes over the next four years.

The issue of accountability is one which is often raised by senators. The bill includes provisions to strengthen the accountability arrangements for agreements made under the act. It specifies commitments and conditions, including financial and educational accountability conditions, that must be included in agreements. It includes a provision enabling the minister to intervene to address underperformance by funding recipients. The provisions include the introduction of school attendance benchmarks, measuring outcomes at the remote rural, provincial and metro level; the transparent reporting of expenditure on Indigenous education to ensure that all money provided annually gets to the intended recipients; and sanctions for failure to report.

One of the issues that Senator Crossin raised at some length—some would say at some tedious length but certainly at some length—regarded consultation on the IEDA review. The opposition questions the consultation process for the IEDA review. The final discussion points were sent to 400 ASSPA committees, all directors-general of education and Indigenous education consultative bodies and Indigenous support units. Sixty-two written responses were received, including, I point out to Senator Crossin, only 10 from ASSPA committees. In addition, 25 case studies were conducted, at least seven of which focused on ASSPA committees.

The opposition really needs to get its facts straight on this issue before launching into an attack on DEST. I am advised that the officers have done a very conscientious job. I point out that on 5 April the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Nelson, wrote to all ASSPA committees to inform them of the changes to the way the government proposes to support them during the 2005-08 quadrennium. He informed them—and I quote:

The per student funding formula for ASSPA committees will be replaced by a proactive submission process that will require committees to work closely with schools to identify specific approaches to address Indigenous learning needs.

The opposition is critical of the government for directing its supplementary Indigenous education funding to those Indigenous students at greatest educational disadvantage—those in remote areas. That is a rather surprising attack, I would have thought. Let me assure the Senate that this government will unashamedly direct resources to these students, whilst at the same time maintaining a level of supplementary funding for Indigenous students in metropolitan areas. There is no doubt—

Senator Carr —So we'll have more Indigenous students at Geelong Grammar, will we?

Senator KEMP —Senator Carr, you had your chance to make a contribution. You arrived in the chamber late, and that is why I am now speaking. This happens from time to time, but you should have been here if you wanted to make a contribution. There is no doubt that Indigenous students in remote areas are faring far worse than Indigenous students in state capital cities and in Canberra. The report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission on Indigenous funding showed this quite conclusively.

Let me turn now to the second reading amendment. I have pretty much covered it in my remarks, but it will not surprise senators to hear that the government will be opposing the second reading amendment. I understand that the bill is being supported, despite the critical comments that have been made. I reiterate that I think all the criticisms I have heard have been misinformed and not based on the known facts. I urge a speedy passage for the bill.