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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 189


Senator CARR (5:02 PM) —I seek leave to incorporate my remarks.

Leave granted.

The incorporated speech read as follows—

Mr President, I rise to speak to the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment (Cape York Measures) Bill 2007.

This bill amends the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to provide an extra $2 million in 2008 for literacy initiatives in the Cape York region of Queensland.

The $2 million is expected to fund the Making Up Lost Time In Literacy (MULTILIT) accelerated literacy program in Cape York.

The bill is also expected to fund the establishment of Student Education Trusts to encourage families to save for education costs. The Student Education Trusts are voluntary trusts where families can make regular contributions to cover the costs of their child’s education, such as uniforms, books and excursions.

Labor supports this bill.

We do so for two main reasons:

  • Because, in a very small but important way, the measures contained in the bill forward Labor’s policy commitments to close the yawning gaps in literacy and numeracy outcomes of Indigenous children across Australia; and
  • Because the two initiatives to be funded through this Bill are a rare example of the Government supporting evidence-based programs, rather than pursuing an agenda in Indigenous policy based purely on ideology.

Government’s record

This Government’s record in Indigenous affairs has displayed some serious shortcomings. It has acted to bring down and dismantle a number of constructive initiatives built up over many years by previous governments—I’m thinking here of such steps as the abolition of ATSIC, something that Labor opposed strongly.

In the past (in 2005 to be precise) it has underspent allocated funds on Indigenous education—failing to expend around $142 million allocated for targeted assistance under IESIP. Bureaucratic and legislative foot-dragging seem to have been the explanation for this, but that’s no excuse.

Labor’s commitments

On the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, Kevin Rudd announced that Labor would commit to a key target in the area of education—to at least halve the difference in the rate of Indigenous students at years 3, 5 and 7 who fail to meet reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks within ten years.

Kevin Rudd also said that Labor’s policies will driven by measurable goals and evidence-based programs developed in partnership with Indigenous people.

To support our Indigenous education commitments, we announced nearly $22 million ($21.9 million) over four years to expand intensive literacy and numeracy programs for Indigenous children in our schools. In particular, we said we want to see intensive literacy programs, including programs such as

  • Making Up Lost Time In Literacy or MULTILIT, and
  • Accelerated Literacy.

which provide a heavily-structured approach to teaching literacy.

Numeracy programs

Labor went further than intensive literacy however. We will also target intensive numeracy programs.

It is remarkable that there are no major programs in numeracy for struggling Indigenous children.

The gap in education outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children is widest in numeracy, and getting wider over time.

To look at 2005 data, 80.4 per cent of Indigenous children in Year 3 met the numeracy benchmarks. By Year 7 this fell to 48.8 per cent, according to the National Report on Schooling in Australia 2005. Fewer than half of Indigenous children in Year 7 were numerate at a basic level.

No government serious about improving the lives of Indigenous children can sit on its hands when confronted with such a shocking figure. As part of our $22 million commitment, Labor will develop a new intensive numeracy program, and implement it at a pilot stage. The Federal Government has yet to sign up to this policy.

I call on the Government to provide funding for concrete programs to improve the numeracy and literacy skills of all Indigenous children.

Other Labor commitments

There are four other major policy commitments we have made that to support intensive literacy and numeracy programs for Indigenous children. The Government has also failed to support any of these polices.

First, we have pledged $450 million towards universal access to preschool for all four-year olds, including Indigenous children.

We are guided in this by two principles:

  • It is never too early to invest in a child’s learning but it can sometimes be too late; and
  • Children must be allowed to be children and learn through play and fun activities.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has showed that the return on human capital is very high in the early years of life and diminishes rapidly thereafter.

The quantum on that return, according to some experts, is as much as $7 saved later for every $1 spent on early childhood services.

The Productivity Commission estimates that around half of all Indigenous children do not have access to preschool—that’s around 4,500 children every year.

Intensive programs in disadvantaged communities in the United States, such as the Perry Preschool Project, have shown that early intervention can produce large social and economic benefits for individual children and for the communities.

Labor’s plan will ensure that every Australian four-year-old, including Indigenous four-year-olds, has the right to 15 hours per week of early childhood education, for at least 40 weeks of the year, delivered by a properly qualified teacher.

It is extraordinary that the Howard Government has ruled out matching Federal Labor’s promise to provide early learning for all four-year-olds.

On 25 July 2007, the Minister was reported in The Australian saying it was up to the states to provide preschool places. While the Minister has been busy playing the blame game, children are missing out.

Most Indigenous children start behind the eight ball when they get to school. It’s shocking that they slip further behind while they are at school.

We have also announced that if we are elected, we would rollout the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) nationally, at a cost of $16.9 million over four years—a rigorous checklist across five developmental areas to determine a child’s needs when they start school.

Once again, the Minister is funding a small part of AEDI but has failed to commit to a complete rollout nationally.

Labor in Government will fund the development of a specific Index for Indigenous children to take into account the differing cultural and language features of the early child-rearing environments of Indigenous families.

Third, Labor will ensure that, once a development checklist has been completed for an Indigenous child starting school, that child will have their very own Individual Learning Plan, to be updated twice a year for every year of schooling, up to Year 10.

Every Indigenous child in Australia would have a learning plan developed by teachers in consultation with parents and the community.

These plans will be based on the individual child’s needs, as determined by the teacher’s professional judgements, the results of assessments (including national literacy and numeracy testing in years 3, 5, 7, and 9) and through new initiatives such as the Australian Early Development Index.

The plans would identify the individual strengths and weaknesses of every child, and set out in what areas the student and the teacher will target for improvement across the basics of reading, writing, and numeracy.

Labor has pledged $34.5 million over four years providing professional development support to teachers to enable them to complete these learning plans. Parents will be able to access these plans so they can be part of their children’s learning improvements.

Once children’s learning needs have been identified, funding and intervention programs can be targeted and implemented more precisely.

We have seen these initiatives working for Indigenous children in Cape York. The Queensland Government is implementing Individual Learning Plans and working with the Cape York Institute to provide intensive support programs in Cape York and the Torres Strait. They are focusing on heavy mentoring and community involvement.

Parents are involved in developing the individual learning plans, and come together to discuss various challenges on a regular basis. With respect and commitment on both sides, I’m sure that they will succeed in giving children the opportunities they have not had before.

Lastly, on 25 June 2007, Kevin Rudd endorsed and agreed to fund the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership’s welfare reform plan for four Cape York communities—Mossman Gorge, Aurukun, Coen and Hope Vale.

The plan is expected to implement initiatives to make family and welfare payments and housing conditional on children’s school attendance. This would be done through four Family Responsibilities Commissions—local statutory bodies that would ensure that welfare benefits go towards the benefit of children.

Federal Labor endorses the key elements of the Pearson plan that in all communities, there must be a reasonable expectation that:

  • Children are safe;
  • Children attend school and schools are provided for children to attend;
  • Adults do not behave in a way that puts their children at risk, either through alcohol and substance abuse, family violence or gambling,
  • Training is available and people do their best to seek work; and
  • Tenants in public housing comply with their tenancy obligations.

Welfare dependency eats away at your life chances, no matter who you are or what age you are. Low school attendance, lack of safe housing, as well as horrific child abuse and neglect are all deeply connected to welfare dependency.

That is why Labor has committed both to intensive support for Indigenous education and tough measures to help break the cycle of welfare dependency.

This bill’s initiatives

I’d like to speak about the particular initiatives in this Bill today.

MULTILIT [multi-lit] was established in 1996 by the Macquarie University Special Education Centre based on extensive research and trialling of initiatives to teach low progress readers effectively.

Since then, it has grown significantly with outreach services provided through the Exodus Foundation and at tutorial centres in Gladstone in Central Queensland and in Coen on Cape York.

According to a 2000 evaluation of MULTILIT, low-progress readers in Years 3 to 6 attending a single primary school made mean gains of about 20 months in both reading accuracy and reading comprehension, over two terms when experiencing an attenuated MULTILIT program for under two hours per day.

It is good to see that such progress can be made in Years 3 to 6 because as we know from the latest National Report on Schooling, the number of Indigenous children who meet the reading benchmarks falls from 78% in Year 3 to 63.8% in Year 7.

There are also other successful remedial programs—in particular the Accelerated Literacy project operating in many schools in the Northern Territory, the Kimberleys and Queensland.

Accelerated Literacy (or Scaffolding Literacy) assists low- achieving students to catch up to the average level of the rest of their class by using age-appropriate books to develop reading, writing, comprehension and spelling skills to a high level very quickly.

Analysis by Charles Darwin University shows that students undertaking Accelerated Literacy improve their reading ability at an average rate of 1.73 year levels per year—around 21 months progress in reading a year.

An independent evaluation by the Australian Council of Educational Research concluded that the results were ‘little short of sensational’.

Student Education Trusts

As I noted earlier, this bill would also establish a scheme to encourage Indigenous families to set up Student Education Trusts.

I understand that Student Education Trusts have been tested in Indigenous communities with success. According to the Department of Education, Science and Training, a recent trial in the community of Coen had an 80 per cent take up.

I hope that Student Education Trusts can further build on the initiatives already working in Cape York.

It is critical that we support initiatives based on evidence and demonstrated success. This Government has so far taken a disappointing ad hoc approach.

Successful programs are scrapped in favour of new and untested activities, grants last only three months, six months or a year—when what’s needed is constant, long-term progress.

Indigenous disadvantage will not be tackled with flash-in-the-pan initiatives and half-baked ideas.

Today I call on the Government to establish a baseline survey for the Cape York communities that will be affected by this Bill before these programs are rolled out.

We need to know what we are dealing with before we put in place or extend programs intended to improve Indigenous communities.

There is so much that needs to be done to close the gap in indigenous disadvantage.

Conclusion

Labor has committed to an Education Revolution.

We have also said that a Labor Government will build a future for this nation based on innovation. Both the Education Revolution—on which innovation will depend—and our innovation agenda itself must be inclusive. They must be for all Australians, including Indigenous Australians.

Labor will not let our Indigenous fellow citizens be left behind through disadvantage and prejudice. If Indigenous Australians are left out of our future, our nation will be infinitely the poorer.

In that this bill provides for measures to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous kids in Cape York, Labor supports it.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

I move the second reading amendment standing in my name, which I understand had been distributed in the chamber:

At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate provides bipartisan support for:

(a)   eliminating the 17 year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation so that every Indigenous child has the same educational and life opportunities as other Australian children; and

(b)   Labor’s positive policy approach towards narrowing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous educational outcomes by:

(i)   providing universal preschool access for all Australian four-year-olds, including Indigenous four-year-olds, including Indigenous four-year-olds,

(ii)   committing additional funding towards intensive literacy and numeracy programs across Australia,

(iii)   developing new programs to tackle the gap in numeracy outcomes between Indigenous and other Australian children,

(iv)   implementing the Australian early development index for all Australian children starting school, and

(v)   introducing individual learning plans for all Indigenous children in Australia”.