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Minister presents annual NADOC awards

JENNY HUTCHISON: On Wednesday the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner, presented the annual NA DOC awards to Aboriginal of the Year Geraldine Briggs, and to the 1992 artist, youth, sportsman, scholar and apprentice of the year. Other events of National Aborigines' and Islanders' Week were the launching of another Aboriginal Employment Promotion Committee, and of a booklet of up-to-date statistics designed to rebut popular misconceptions about Aborigines. Minister Tickner explains his concern about these common, often racist myths.

ROBERT TICKNER: Regrettably, some of those myths and prejudices are incredibly destructive and hurtful towards Aboriginal people. The position is, of course, that so often you hear suggestions in the media that Aboriginal people don't want to work, that they don't want jobs and a future for themselves and their kids, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aboriginal people are desperately seeking employment and often, of course, their ability to get employment is limited because of the remoteness of certain communities and because of past lack of opportunity in education.

But the best rebuttal of that prejudicial view is what's called the Community Development Employment Program. And, regrettably, all too few non-Aboriginal Australians know that there are over 180 communities around Australia, tens of thousands of Aboriginal people, who have given up the right to receive their social security benefit for unemployment and instead work in their communities on community improvement projects for only the same amount of money. And I think it is very important to rebut that myth, to bury that prejudicial view that means it's much tougher for Aboriginal people often to get jobs in the private sector.

JENNY HUTCHISON: I suppose it could be that because we have economic problems generally in the community that there is a greater fear and a greater concern on the part of some Australians about other Australians and their entitlement to work or to welfare benefits.

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, I think it's very important to emphasise that in some ways it could be said that Aboriginal people have been in a permanent recession for over the last 200 years. It is Aboriginal people, of course, who have a vastly disproportionate rate of unemployment, and it is important to remember that the people who've been very hard hit by lack of employment opportunities have been Aboriginal people right across the country. Now, having said that, there are some talented Aboriginal people who are becoming doctors, lawyers. Aboriginal people can do anything if they're given the educational and training opportunities. And so I take great store and take great pride from much of what I've seen in Aboriginal communities, of those communities being more self-reliant, being determined to build that future for themselves and for their children.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Of course, one of the major problems has been the lack of access to sufficient educational facilities, hasn't it?

ROBERT TICKNER: Yes, indeed. Aboriginal educational opportunities are critical, of course, for present and future generations of Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal education policy is one that enjoys support from both sides of the Parliament and from all levels of government. It really is a great co-operative initiative in Aboriginal affairs.

But I do think it is important to emphasise another matter that sometimes gets a lot of prejudicial views going in the community. The fact is that Aboriginal affairs expenditure is one of, if not the most scrutinised area of public policy in this country. And whether it be the media or whether it be the Senate Estimates Committees, the Auditor-General, within ATSIC, a special office of evaluation and audit is established to double the scrutiny and accountability of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and it's an area where the spotlight is always shining. And I think it's very important to tell the good news that the Senate Estimates Committee gave a ringing endorsement to the performance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission at its last appearance before the Committee. And in the past, of course, the Committee has been critical, and on this occasion - and I am confident on future occasions -the new commission can get a gold star from that Senate Committee.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister, Robert Tickner.

On the last sitting day there was debate in the House of Representatives on a report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language maintenance. The report notes the irretrievable loss of 90 per cent of original languages and recommends a substantial increase in funding for language teacher and linguistic training. One of the speakers to this report from the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, titled 'A Matter of Survival', was the Shadow Minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge.

MICHAEL WOOLDRIDGE: At the time of original European settlement there were 250 totally distinct Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia. Today there are possibly 50, and only 20 of those could be described as vaguely healthy and not under threat. And most Australians have absolutely no realisation that we have 50 totally distinct, unique Australian languages. There's at least 36,000 Aborigines who would speak an Aboriginal language as the language of first choice in the home, and there's probably about 2000 Aborigines in Australia who speak absolutely no English whatsoever. Now, this is almost certainly an underestimate, because that's on Census figures and one thing the Census does have some difficulty doing is taking count of the more mobile Aborigines in remote Australia, and they are the people that tend not to speak English.

I've had some interesting experiences with Aboriginal languages as Shadow Minister. On my visits to central Australia - and I go there quite frequently -when I go outside Alice I actually have to take an interpreter with me. And, again, this is something on the first occasion I found absolutely extraordinary that in my own country I was using an interpreter. And people don't realise the extreme multilingualism of many Aborigines in central Australia. The woman I use as an interpreter speaks, fluently, eight Aboriginal languages other than English. And these are not dialects, they're not even as similar as Italian and Spanish, they are totally distinct languages.

Many of the recommendations in this report relate to schooling, and this is vitally important because we don't realise that for a good number of Aboriginal kids coming to school in remote Australia, English is not a second language, it's a foreign language. And the fact that we don't deal with it in those terms means these Aboriginal kids are really way behind the eight ball to start with and disadvantaged for the whole of the time of their schooling.

JENNY HUTCHISON: From the Opposition's Dr Wooldridge to the Labor Member for Oxley, Les Scott.

LES SCOTT: The Committee believes the provision of basic education is an essential human right that should be available to all children and young people in Australia. As a further human right, education should be available to Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander students in a way which reinforces rather than suppresses or contradicts their unique cultural identity. This includes an understanding and respect for their home language.

The Committee recommends that all teachers are adequately prepared for pre-service training to appreciate the special needs of Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander students; more specialised training is provided to teachers before they are posted to more traditional communities. This should be followed up with inservice training. Teachers in remote community schools where the vernacular is other than English should have prior training in teaching English as a second language. Where appropriate teachers should be fully fluent in the traditional language of the community.

The number of ATSI teachers is still far too low. The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders graduating as teachers is increasing but is well short of meeting the demand. ATSI people gaining a degree often have more attractive employment options than teaching. If the number of teachers fluent in the traditional language is to be increased, then remote area teacher training programs are the most likely providers of those teachers. Graduates of these programs are far more likely to stay and teach in their own community and are less likely to experience the high attrition rates for ATSI teachers elsewhere.

The Committee also recommends that adequate resources are made available for Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander remote area teacher education so that the growing demand for such training can be met and accreditation standards maintained.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Well, next week on the Parliament program the Game of Parliament.

UNIDENTIFIED: Five will put me one, two, three, four ....

UNIDENTIFIED: Federal grants to States - lose 250 points.

UNIDENTIFIED: Hand 'em over.

UNIDENTIFIED: Strike a light; unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED; We might be able to balance the budget this year.

UNIDENTIFIED: ... business of government.

UNIDENTIFIED: I hate the way the Commonwealth has been squeezing the States.

UNIDENTIFIED: Oh, a vote. What is going to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED: Would it be a leadership challenge? The Caucus meeting delays the decision of motion outcome - miss two turns; give each player 10 points.


JENNY HUTCHISON: The testing team for the Game of Parliament are Daybreak producer, Kerry Anne Walsh, radio current affairs reporter, John Shovelan, representing lobbyists the motor traders' Michael Delaney, a real life lawmaker, Senator Bronwyn Bishop, and myself, with master of ceremonies, Jim Trail. That's next week on the Parliament Program.