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Wednesday, 7 October 1987
Page: 918

Mr SNOWDON(9.05) —I rise in support of the Government's Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1987-88 and, in doing so, address myself to the employment, education and training expenditure outlined in the Bill. In doing that, I would like to emphasise my wholehearted support for public education in Australia. This Government has total commitment to employment, education and training, which is reflected in the Budget, but I will confine myself to expenditure related to particular areas in the Northern Territory. In his media release on the night of the Budget, the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins) said that the most successful economies have given high priority to education and skills development, and that Australia must now adopt a similar strategy. I agree wholeheartedly.

My electorate is in desperate need of this sort of commitment. On the latest figures available to me, retention rates of school students in my electorate are more than 16 per cent below the national average. This particularly affects isolated children, especially Aboriginal children, who do not enjoy the advantages of their fellow students in major cities. In fact, the retention rates for Aboriginal and Islander students in the Northern Territory is only one third of the retention rate for the Northern Territory as a whole. The Government has committed $28.5m in 1987-88 to the assistance for isolated children scheme, which provides assistance for the parents of children who, because of geographic isolation or a disability, must live away from home to attend school, study by correspondence or live in a second family home which provides daily access to schooling. In 1988, isolated children living at home and undertaking secondary schooling by correspondence will be paid a flat rate of $10 per week. The number of children who are expected to qualify for benefits in this way nationally in 1988 is expected to be about 19,000 and a significant number of these will reside in my electorate.

Continuing on the commitment of the Federal Government's support for Aboriginal education, the remote area program for Aborigines (RAPA) is designed to provide students of post-primary age in remote communities with an extended and improving range of course options. I add that it is important that these options are provided because, from my experience as a teacher in the Northern Territory and having been employed on a special project to analyse the impact of education and government services on Aboriginal children and families, I am aware that there is no greater need for these services than in remote areas of the Territory.

The Northern Territory Government participated in the pilot RAPA program in 1985-86 and funds were provided for the setting up and operation of a manual arts learning unit, which is a mobile instruction unit offering vocational instruction to a number of communities in central and northern Australia. Under the Aboriginal employment development program, RAPA has been established as an ongoing program which will benefit isolated communities and help them to have access to training they may otherwise not get.

There is a widespread concern that the educational achievements of Aboriginal children are lagging noticeably behind those of other Australians. There is a growing appreciation that educational provisions for Aboriginal children have not adequately considered their cultural outlook or aspirations. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pedagogy project is researching successful programs that improve the learning outcomes of these children and is funded by this Budget. As a result of the project, it is expected that significant changes in learning and teaching styles will result. The total budget for this project for 1987-88, its second year of operation, will be $255,000 nationally. A significant element of the project will be directed to the Northern Territory.

With the approach of the Bicentenary, the Northern Territory faces the intolerable fact that although Aboriginal people make up 33 per cent of the 17- to 64-year-old age group in the Northern Territory, they comprise only 7 per cent of the student population in that age group. In the last Budget, the Government increased the amount to be spent on Aboriginal student assistance nationally by more than $7.8m. Consequently, the number of students assisted nationally has increased from 30,000 in 1982 to 46,000 last year. Again, a significant proportion of these were in my electorate.

To make it clear, it needs to be stressed that applicants for allowances under the Aboriginal secondary grants schemes (Abseg) and the Aboriginal study assistance scheme (Abstudy) will continue to be exempt from the income test applied to recipients of other forms of student assistance. Students of over 16 years of age receiving Absec and those over 21 years of age on Abstudy will receive higher rates of allowances if they are enrolled in employment-oriented courses. This Government's major concern is to involve more Aboriginal students in forms of education or training which are likely to facilitate increased employment, at the same time ensuring that any such programs are in accord with the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people, as perceived by them.

I might point out that under Abstudy and Abseg programs the Commonwealth funds a number of special courses in the Northern Territory-some at Batchelor College, some at the Darwin Institute of Technology and some at the Institute of Aboriginal Development at Alice Springs. Two of the courses at Batchelor College are centred on Aboriginal teacher education training. One is the D-Bate program and the other is the homeland centres remote area teacher education program. The D-Bate program is run by Deakin University and is funded by the Government. Last year it saw its first graduates. Bakamanu Yunupingu, Norma Joshua and Robyn Ramsay were the first Aboriginal Northern Territorians to graduate with Bachelor of Education degrees from Deakin University. In addition, very important courses are being run at the Darwin Institute of Technology by the Aboriginal task force unit. The courses are for the community work certificate, the certificate in general and technical studies for Aborigines and a preliminary course.

Aboriginal employment rates are half the national average. Indeed, in my electorate there are some communities which have a far higher unemployment rate, with some having a rate in excess of 60 or 70 per cent. The people in these communities are desperate for work. They do not want to be forced to receive social security benefits forever. This Government is committed to providing the funds that are needed to conduct relevant training and education programs. It is worth pointing out at this point that Aboriginal people in these communities are the only people in Australia who volunteer to work for the dole, or an equivalent of the dole. These people, under the community development employment program, agreed to pool their unemployment benefits and, with the addition of an administrative component of 20 per cent as a top-up for resources, materials and administrative expenses, they run their own employment projects. They do this on the basis that they are paid for part time work at award rates.

This Government's concern is to promote Aboriginal control over their own affairs, and this has led to a stated commitment that Aboriginal people must participate in the design and implementation of education and training programs that are both economically and socially relevant. For too long schemes have been imposed from above on Aboriginal people and their communities. This is seeking to make schemes more flexible and more relevant as part of its long term commitment to Aboriginal people's self management.

In order that appropriately qualified teachers are placed in Aboriginal schools, induction and in-service courses and professional development programs are funded by Federal Government education and training programs. To date, over 60 teachers and 18 teacher trainees in the Northern Territory have benefited from this program. This level of Federal Government involvement will continue in the Territory. In 1987 the Federal Government provided for 101 extra places for Aboriginal students at Batchelor College and the Darwin Institute of Technology at a cost of nearly half a million dollars. The Government will maintain its commitment to these sorts of programs which have provided teachers who are far more responsive to community needs and who have a long term responsibility to the community. I might add that the commitment and dedication of the teachers who work in these remote communities is something to be seen and it should be applauded.

I think it has been recognised by this Government, through the amount it is prepared to spend on education, employment and training, that Australia's economic potential has been held back by an inadequate commitment to skills training and education. If people are starting from a position of disadvantage, as many people in my electorate are, the need for this sort of government initiative is doubly important. The Government has pledged continued support for community based program assistance, over time, and the Minister has indicated that a single community program aimed at maximising training and employment for the most disadvantaged of the unemployed will eventuate. On that matter I might point out that the Federal Government in another area of my electorate, Christmas Island, has underscored its commitment to retraining and employment assistance. The Government's legislation demonstrates its view that the people of Christmas Island are fully entitled to responsible and socially relevant government. With this in mind, $1.5m has been allocated for retraining and employment assistance on Christmas Island.

I know many people in my electorate who receive the unemployment benefit who would give almost anything for a job. As I indicated previously, Aboriginal people, who are vilified by many members of the community-most notably those who belong to the Opposition parties in this chamber and elsewhere in Australia-for being recipients of the unemployment benefit and other social welfare payments, are the only people in this country who have sought assistance from the Government to run projects and employment schemes that effectively involve working for the dole.

Mr Carlton —Started by the Fraser Government.

Mr SNOWDON —That is to its credit, and to the credit of Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, who was the Minister at the time. I hope that Opposition members will support, and continue to support, that move. The Government deserves praise for recognising, because previous conservative governments have not, the importance of training to the national economy. I believe it is vital to our continued prosperity. At the same time it is imperative that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Education for education's sake is as important now as it has ever been.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Mountford) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.