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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21786

Mr ENTSCH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources) (6:01 PM) —I would like to raise an issue in relation to Aboriginal health and education in my electorate of Leichhardt, an electorate that I proudly represent. It has about the third largest population of Indigenous people in Australia. In August this year I had the privilege of attending a land and health summit in Cape York at a place called Beagle's Camp, a short drive out of the western community of Aurukun. I was with the Prime Minister and Minister Philip Ruddock. I had the opportunity and the privilege to listen to a speech made by a young woman, Tania Major, the youngest ATSIC commissioner at 21. She was appointed in October 2002.

While we have opportunities to hear issues raised in relation to problems experienced in Indigenous communities, I do not think that the impact that has can be anywhere as profound as it is when it comes from the mouth of a person who has to live that life on a daily basis in these communities. As a consequence, I would like to read into the parliamentary record the speech that was presented by Tania, to highlight the problems that currently exist in these communities. The speech was entitled `Cape York on Youth and the Future'. Tania says:

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and those who have worked so hard to put this important summit together.

And what an opportunity!

Here I am: a young Cape York woman addressing the Prime Minister of Australia directly.

The fact that you are here today, Mr Howard, is largely due to the hard work and vision of our leaders.

We are proud of their efforts. Especially I want to mention Noel Pearson. He has been my mentor and contributed to paying for my education.

We are also proud of the efforts of our elders who have struggled to keep our culture alive.

I thank you for coming here today and acknowledge that your visit might signify the start of a new era in Cape York Peninsula's Aboriginal governance.

I say might, because there is a huge job in front of us and if we are going to succeed we need your commitment as well as our own. I hope this is truly the start of a new relationship between Government and Cape York Peninsula people.

In less than 60 years the people of my tribe have gone from being an independent nation to cultural prisoners to welfare recipients.

Is it any wonder that there are so many problems facing indigenous Australians today?

Prime Minister, I want you to gain a brief picture of the life of young people in our communities.

When I was growing up in Kowanyama there were 15 people in my class.

Today I am the only one that has gone to University let alone finished secondary education.

I'm also the only girl in my class who did not have a child at 15. Of the boys in my class seven have been incarcerated, two for murder, rape and assault.

Of the 15 there are only three of us who are not alcoholics.

And, Prime Minister, one of the saddest things I must report to you is that four of my class mates have already committed suicide.

Now if this paints a grim picture of community life for you, it should.

Life as a young Aboriginal person is not easy, in any setting.

Life for a young Aboriginal woman is even harder. We have to fight for respect from every one.

The story of my fellow students is a lesson in the magnitude of the problems that young indigenous people in Cape York face.

The two issues that, in my opinion, are central to changing this story are education and health.

And your Government's policies affect these things.

Two months ago I told the Queensland Principals conference that the levels of literacy and numeracy are very low in Aboriginal communities.

I told them that when I went to school in Brisbane it was as if I had missed out on my primary education.

There is a huge gap between what we get in communities and what other kids get in cities.

I got straight A's in Kowanyama but when I got to Brisbane I was getting C's and D's.

It really goes to show that there was something seriously wrong with the education system in our communities.

One of the problems facing education in remote Indigenous schools is that teachers tend to be just out of training and generally stay only for a year or two.

There was not one teacher who stayed for the whole of my nine years at school, even the principals. On top of the racism that Aboriginal people face every day of our lives this seeming lack of commitment by teachers makes you feel they don't care.

Prime Minister we need to review the curriculum in these communities because it's pitched at a very low level.

I have had to draw the conclusion that governments and educationalists see us as less than white people.

It was really sad to go to school in my community because the attitude in the whole community was that `white kids are much smarter than me'.

How can the education being offered to our young people be justified?

Education should be uplifting not serve to reinforce lack of self-esteem and the heart wrenching low expectations that my mob suffer from.

If we cannot get education right then we are doomed.

We need a massive re-assessment of education policies and an equally massive investment in education.

Governments have let down most of my classmates. Noel Pearson helped me to an education, but most young people won't be assisted by a sponsor.

I got a chance in my life, worked hard with support from family and friends and today I stand before you as a qualified criminologist.

All across Cape York I see and meet young Murris; smart, brave, compassionate, talented and beautiful.

What is missing from their lives is an education that promotes self-confidence and drive.

With these qualities, hundreds of Cape York Peninsula Murris could be the next group of doctors, lawyers, painters, mechanics, criminologists or engineers.

We have spent so long listening to some whitefellas telling us we are stupid, lazy no-hopers that the majority of my people actually believe it.

The relationship between poor education and poor health is clear.

People whose self-esteem and pride have been decimated by a sub-standard education system and a social system that creates an addiction to passive welfare have little reason to live healthy lives.

Prime Minister, our health is getting worse not better.

The policies that determine the delivery of health services are deeply flawed by a bureaucracy that does not want to let go and hear our voices.

Health services are too often confined to the clinic.

It's patch 'em up and spit 'em out kind of health regime.

In Kowanyama we had the only doctor based in a Cape York Aboriginal community.

She left two weeks ago because the Queensland Health bureaucracy did not support her.

Her practice epitomised the sort of health system we need.

She understood the relationship between, physical, mental and spiritual health.

She took health out of the clinic and into the lives and homes of community people.

She took her responsibilities to serve the community seriously and now she's gone.

Another blow to my community's already low morale.

Prime Minister, it's problems and challenges such as the ones I've described to you already that led me to stand in last October's ATSIC election.

I decided to run because I believe ATSIC provides a great opportunity to advocate for my people; to have a say in distributing funding throughout Cape York Peninsula and influence State and Federal Government policy decisions that affect me and my people.

It is great privilege for me to represent my community and I hope that with experience I will be an effective ATSIC Councillor.

I know that in the coming months your Government will decide the future of ATSIC and I hope that you will understand that ATSIC is more than the Board of Commissioners and the Canberra bureaucracy.

ATSIC is also people like myself and my Chairperson Eddie Woodley. People who are from community and work hard for community.

Prime Minister, we recognise that Governments cannot solve our problems for us.

As young people we are trying to take responsibility for our future.

We are working with our Elders to address the terrible problems of grog, illicit drugs and violence. We are working hard to create economic, training and employment opportunities for ourselves.

We are supporting our fellow young people to achieve their potential.

Mr Howard, I ask not that you fix these problems for us but that you and your Government see us as equal partners in the huge task of rebuilding our families, communities and Cape York Peninsula.

The fact that you are here today is a good start in the process of change and I urge you, as a fair minded man, not just as Prime Minister, to become part of the solution.

I stand up here as a proud Aboriginal woman, a Kokoberra woman as well as a criminologist and I thank you for your time and attention.

I do not think anybody could have made a statement as powerful as that one from a wonderful young woman. The statistics that she was able to reflect on in her own class of 15 are an indictment of the failures that we have seen over many, many years in dealing with the delivery of services to Aboriginal communities. One of the problems that has happened through successive governments is that there has been a continued tendency to gauge the level of success and commitment to Aboriginal communities by the amount of money that is being spent on those communities rather than gauging the success by the outcomes that are delivered by that investment of funds. I encourage people to start to rethink the way in which we do this and judge it on outcomes rather than simply on dollars spent.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hawker)—Order! The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question agreed to.