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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6391

Senator RIDGEWAY (4:03 PM) —Madam Acting Deputy President, I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

Why has there been a deafening silence on the part of the Commonwealth Government's silence about the Northern Territory Government's decision to progressively phase out bilingual education programs for Indigenous students?

There is no doubt that centuries of proactive, institutionalised hostility towards Indigenous cultures and identity have taken their toll.

Indigenous communities have paid a heavy price.

We have all seen newspaper articles which chart a very bleak future for Indigenous languages in this country—like the Northern Territory News in May this year, which claimed that one Indigenous language is disappearing every three years and the decline is accelerating.

Worse still, are research articles like that written by Dr McConvell of AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies), where he has concluded that of the 15 strong languages left, there is a high risk these will all die out in the second half of this century.

In other words, the invisible web that binds language, culture and identity together, will inevitably break—probably within our lifetime and that of our children.

I for one, would like to see more benchmarking of Indigenous language programs so that we can start to turn this problem around and save what remains of our languages for future generations.


In closing, I want stress that the Australian Democrats welcome the fact that it is as a result of the resolve of the Parliament in the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000, that all future Commonwealth Governments will have to report on the state of affairs in Indigenous Education every year and be accountable to the Parliament in this regard.

Given that the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has excused the Government's lack of progress—even in regard to the very limited goals of “practical reconciliation”—by saying there is no baseline data to measure progress—at least on the education front this kind of excuse cannot be wheeled out in future.

We now have the baseline data—we can quantify exactly how bad the situation is—and we can build on the marginal improvements that exist on some fronts.

Indigenous people want to see improvements in this regard more than anyone else.

As Members of Parliament, we need to remind ourselves that there are only 410,000 Indigenous Australians—the largest total since Indigenous people were included for the first time in the national census in 1971.

This is a quite manageable number to deal with, and we do have the resources to turn the situation around.

We should not be prepared to accept the stereotype of Indigenous affairs as being a terminal case of public policy failure, or allow the needs of 410,000 people to overwhelm our imagination or our ability to formulate responses to familiar challenges within community development.

If nothing else, this report reaffirms the message that progress will only be possible if governments at all levels work in genuine partnership with Indigenous people, and create the opportunities for Indigenous communities the capacity to take control of their futures.

As the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs noted in this report (p.21):

“...children learn most effectively when there is a partnership between parents/caregivers and educators, when there is a sense of community between home and school environments. But the general level of interaction between schools and the local Indigenous communities is often poor.”

What we need to first acknowledge and accept is that:

“... Family involvement in education is more than simply getting families into the schools. ... Schools as institutions of practice and beliefs need to change to mirror Indigenous family values and community beliefs and practices. It is not up to Indigenous families to initiate change, but rather for education systems to reflect multiple world views and perspectives.” (Fleer and Williams-Kennedy, p.21).

Question agreed to.