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Wednesday, 19 September 2001
Page: 31025

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (5:30 PM) —I join with the previous speaker, the honourable member for Page, in indicating the importance of the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2001. As someone who has worked on a regular basis with people in indigenous communities, going back to 1975 when I first commenced employment with the Miscellaneous Workers Union, I understand the importance of the lack of opportunity that exists in many indigenous communities around Australia.

From growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, I also understand that one's opportunities in life are very much related to one's educational opportunities. In essence, it comes back to the fundamentals of life. If, in the early years of education, you do not get adequate support in terms of literacy and numeracy, you undermine your fundamental opportunity later in life to proceed with success at school and have the opportunity to complete your schooling and gain access to an apprenticeship or tertiary education. As difficult as that is in some of the outer suburbs of metropolitan Australia, it is even more difficult in the indigenous communities around Australia.

What also concerns me is that, despite our continuing endeavours as a community to support indigenous education and despite the large amounts of money spent both at a Commonwealth and a state level, we have failed to get it right. That effectively means that we have to review what we have done in the past so as to ensure that we learn from our failures and start to guarantee that we get a better return on our investment in indigenous education and guarantee that people start to go beyond year 6, as suggested by the previous speaker, and proceed to the completion of year 10 and, hopefully, the completion of year 12.

In trying to come to terms with indigenous education and targeted assistance, we have to review the method of delivery of education to indigenous communities. One of our weaknesses in the past is that we have failed to appreciate that it is very difficult to take indigenous children out of their communities and expect them to easily adapt to the education system that we and our children are accustomed to. As those who understand indigenous education know, the extended family and family support are of fundamental importance to the indigenous community. If we therefore expect indigenous children to actually grow in their educational opportunities and succeed at school, we have to make sure that the education system is tailored to the needs of those indigenous children.

That means that more and more we not only have to take education into the communities in rural, remote and regional Australia but we also have to make sure that, if we get into a situation where those people are required to leave those indigenous communities to further their education, we guarantee that we provide adequate access to hostels in the major regional and metropolitan areas of Australia and provide a supporting environment which enables those people to easily adjust to their new environment and, more importantly, to go forward on the basis of a wonderful community spirit and sense of support—the key objective being that they settle into those new communities and succeed on the education front. I support the nature of our endeavours as a community to assist our indigenous communities. The key in the first instance is succeeding on the education front. If we succeed on the education front, we will then make progress with respect to jobs and career development, and as a nation we will be better off.