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Wednesday, 4 April 1984
Page: 1196

Senator REYNOLDS —Is the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs aware that the education of children in the Torres Strait is the responsibility of the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement? Is this situation providing equal opportunity when children are attending state schools supervised by a non-education department? What steps will the Commonwealth Government take to ensure that all Queensland children are eligible to education conducted under the auspices of the appropriate government department?

Senator RYAN —I am aware of the educational problems of children living on the Torres Strait Islands. I also believe that those problems stem to a very large extent from the fact, to which Senator Reynolds drew attention in her question, that the education services for the Torres Strait Islands are not under the control of the Queensland Department of Education but of the Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement. What that means is that islander children are the only children in that State who do not have the benefit of a proper educational administration of their educational services.

I understand that at present some 14 schools in the Torres Strait are administered by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement. The Commonwealth Government believes that education services are most properly provided by the professional educational authority in the State, which in this case would be the Queensland Department of Education. There are problems. Assessments show that the achievement levels of islander children are low and that the general educational standard falls short of that on the mainland.

I think there is a clear link between the quality of teaching, the educational outcomes and the teaching personnel available. I understand that the Queensland Government is at present considering the transfer to the Department of Education of responsibility for education in the islands. We would strongly support such a move. If the Queensland Government fails to bring about such an appropriate administrative re-organisation, I believe that we ought to assess whether we, as the Commonwealth Government, will need to become more directly involved in the educational provisions for these children. We cannot resile from our responsibilities to those children and at this stage we do not believe that their educational needs are being properly met.

However, I intend to write shortly to the Queensland Minister for Education, Mr Powell, about this matter. It is also my intention to visit the Torres Strait Islands as soon as time permits so that I can get a first hand assessment of the situation.