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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 544


Senator DEVLIN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education. Has the Minister seen the article in the Hobart Mercury of 13 September, which outlines the career of an employee of the Commonwealth Department of Education? Does the Minister agree that the career of this woman exemplifies the improvements in education for Torres Strait Islanders? Can the Minister inform the Senate of the improvements in education facilities for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders?


Senator RYAN —I was pleased to see the article by Tess Livingstone about Lily Jane Shabasaki, a Torres Strait Islander who recently returned to work as the locally engaged officer in the Commonwealth Education Office. I think it is important, at a time when advancement for Aboriginal and Islander people is not always supported as strongly as it should be throughout the community, that success stories such as Lily Jane's become known widely. She is very well known in her own community in Cairns and I think it is very encouraging that stories such as this are appearing in the Tasmanian newspapers.

It is a fact that the advances which Lily Jane epitomises are becoming more widespread throughout the Aboriginal and Islander community. It is very much a matter of satisfaction to our Government that there have been increases in expenditure in programs such as the student assistance scheme, both for secondary and tertiary community activities, that the number of places reserved for Aboriginal and Islander people in higher education has increased, and that, indeed, the participation of Aboriginal and Islander people in higher education, which was only about 280 in 1982, increased to an enrolment in 1984 of in excess of 900.

Improved statistics like this ought to be drawn more generally to the community's attention. They are a rebuttal to those who would criticise special programs, acts of positive discrimination on the part of our Government to assist Aboriginal and Islander people to overcome disadvantages. Of course, the increased capacity of Aboriginal and Islander people to take leadership and decision-making roles in their own communities will be one of the keys to the achievement of autonomy and independence for those communities. It is a heartening story and I am able to say with some pleasure that it is becoming more typical throughout Aboriginal and Islander communities. The Tasmanian newspaper which published the story, the Hobart Mercury, is to be congratulated on giving exposure to such a heartening story.