Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 15 October 1985
Page: 1219

Senator CROWLEY —Has the Minister for Education seen the article in the Sydney Mail of 13 October in which the President of the Queensland Teachers Union stated that he feared for the safety of students in the Torres Strait because of the poor state of their school buildings? Does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need to upgrade those facilities? What action has been or will be taken by the Commonwealth Government to assist with the improvement of facilities on these islands?

Senator RYAN —I have seen the article containing the Queensland Teachers Union's comment on the schools in the Torres Strait Islands. I suppose more to the point, in terms of Senator Crowley's interest in this matter, I have seen those schools on the islands. I recently made a fairly extensive trip around the islands in the Torres Strait to inspect school facilities, and like the representatives of the Queensland Teachers Union I was very shocked and dismayed by what I saw. I suppose I have seen more disadvantaged schools in Australia than any other member of this place, by virtue of my portfolio responsibilities and the Government's very deep concern to improve facilities for the disadvantaged in education, but I have not seen facilities anywhere in Australia anything like as inadequate as those currently available to children living on islands in the Torres Strait. Nor have I seen anywhere in an Australian school teachers as ill-equipped to deal with the circumstances they are facing.

Senator Peter Baume —You mean materially ill-equipped.

Senator RYAN —I mean materially, but also they are ill-equipped in terms of inadequacy of teacher training. Most of the schools are staffed by untrained Islanders, some of whom are managing to cope quite well in these extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, they have not had the opportunity for teacher training that teachers in Australian schools generally have and, therefore, they have great difficulty in providing education for the children. It is also the case that until now no serious attempt has been made to develop curriculum materials which are in any way relevant to the circumstances of those children. Most of them either speak an Island language as their first language or speak some mixture of Island languages. In any case, they have had very little opportunity to hear English spoken clearly and properly until they go to school, where they may or may not have the advantage of an English-speaking teacher to teach them. The situation is one of gross disadvantage. Although members of the Queensland Government collectively must be held responsible because they have allowed this appalling situation to continue for many years, I must commend that Government on its recent decision to transfer the administration of those schools from the notorious Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs to the Queensland Education Department. Now that that transfer is in place, I believe that the Queensland Government will be able to address more effectively the needs of these very disadvantaged children.

But, in the meantime, I am pleased to report to Senator Crowley and the Senate that our Government has undertaken a process of upgrading the physical facilities in those schools by making available a series of capital grants for the replacement of these appalling facilities by adequate facilities. We have already decided to fund the replacement of Mabuiag School at a cost of $670,000, St Pauls School-called Kubin in the Torres Strait-at a cost of $770,000 and a school on Coconut Island at $670,000. In addition, we have made a grant of $312,000 for Bamaga State School, $200,000 for the Thursday Island High School and $194,000 for the Thursday Island Primary School.

Clearly, the Commonwealth is playing its part in trying to provide better educational opportunities for the Torres Strait Islands schools. I hope that the Queensland Education Department will now play its part in ensuring that teacher training, proper curriculum materials and access to training for the untrained Islander teachers who wish to train and return to their island, will be made available by a co-operative effort of both governments.