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Wednesday, 4 December 1985
Page: 2968

Senator KILGARIFF(10.37) —As usual in the last week of the Budget sittings of the Senate-or we hope it is-we have a rush of reports coming in for consideration of the Senate and time does not permit us to give them scrutiny. One report that is before the Senate is the annual report of the Australian National Railways Commission. A motion was moved that the Senate take note of the paper which means that it cannot be discussed now but will be brought on for debate some time in the future. The only remark I make about it is that it is very pleasing to see that Australian National Railways, which in the previous financial year made a loss of some $9m, this year shows a surplus on operation profit of $10m. That is a tremendous turnaround and the report warrants closer attention.

Looking at that report today reminded me that, as someone who to a degree represents the people of the outback, I should make some brief mention of Mr Des Smith. Mr Des Smith is an engineer with the Australian National Railways who, my notes tell me, has a reputation second to none within Australia and who is recognised overseas for his competence in planning, design and construction of new railways. Now that the standard gauge line from Tarcoola in South Australia to Alice Springs is completed-as I understand it, it is running economically-Des Smith has retired. The people of the outback, and indeed the people of Australia, certainly owe much to Des Smith because he has done much not only to develop the outback but also to bring railways into a more efficient operation than has been the case in the past.

Des Smith has worked in Australia on the Marree line in northern South Australian, the Port Augusta to Whyalla line, the Tarcoola to Alice Springs line and the proposed Alice Springs to Darwin line. He has also established himself as a recognised authority on the maintenance of railways in a desert environment. His services to the railway industry have been recognised by the Australian Government through an Imperial Service Order and an Australian award. He has also been honoured by an Aboriginal council with an award relating to the protection of sacred sites. This indicates the type of man that he is and that he has been able to get on with all people in the construction of these lines.

Des Smith joined the Commonwealth Railways on 3 October 1955 at Telford. He worked on construction of the standard gauge line to Marree. He became construction engineer in 1957 and completed construction of the track into Marree. In 1962 he was appointed maintenance engineer. This position covered the central Australian railway and the trans-Australian railway, some 3,100 kilometres of track. In the 1960s he was responsible for a 10-year rehabilitation program of the trans-Australian railway which involved the virtual rebuilding of 1,800 kilometres of track. In the early 1970s he planned and designed the Port Augusta to Tarcoola railway and the Tarcoola to Alice Springs railway. He was also responsible for the construction of the Tarcoola-Alice Springs track. He completed that project on time and within budget. After its completion he became civil engineer for the northern region and in November 1979 he became chief engineer in Adelaide for the Australian National Railways Commission. He was then placed on special duties to undertake the planning and design of the proposed Alice Springs-Darwin railway. This work was substantially completed in June 1984 when construction was deferred and funding withheld.

I make this commendation on behalf of the people of the north and the outback. They would wholeheartedly support the comments I have made and would thank Des Smith for the work he has done. Des Smith is a most unusual character. He is a real bushman. He built the enormous line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs. I understand that it is one of the longest railways that has been built for many decades. The railway is a most efficient link and standard gauge line. Many of us hope to see the continuation of Des Smith's work with the construction of the line from Alice Springs to Darwin. I guess that he has walked over every kilometre of the line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs. It is my guess that he has almost done so between Alice Springs and Darwin on the line that he has surveyed, graded and marked for future construction.

As I have indicated, it is quite a considerable achievement that Des has been able to work in conjunction with all the people of the outback. Station hands, railway gangers, pastoralists, Aborigines-all people-look upon Des Smith as their personal friend. He has that quality. Des has now retired from the construction of railways in Australia. It was he who designed the method of constructing modern railways in an efficient, mechanical operation which kept manual labour to a minimum. He was able to lay sections of line in this way, perhaps some 300 to 400 metres long. He was able to lay the concrete sleepers in Port Augusta mechanically. He was quite an incredible man. Senator Jessop and I have travelled with him on many occasions along the track through the bush. I hope that Australia will recognise the feat of this most remarkable man. We wish him all the best in his retirement.

I do not wish to hold the Senate long, but I feel that I must comment tonight on a matter that arose during Question Time. It related to the education of Aboriginal children in the outback, particularly the Northern Territory. It is not my wish to dwell on the remarks that were made today. I believe that they are too controversial. Frankly, it is time that controversy was taken out of Aboriginal affairs, particularly Aboriginal education. Aboriginal education in the outback is going ahead apace and it is tremendous to see young Aboriginal people in the various areas of education, whether it be in a primary school, a high school or in the teacher training college in Batchelor in the northern part of the Northern Territory. They are coming on well. There is a tremendous future for them in education. I believe it is a matter that we must take much more seriously. We must take the controversy, the political point scoring or whatever, away from Aboriginal education for I believe it does not do the Aboriginal children any justice; nor does it give them encouragement.

I was interested to see the other two Federal representatives of the Northern Territory, Senator Robertson and Paul Everingham, who is the member for the Northern Territory, both reported in the Press in the last two days indicating that while it is the nature of the beast that there be controversy between the Federal Government and State and Territory governments, there should be an endeavour to cut down on that controversy and not have it just for the sake of it for there is much to be done. I note there is to be an endeavour to bring about more liaison in carrying out these various developments quickly. I think it is necessary to assure people that Aboriginal education is going ahead. It certainly has difficulties, but they are not being ignored. We must look to these young Aboriginal people who are being educated now because many of them are going to be in the forefront of Aboriginal affairs in the future, and they are to be encouraged.

The total number of Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory is now 82. This represents 52.6 per cent of the total number of schools in the Northern Territory. Aboriginal schools are defined as those with more than 50 per cent of the students being Aboriginal students. Of the 82 Aboriginal schools, 75 are government schools and seven are non-government schools, I think the liaison between the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government is working well in the Aboriginal schools. Of course there are differences of opinion at times but by and large there is this liaison which is bringing about this result. Twenty schools at outstations are planned for construction in 1985-86. The Commonwealth Government will provide most of the funding for these. Four post-primary facilities are planned for 1985-86. However, negotiations are still being held with the Federal Government as that Government has said it will not provide funds for housing. This is a difficult point. If further negotiations do not resolve this, the Northern Territory Government will have to provide the necessary funding and the planned facilities may not all go ahead at the one time. Two further post-primary facilities are planned for 1986-87. In the last couple of years two Aboriginal schools have been upgraded. Five of the 82 schools were constructed during the last few years.

I have seen the senior Minister in the Senate tonight, the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), regarding having two letters incorporated. One is a memorandum from the honourable member for the Northern Territory, Paul Everingham, regarding the attacks by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) on Aboriginal education in the Northern Territory. This memorandum in effect gives information on that. The other is a letter addressed to Mr C. A. Blanchard, MP, Chairman of the Select Committee on Aboriginal Education, Parliament House. This letter was written by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, indicating his pleasure at having the opportunity of bringing before the Select Committee on Aboriginal Education matters relating to the Aboriginal people. I do not think it is necessary at this late hour to comment on those two letters because they are self-explanatory. I seek leave to have those two documents incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The documents read as follows-

27 November 1985


To: All Senators and Members.


In the current financial year, the Northern Territory has sustained funding cutbacks of $60 million at the hands of the Federal Government.

Nevertheless, education in the Northern Territory gets 25% of the recurrent budget. As an economy measure this financial year, staffing of the Department of Education head office was cut back by 10%, and school staffing formulas are being enforced. Even so, 163 new positions were created to cater for expanded demand in urban and rural centres, and 43 new positions were specifically allocated for Aboriginal people. In the Northern Territory the staffing formula is applied across the board on a basis of average attendance +15%.

The Schools Commission found, two years ago, that the numbers of teaching and staffing positions in schools in Aboriginal communities in the Territory, is three times the national average.

Staffing of urban Territory schools is as good as any in Australia, and schools in Aboriginal communities are much better staffed than urban schools. Public service staff includes teaching assistants and other people involved in the bilingual program. Let me give some examples:

Shepherdson College, Galiwinku (Aboriginal Community)-Enrolment 235; Average Attendance 157; Teaching Service staff 17 (1:9.2); Public Service staff 13 (1:12).

Tennant Creek Primary School (Urban)-Enrolment 205; Average Attendance 174; Teaching Service staff 9 (1:19); Public Service staff 3 (1:58).

Sanderson Primary School (Urban)-Enrolment 280; Average Attendance 250; Teaching Service staff 14 (1:17); Public Service staff 3 (1:83).

Lajamanu (Aboriginal Community)-Enrolment 197; Average Attendance 140; Teaching Service staff 12 (1:12); Public Service staff 9 (1:15).

I attach a copy of a letter from Chief Minister Ian Tuxworth, to the Chairman of the Aboriginal Education Committee, which I think gives some background to the matter.


Member for the Northern Territory

13 September 1985

The Hon. C. A. Blanchard, M.P.


Select Committee on Aboriginal Education

Parliament House

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Mr Blanchard

I refer to your letter of 23 August 1985 seeking clarification of a number of issues relating to Aboriginal Education in the Northern Territory.

While I appreciate that you have been contacted by a number of sources, I am pleased that you have raised the matter with me so that I may take the opportunity to put the record straight and to ensure that you receive accurate information, and not that based on self interest and misunderstanding.

There has not been a review of the staffing formula in Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory. Rather, in line with all Government Departments and as a result of the reductions in funding provided by the Commonwealth, the Education Department has found it necessary to review its overall expenditure and to ensure that schools are staffed strictly according to formula.

Staffing entitlements are determined by a generous formula and the staffing formula for Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory is the best in Australia.

The position of Principal at Lajamanu has been reclassified according to the level to which the school is entitled. This is determined by the operation of a formula which has been in use for a number of years. As a result in 1986 the school will be classified at the Band III level. According to the formula Lajamanu is in fact extremely close to becoming a Band II school.

Lajamanu school is currently staffed by one Band IV principal, one Band III assistant principal, two Band II senior teachers and four Band I teachers. Additional staff include a teacher held against a teacher librarians' position, a teacher linguist, six full time teacher assistants, four part time teacher assistants and three full time and two part time ancillary staff. The home liaison officer recently resigned. Overall the school has twice the number of staff which an urban school of similar attendance would have.

You must agree that for a school with an enrolment of 171 students but an attendance average of only 124 students that the staffing allocation for 1985 is very generous. You should also be aware that for a school to be entitled to a Band IV Principal an average attendance by at least 255 students is usually required. You should also be aware that the changes mooted will not take effect until 1986. If the attendance rate improves then staff entitlement will be reassessed.

In retaining the staff at the level accepted for a Band III school in 1986, the Northern Territory Government is more than adequately demonstrating its commitment to Aboriginal education.

With respect to Aboriginal assistant teachers, adjustments are being made because of enrolment fluctuations. Some schools with falling enrolments are losing staff while others will be gaining staff. There is no attempt being made to reduce the overall number of assistant teachers. Indeed, this is likely to increase as attendance rates improve.

I do not agree with your assertion that the RATE program will suffer. This program is currently conducted principally through the auspices of a lecturer who travels to the community from Batchelor College. This will continue.

The same situation applies to the Bilingual program. It is true that the number of linguists has been reduced by two-one of these positions having been vacant for some time. This means that new work may have to be staged but existing programs will not be prejudiced. The Bilingual Unit within the Department of Education has not been disbanded. The Bilingual program has been operating for several years and has been an outstanding success as was stated to you during your time in the Northern Territory. It is continuing to operate.

Overall, the Northern Territory Budget provides several major developments in Aboriginal education including provision for establishment grants for 43 Homeland Centres and the employment of the additional 43 assistant teachers. This is despite having had to absorb substantial reductions in Commonwealth funding.

I feel sure you will agree that this information clarifies the issues to which you have drawn my attention, and confirms previous policies as stated to your committee by the Northern Territory Department of Education.

Finally, I note with great disappointment that your government has again made only a token attempt to implement the recommendations of the CSC/NAEC report, `Funding Priorities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education.' Officers in the Northern Territory spent a great deal of time and effort working with the Commonwealth on this report and once again the hopes of schools have not been realised. I trust your Committee will actively support the CSC/NAEC recommendations as they greatly benefit Northern Territory school children.

Yours sincerely,


Senator KILGARIFF —I thank the Senate. Finally, as a further indication of what is happening and how encouragement can be given by people of all walks of life-people in industry and what have you-I refer to a report in the Northern Territory News of 30 November 1985 entitled `Executive plan to help Aborigines'. It is about a plan for an executive training course designed exclusively for Aborigines. The scheme will take young Aboriginal people from all walks of life and train them to a level which it is hoped will make them acceptable as executives to government, private enterprise and Aboriginal organisations. That is an indication of the steps being taken now. It is another step forward. As I said once before, if we could only take the controversy out of Aboriginal affairs and Aboriginal education I believe the problems which exist in this area could be put aside, perhaps more readily than they can now, more readily than if we continue to deal in confrontation. I seek leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard the news item I referred to.

Leave granted.

The article read as follows-

Plans for an executive training course designed exclusively for Aborigines was revealed by the Chief Minister, Mr Ian Tuxworth yesterday.

The radical scheme will take people from all walks of life and train them to a level which it is hoped will make them acceptable as executives to government, private enterprise and Aboriginal organisations.

Mr Tuxworth sees the development of executive talent as an important step towards ending Aboriginal reliance on so-called white advisers.

``It's time to focus on developing Aboriginal executives,'' he said.

Plans are far from finalised, but Mr Tuxworth hopes to implement the scheme early next year.

Career path guidelines will be laid down by an Aboriginal working party.

The working party met Mr Tuxworth and Public Service Commissioner, Dr Keith Fleming, this week.


Mr Tuxworth forsees an initial intake of about 25 trainees.

Training will take from 18 months to four years depending on the individual.

It is anticipated successful applicants will enter the training scheme on a contract basis.

Educational qualifications will be no bar for acceptance to the scheme.

``They could be nursing sisters or truck drivers,'' Mr Tuxworth said.

``The sort of people we're looking for must have a desire to succeed, a will to win and the ability to do things most executives can do.''

Leadership qualities will be another sought after attribute.

Mr Tuxworth said once they gained full-time employment the executives would provide important role models for other Aborigines.

How candidates for the scheme will be selected is one of the matters still under consideration.

``We're happy to be guided by the working party on that,'' Mr Tuxworth said.

Mr Tuxworth is confident those who complete the course will find employment.

``There is a demand in the private sector for Aboriginal executives,'' he said.

Despite this, Mr Tuxworth acknowledges the Public Service will be the major employer.