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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1422

Senator SCHACHT(1.02 p.m.) —I am delighted to speak in support of this bill which will provide an additional $95.7 million to improve Aboriginal education opportunities. I am especially pleased because this bill is the result of an initiative of the former federal Labor government. To save the time of the Senate, I seek leave to incorporate the rest of my remarks in Hansard .

Senator Vanstone —Mr Acting Deputy President, we are grateful for the cooperation of the opposition and other parties in getting this matter dealt with in an uncontroversial fashion, but I am not aware that it is standard practice to incorporate a speech on the second reading without other parties having the opportunity to have a look at it.

Senator SCHACHT —You don't want me to read it out, do you? The whips will shoot you if you do.

Senator Vanstone —Mr Acting Deputy President, you might like to give me some advice here. I am certainly not keen to establish a precedent that it is okay to come in and drop a speech on the government with a few minutes notice, but I am equally not keen to delay Senator Schacht or anybody else.

Senator SCHACHT —Do you want to have a look at it?

Senator Vanstone —Yes; the point is that we would have liked to have had a look at it so that we could give you the opportunity to incorporate it, but it is difficult for me to have a look at it while I am taking the time of the Senate to make my own contribution.

Senator SCHACHT —I know, I appreciate that, but it just turned up my desk one second before I read it out.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan) — I am aware, Senator Vanstone, that it has occurred in previous times, with not only opposition senators but third party senators being given leave to incorporate speeches in the Hansard . Leave has even, in some cases, been given to incorporate when there was not enough time to complete the speech.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I only recently received a copy. Unfortunately, Senator Bolkus, who was handling the matter for the opposition, had a medical appointment and is unable to be here, and his office provided his speaking notes to Senator Schacht. I just make the point that the opposition has agreed for this bill to be listed as a non-controversial item in order to allow the government to get the legislation passed. In that spirit of cooperation, I briefly spoke to Senator Vanstone, asking for permission for the speech to be incorporated rather than delay the Senate by having Senator Schacht read it. I appreciate that it was very short notice, but, as I say, I did indicate to her that I do not think there is anything controversial in the speech, and the request was designed to allow the government to proceed with its agenda.

Senator Vanstone —I have now had an opportunity to have a quick perusal of the speech and I have no objection to it being incorporated. I just want to reiterate the point that my personal view is that it is a very dangerous practice for people to come in and drop a speech. Of course a mate, if told that there is nothing controversial in it, is going to say that there is nothing controversial in it. Then you find later that you have allowed into Hansard something that you would not have allowed someone to say were they standing in this place.

Medical appointments, funerals, luncheon appointments—whatever—aside, I fail to see that people not attending in this place should have less scrutiny from their colleagues than those who can make the time to be here. Nonetheless, I have had the opportunity to read the speech and I am quite happy for it to be incorporated.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

I am delighted to speak in support of this bill, which will provide an additional $95.7 million to improve Aboriginal educational opportunities. I am especially pleased because this bill is the result of an initiative of the Federal Labor government.

In setting up the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in 1993, the former government was recognising the fact, stated in the 1994-95 report Social Justice for Indigenous Australians , that `Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were. . . the poorest, sickest, most unemployed and least educated of all Australians'.

The review was established to examine the operation of the first triennium of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (AEP). The AEP began in 1990 as a national effort between the Commonwealth, the states and territories and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to strategically address the educational needs of indigenous Australians.

The AEP identified 21 goals under four main themes: involvement, access, participation and outcomes, particularly recognising the fundamental importance of the involvement of indigenous people at all stages of decision making.

The original joint policy statement of the AEP in 1989 acknowledged the power of education to improve the quality of life for people from financially impoverished backgrounds:

Numerous reviews, inquiries and consultations conducted in recent years have all demonstrated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people place a high priority on education. They want for themselves and their children no less by way of educational opportunity than is afforded other Australians. They expect that educational processes should lead them to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to realise their individual potential, lead satisfying lives, and contribute actively to the community. They look to education as a means of moving out of poverty and welfare dependency, enabling them to earn income through employment or enterprise and to manage the development of their communities.

Five years after the AEP was established was a suitable time to consider the extent to which it had met expectations in terms of the 21 goals.

The review praised the AEP for delivering more funding stability in the form of triennial rather than annual arrangements, for fostering co-operation between governments, federal, territory and state, and between education sectors, and for identifying the need for more culturally appropriate curricula.

Not surprisingly, it also found that the AEP's first three years held some lessons for its future operation. In terms of educational participation and attainment, the review found that improvements, although evident, were inconsistent across sectors and systems.

It found that many parents now have an avenue for becoming directly involved in their children's schooling through the establishment of over 2,500 parent committees under the Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness Program (ASSPA).

It also found that the co-operative national approach of the AEP had encouraged the development of Aboriginal studies and Torres Strait Islander studies as part of the curriculum in an increasing number of educational institutions.

These kinds of improvements were not seen uniformly across the country, however, and addressed to only a limited extent the extreme educational disadvantage facing our indigenous population.

The review made 44 recommendations designed to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's experience of education.

Sixteen of the recommendations apply specifically to the Commonwealth, while others involve the state and territory governments and non-government education authorities.

The former government responded to the review in September last year, announcing a package of measures which included those incorporated in this bill. The response announced the Labor government's intention to make the Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program recurrent, and this measure is a key part of the bill we are considering today. It will provide greater stability of funding as well as ensuring that funds remain commensurate with enrolments.

It will also simplify funding arrangements, addressing complaints made to the review about the time spent preparing submissions.

In line with review recommendation 37, the proposal is to provide funds on a per capita basis, and in a way which reflects the differing costs of educational provision across sectors, and in remote and non-remote areas.

I note that the government intends these changes to accompany a more accountable, outcomes-focussed process for the distribution of Commonwealth funds. There is no doubt that we need to continue down the path set by the previous government in placing a high priority on establishing comprehensive and up-to-date data bases across all sectors of education and training, so that the performance of the AEP in meeting its objectives can be properly evaluated.

The previous government also obtained agreement from most states to increase their effort in Aboriginal education expenditure in order to access a pool of Commonwealth money in the form of strategic results projects.

The opposition will be most interested in arrangements made with the states as a result of this bill. We would expect the government to ensure that commitments made by the states to increase effort are not permitted to lapse due to any reduction in commitment by the Commonwealth, or any diminution of resolve on the part of the Commonwealth. There is far too much at stake.

In closing, I would like to congratulate the chair of the reference group overseeing the review, Mandawuy Yunupingu, the deputy chair, Romina Fujii, and the other members of the reference group, on the excellent job they did.

I would also like to say that real improvements can be made in indigenous education if all governments work together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We have come some of the way; this bill takes us further toward our goal.