Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Matters of Public Importance
Australian Constitution: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
No, they do. If you want to be a doctor working in an Indigenous community, if you want to be a teacher teaching kids in Indigenous community, if you want to be a nurse helping people in Indigenous communities then things like uni are important. We need to make sure that more young Indigenous people—not just Indigenous people but more young people from electorates like Spence, where barely more than seven per cent have got a uni degree—get a crack at TAFE and uni, so fee-free TAFE places are important. The legislation in the parliament is important too.
But, if we're really going to fix this, we've got to go back before university; we've got go back to school, because this is where the problem is at its most obvious. NAPLAN results tell us that one in 10 young people at the moment fall behind the minimum standard. But it's not one in 10 Indigenous kids that fall behind the minimum standard; it's one in three. The NAPLAN data also tells us that if you fall behind at primary school when you're eight then you're more likely than not to still be behind when you're 15 at high school. Believe it or not, only one in five kids who are behind when they're eight have caught up by the time they're 15. I still believe in the power of education, but that number shocks me. Think about this, colleagues: only 20 per cent of kids who fall behind when they're little have caught up by the time they're 15—one in five—and it's only one in 17 Indigenous kids. They're basically locked out of the system. One in 17 Indigenous kids who fall behind when they're little have caught up by the time they're older at high school. That explains why so many kids aren't finishing high school, that explains why we're now seeing a drop in the number of kids finishing high school and that explains why there are so few Indigenous young people at university getting a university degree. What a waste. This is what we've got to fix. This is what all Australians want us to fix.
I've said many times that I don't want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your mum and dad are or where you live or the colour of your skin. No Australian does. But if we are honest with ourselves they are today. Again, the hard facts show us that, and fixing that is what the Universities Accord is all about. It's also what the next National School Reform Agreement will be all about—closing the funding gap for our schools but also this education gap, this gap in opportunity.
At the moment non-government schools are funded at about 100 per cent of the Gonski level of schooling resource standard. Some are above and some below. They'll all be at 100 per cent by the end of the decade. No public schools are, except in the ACT. Over the course of the next decade they'll top out, unless action is taken, at about 95 per cent. So what we do here working with the states and territories is important, but so is what that money is spent on, and nowhere is that more important than in places like the Northern Territory and in particular Central Australia. It is hard to find a place where there is greater disadvantage or a bigger education gap than there. That's why we're investing $40 million in 40 schools in Central Australia next year, allocated to get all of them to 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard. That means the most underfunded schools in Central Australia will get the most funding. At the moment, non-government schools in the Northern Territory receive on average about 97 per cent of that core funding level. Government schools, by contrast, are at 80 per cent. So if we talk about gaps, that is a massive gap. And, unless action is taken, that gap won't close until 2050.
This investment in schools, both public and private schools in Central Australia, mean that those 46 schools will get to that full funding level next year—in other words, 26 years early. I think that's a good thing, but it isn't just that: it's making sure that it's tied to the sorts of things that are going to work. These are things like early intervention in literacy and numeracy support for the sorts of kids I've spoken about today, who fall behind. There are three big pieces of work happening in my portfolio: the Universities Accord; the O'Brien review into school education funding and what it's tied to; and the early education work that we need to do before a child even starts at school. More work is needed there. The three of those will come together next year to form a blueprint for us about education for the next decade and beyond. This is for all of us to work together on to build a better and fairer education system for Australia—in particular, for Indigenous kids.