House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience

10:43 am

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State (House)) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the power of mentoring and its impact in fighting inequality;

(2) recognises the outstanding work of the AIME mentoring program;

(3) notes that:

(a) 15,000 Indigenous high schoolers and 5,000 university students have been through the AIME program since it began in 2005;

(b) the program aims to mobilise a generation of university students to volunteer and mentor disadvantaged high school students; and

(c) the program is helping to close the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; and

(4) calls on the Government to explore how AIME's successful model can be strengthened to help address Indigenous inequality and assist other marginalised Australians.

Destiny is a proud and confident young Indigenous woman. She wasn't always like that. She was raised in foster care, taunted and bullied about her weight and her culture with cruel slurs that I won't repeat in here, but the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, or AIME, changed her life from when she joined it around 2014. In mentoring she found meaning and motivation and she now dreams of a future in photography.

Almost 10 years ago a young man knocked on my door, and we stayed in touch ever since. His name is Jack Manning Bancroft, and he started AIME in 2005 as a 19-year-old university student. His idea was as simple as it was difficult to crack. He was all about bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in education, getting them further down the pathway of education, building bridges between powerful people and the powerless, between school and university, between mentors and mentees—a cause taken up and advanced by so many others, including my friends in the gallery today Darren, Steph, Alex and Ben, who we spent some time with this morning. We thank you for your time and your commitment to such an important cause.

Mentoring is not some soft or fuzzy concept. It is cheap and scalable. For every dollar invested in AIME, for example, there's been something like $9 of value harvested, according to a KPMG study. And it's not a new concept either. As I was talking to Jack on the weekend, he reminded me that mentoring has been at the very core of 60,000 years of Australian culture and history. Its usefulness is not limited or narrow either. Just because it has found extraordinary success in Indigenous education here in Australia doesn't mean it can't solve some of our other challenges here and around the world. That's why this successful model developed here in Australia, the AIME model, is being adopted in South Africa and Uganda and also amongst our own African communities of Australians here at home.

Deputy Speaker, as you know, the defining challenge of our time is inequality, and inequality has many constituent parts that I unfortunately recognise daily in my own community of Logan City and the southern suburbs of Brisbane. Social immobility and marginalisation, locational and intergenerational disadvantage, racial and other forms of discrimination, underresourced schools, poor health outcomes—the list goes on and on and on. As many of my colleagues know, including some who will speak after me today, all of those forms of disadvantage can too often be allowed to become despair.

It may be that the answer to these challenges, or at least part of the answer, has been hiding in plain sight. It may be that the Indigenous high school students and the university students associated with AIME have done more than build one of the most successful movements in our country. Maybe they've shown us how to start fixing the problems that we too often dismiss as intractable problems. There's absolutely no reason why mentoring can't be one of the ways that we knit this country back together after too many years and too much division. But it will take a change in thinking, not just here in this building but out there in the community as well.

As AIME says, it will take 'a permanent shift in mindset' to 'end the cycle of disadvantage'. It will require us to genuinely treat somebody else's success as our own. It will require us to recognise that success is not a zero-sum game where, for someone to do well, somebody else must fail. It will require us to spend as much time and effort building bridges as we do walls. It will require us to appreciate the value in encouraging people to reach back and help each other along. And it will require us to get behind AIME and the thousands of young people who have reminded us to go about it and why it matters, to learn from the examples that they have set for us, drawing on the amazing work of our friends in AIME and all of the people they have helped to build more fulfilling lives, based on the good work and goodwill of tens of thousands of Australians and tens of thousands of years of culture as well, to end the cycle of disadvantage wherever we can.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:48 am

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. This morning, I met with one of the most amazing organisations doing wonderful and empowering work with our First Nations people. In the chamber today, we have the AIME deputy CEO, Ben Abbatangelo, and AIME staff members Darren Brady, Steph Beck and Alex Jackson. I want to congratulate them on their excellent work and service to our First Nations young people. AIME is different. There is no other way to describe this program. It is a concept of the mind, a shift that actually works.

A recent study from McKinsey which investigated half a million students across 72 countries found that those with a 'growth mindset' outperformed those with a 'fixed mindset'—that is, those who believed that they could improve with hard work did actually do better. It also discovered that mindset was the most powerful individual factor in lifting a student's educational performance, even more so than socioeconomic status.

AIME is a mentoring program for our First Nations people. It empowers First Nations children with the intention of connecting university students with an Indigenous high school student—to connect those with power with those who are being left behind. Since its inception 13 years ago, the results have been truly outstanding, proving the findings in the McKinsey report. Where there is support for a growth mindset, students will succeed. Since the first group of 25 kids, 15,000 Indigenous high school students and 5,000 university students have been through the program. It is the largest volunteer movement of university students in Australian history. AIME has managed to close the education gap for this group. Seventy-five per cent of non-Indigenous people aged between 17 and 24 are in employment, university or further training. For our First Nations people, the rate is 42 per cent. AIME kids have closed the gap, heading into jobs or university at 75-plus per cent for the last six continuous years.

In further measuring AIME's impact, Australian universities have completed independent research that has found the program to be one of the best activities that university students can do during their studies. The same body of research has found what we may have expected—that these kids have an increased sense of strength of identity, purpose and aspiration. As an economic solution for governments, KPMG found that, for every dollar invested in AIME, the return on investment is $7 into the Australian economy. We are talking about a scaleable, cost-effective solution in alleviating disadvantage, one that keeps communities where they are and gives them a hand to band together. As a solution that crosses racial and social division, not only does this program change children's lives; its return is both uplifting and economical.

Recently, a letter to the world was co-signed by over 30 leaders, including 15 Australian university leaders and Australia's first female Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. It led with the sentence:

It's not every day that an idea that can change the world comes across your desk.

That is exactly what this program achieves. I have seen firsthand what this program has done for people in the electorate of Herbert. There are AIME members at James Cook University. If you want to lift people out of poverty, the most effective way to break the vicious cycle of poverty is through education. AIME ends the cycle of injustice by providing real mentorship that ensures our First Nations children get a fair go and a chance at a wonderful future. Getting a chance for a better life is important and getting a chance to break a cycle is critically important, because everyone needs to have a chance to achieve in their life.

10:52 am

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the member for Rankin and the member for Herbert for bringing this motion into the House and for seconding it. I know AIME very well. We're not allowed to have props in the House, but I have brought the sweatshirt that representatives from AIME gave me the last time they were here. I just can't hold it up, but they're wearing it in the gallery today. That's fantastic.

I also recognise the wonderful work that the AIME mentors and the people who work at AIME do. In particular I want to recognise their CEO and founder, Jack Manning Bancroft, who has just been the most incredible inspiration for all of us. He was one of the youngest CEOs ever at the age of 19 when AIME was founded in 2005. He was also New South Wales Young Australian of the Year last year or the year before. There has been an Australian Story program called 'Turning the Tables' made about Jack—in many ways an inspiration for this amazing program.

We all know what intergenerational disruption can do to one's life, but AIME—and I have seen it in action, I have spoken at some of its courses and I have seen the amazing students who put their hands up to be mentors and the young school students who are being mentored—is very much a practical, sensible way to make sure that young Indigenous students get the same sorts of outcomes in education as everyone else and see university as part of their life course and life journey, which of course was not the case a generation ago.

I cannot tell you how important AIME is in closing the gap. It really is about providing the resources and capacity to empower First Nations Australians. We know that one of the clear messages coming out of the discussions about reconciliation and Indigenous recognition is that First Nations Australians need to be more involved in the formulation of the laws and policies which affect First Nations people. And that is the power of AIME: it's self-determination in action. It's people who feel that they want to provide or give back, and that's also what AIME allows them to do.

There are so many people who really want to be part of the Indigenous story in this country in a really positive way, and AIME provides the mechanism for that to happen. As I said, it also makes sure that young Indigenous students see university as a normal part of life and see it as something that's achievable. It demystifies university and makes it a reality for so many young people.

I don't want to add very much more to what has been said. I think that when you look at mentoring and the power of mentoring, we have all, in one way or another, either had formal or informal mentors—every single one of us. That has made such a difference to our lives, and it makes such a difference to the lives of the young people who we mentor.

Education is the key to unlocking disadvantage. Education is the key to providing a life of choice and chances, and that is the power of AIME. I just want to thank them and put on record, along with my colleagues on both sides of the House, just how extraordinary they are and how important they are to the future generations of young Indigenous people in this country.

10:57 am

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak in support of the member for Rankin's motion which recognises this wonderful organisation, AIME.

Mentoring is vitally important. Research demonstrates that mentoring can have a positive impact on the behavioural, academic and vocational outcomes of vulnerable young people. And we know that mentoring is used throughout education to improve inclusivity in the classroom, to assist learning, to support vulnerable students, to promote positive links to the wider community and to enable students to benefit from that important support from their peers. And it seems an effective tool to assist in ending a cycle of disadvantage and inequality.

Shamefully, inequality and inequity are still present, whether in the form of intentional and vocal bigotry and bias or through systemic and generational barriers. Indeed, shamefully, just last week in our parliament we saw racist, bigoted and hurtful comments made. I stand with all those who forcefully reject those extreme views and continue to fight against those views. This is an example of one of the many barriers faced and where we must have change.

Of course, one of the biggest barriers we have to remove is difficulty in access to education. We know that inequality extends to education, with many people—especially young Indigenous people—not accessing educational opportunities. Factors leading to the inequity are many and varied. There are many systemic barriers which we as individuals, communities and government must work to break down. We have to provide the support, encouragement and funding to mobilise people to get involved.

It is this guidance and mentoring that is proven to assist many students to navigate decisions around which paths are best suited to them. Organisations like AIME are helping so much to break down these barriers through the effective medium of positive mentoring, which works towards bridging and closing the gap, and providing guidance and support for Indigenous students through the transition from high school into their adult lives.

As we've heard, AIME was founded by Jack Manning Bancroft in 2005 when he was only a 19-year-old university student. I might add that Jack's mum, Robyn, lives in Byron Bay in my electorate. Her artwork is recognised and well-known right around the world. Since AIME's foundation, around 15,000 students from high school have been mentored by over 5,000 university students. This is incredible growth from the 25 young people in Redfern that Jack began with. At 22, Jack was a CEO. In 2016 he became the youngest person in Australian history to receive an honorary doctorate, from the University of South Australia. This followed a number of awards and recognitions, including an honorary fellowship from the University of Western Sydney, a Healthy Harold education award, the University of Sydney young alumni of the year award, New South Wales Young Australian of the Year, an Australian Human Rights Medal and GQ Man of Inspiration.

AIME has also won numerous awards for its mentoring program, as featured in many articles in The Sydney Morning Herald, in the AustralianFinancial Review and also featured on television, The Drum and on The Project. Fourteen years on, the organisation is now branching out and running a global campaign in Uganda and South Africa. AIME has over 100 staff working around Australia in 40 different regions to bring the promise of Indigenous success to life. Seventy-three to 78 per cent of AIME students aged 17 to 25 are attending university and other training or are in employment. Historical data shows a comparison of only 40 per cent of non-AIME students in the same position. So this is a proven success; Indigenous students who complete the AIME program finish high school and transition to university, employment or other further training at almost the same rate as non-Indigenous students, effectively closing the gap. This program is clearly working. It is effective and has demonstrated a clearly positive impact on the lives of people involved, people like Taylor Laurie, who lives in my electorate of Richmond, who has been both a mentee and mentor for AIME.

So, like my colleagues here today, who have all spoken in support of AIME, I too call on the government and encourage them to explore this very, very successful model of mentoring. We know that it works. We know how successful it's been. We need to look at how we can strengthen and extend programs such as this to help address both Indigenous inequality and indeed the quality of life and educational opportunities for others who could really benefit from the success of mentoring.

The Closing the Gap report recognised that a common feature of programs that successfully encourage an increase in Indigenous attendance of school was creative collaboration between families and the community. AIME has been so successful in building on such collaboration since 2005. I commend their outstanding work and look forward to seeing how models like this can be adopted elsewhere. I commend Jack and everybody else involved with AIME. It is a hugely successful mentoring program offering such great support and guidance to young Indigenous people. Congratulations.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to. There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.