House debates

Tuesday, 8 August 2023

Questions without Notice

Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Voice

2:46 pm

Photo of Louise Miller-FrostLouise Miller-Frost (Boothby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Skills and Training. How will an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice help to deliver better skills outcomes for First Nations Australians?

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Boothby for her question. It was great to be at Tonsley TAFE in her electorate recently. She's doing a magnificent job and she's quite right to ask this question.

Establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament is about giving the world's oldest continuing culture a legitimate stake in the policies that directly affect their communities. In particular there's no doubt—and I think everyone, if they were genuine, would agree—that if you engage with communities you get better results. That is the truth.

It's fair to say that never has it been more true than when it comes to education and training. Because of its transformative power, education actually changes individuals and communities. That is why state and territory skills ministers, as a part of the negotiation of the National Skills Agreement, will ensure that we aim to close the gap in educational attainment under that National Skills Agreement. It's also true to say that we have had some positive progress. I'm asked: are we doing things already? We've got 4,000 fee-free TAFE places with Indigenous Australians enrolled in those courses, but there's more to be done.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Barker is warned.

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

That's what the other side doesn't seem to understand. There's more to be done, but it's fair to say that First Nations people continue to face barriers to skills, with tertiary education attainment significantly lower than other Australians. That's the truth of it. To take one example, 47 per cent of First Nations people aged between 25 and 34 have attained a tertiary qualification. It is 76 per cent for all other Australians. There's a 30 per cent gap between the educational attainments, and we need to do much more.

It's also estimated that 40 per cent of First Nations adults have minimal English literacy. It's why the government is fundamentally reforming the way the Commonwealth delivers foundation skills. Last month in Darwin during NAIDOC week, accompanied by the member for Solomon and Senator McCarthy, I announced a specific Indigenous stream which will engage local communities supporting 2,000 First Nations people. There's also a very good pilot run by Literacy for Life Foundation at Tennant Creek which I visited with the member for Lingiari. The reason why it works is that it engages directly with First Nations people.

These are good but piecemeal initiatives. We need an engagement that's deeper and broader and that will be provided if we have a voice—something those opposite genuinely understand but refuse to support.