Senate debates

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

3:45 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to continue my remarks on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Bill 2013. I was reflecting on the importance of maintaining consistent funding so that individuals, communities and educators can sensibly plan to ensure that we close the gap in education. For those who are thinking about the gap in this area, I will put a couple of statistics on the record. In the Northern Territory, year 3 reading for non-Indigenous in very remote areas is 95.8 per cent; for Indigenous, it is 22.1 per cent. Year 3 persuasive writing for mainstream individuals is 93.8 per cent and meets the national benchmark; for Indigenous, it is 17.2 per cent. Year 3 spelling for mainstream individuals in remote schools is 96 per cent and meets the benchmark; if you are Indigenous, it is 26 per cent. For grammar and punctuation, only 12.6 per cent of Indigenous students in very remote areas meet the benchmark. For year 3 numeracy, 23.3 per cent of Indigenous students in very remote areas meet the benchmark and do not have any chance of going on to most of the sciences. Year 5 reading for students in very remote areas is 8.6 per cent against 94.1 per cent for mainstream students in exactly the same schools. For year 5 persuasive writing, only 9.9 per cent of Aboriginal students in Northern Territory very remote schools meet the national standard and, in the same schools, it is 94.1 per cent for mainstream students—and the list goes on. It is very similar in other areas: there are massive gaps.

On this short-term approach, where we are now only funded for one year and only for three programs over that one year, I would certainly like to provide the government with some feedback. I, along with the communities and the individuals in the education system who are subject to the vagaries of this government's approach to education funding, think this is appalling. They are confused—and I can understand that. This bill does provide funding. It is an appropriation bill that will allow some adjustment to the education component of Stronger Futures and the national partnership that is specifically for the nutrition program, additional teachers and some other programs. This is typical of Labor's approach: a short-term approach for no practical reason. We have Stronger Futures. Instead of having a one-year approach, we have 10 years—out of the blue. Stronger Futures is a 10-year program, so we can say that in this particular area the sums look bigger. Whether they will possibly be doing the same things in 10 years time, who would know? You can only guess.

There is a stark contrast in the government's policy in the very important provision of these appropriations. In last year's budget, Labor cut $22 million off the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program—a program, I have to say, that succeeded very much in closing the gap. We sent our best and brightest Aboriginal and Islander youth to the nation's best boarding schools. That was fantastic. But $22 million was cut from the program. Cynically, when the government were announcing Stronger Futures—isn't that wonderful?—I wondered where that money came from. Of course, we found out later through the estimates process that it actually came from the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program. After a lot of hard work and some intense pressure from my colleagues and from me, but mostly from the NGOs and the communities lobbying the government, this week Garrett, in another shameless ploy, had the audacity to trumpet a $22 million—remember that figure—investment in exactly the same programs that he cut the year before.

Whilst I support these appropriations—and I support the bill because it is going to have some value—in this matter, where we normally have a bipartisan approach, I would call on the government to have less spin and more substance.

3:50 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators for their contribution and commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.