Monday, 3 March 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. Could the minister update the Senate on the implementation of the Remote School Attendance Strategy following his visits recently to the NT, WA and my home state of Queensland in the past month?
Thank you to Senator Boyce and thank you for your support during my visit to Queensland. This is a top priority for this government to get Aboriginal and Islander children to school. We have set ourselves a target of 90 per cent, for the reason that that is no different to anyone in the mainstream—attendance is at about 90 per cent, give or take some sick days and those sorts of things.
As of last week, to achieve this—on the philosophy that we should be employing Aboriginal and Islander people from those communities—we got over 300 school attendance officers, who met all of those checks and balances, and we have another hundred or so to employ. The only hold-up with that has been in getting some of them Working with Children certificates. The duties of these officers are not just to get bums on seats; they are to assist in getting kids to school, they are to assist with breakfast programs and they are to assist in the classroom, especially with kids who are not used to the classroom situation. Most importantly, these officers ensure that there is a liaison with the parents so that we can maximise the benefits of having kids in school.
We will be providing additional funding of $180 per child to assist with uniforms, transport and any other impediments to getting kids to school. I have visited kids in schools in Galiwinku, Gunbalanya, Yuendumu, Tennant Creek, Ali Curung, Carnarvon, Roebourne, Meekatharra and Palm Island to hear about the wide range of challenges facing those schools. The thing that remains absolutely constant is the decision to employ Aboriginal people from the community who can sit down and respect the community's views about the schools. That is what underpins this process. In Meekatharra it was not hard to understand how difficult it would be to go to work at 8.30 in the morning when it is 38 degrees. (Time expired)
I have done a bit of research on most of the school attendance officers. When I visited St Michael's School in Palm Island I was cranky to learn as soon as I got there that three of my perfectly good attendance officers had been poached by the department of education in Queensland.
I could not be happier with the result, because school attendance officers are not the end of the game; this is an incubation place where people can see them at work, as part of the education system. That will hopefully continue into the future. Interestingly, the police contacted me to see if there were any impediments to them doing the same sort of thing with respect to recruiting.
These people are respected by the community, they are already engaged and they have already demonstrated an excellent work ethic, particularly in the area of communicating. These skills will be used right across the spectrum. I certainly hope that other organisations see this as being an incubator, not an endgame. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Could the minister tell the Senate if the early limited data that we have on the school attendance strategy indicates whether the program is making a difference or not?
This program has been in place for only a limited period of time, but across the board we have seen substantive increases in school attendance. The program is in week 6 now in Gunbalanya, and attendance is still up by about 25 per cent. By week 3 in Wogayala, attendance was up by about 54 per cent. By week 3 in term 1 in Maningrida, attendance was up by about 28 per cent. When I say it is a bit of a mixed bag, certainly no-one is resting on their laurels. I think it has gone extremely well thus far. Across the country well over 600 Aboriginal children who are attending school today would not have been attending were it not for this initiative.
There is some cynicism—perhaps healthy cynicism—about the fact that we need to continue to provide resources to ensure not only that children get to school but that they get a good education. I would assure everyone in this space that I will be ensuring that the states and territories are kept to their end of the bargain in providing the necessary education resources. (Time expired)