I have in many contexts used an expression in the past, and I use it again today, that I want to see an Australia of all the talents. A country that nurtures, develops and rewards the human creativity within every individual – irrespective of their race, their colour or their background and an Australia where every child has the chance to make the most of their potential. I share Mick’s frustration at the underreporting of the good news stories and the focus on the bad. Horror stories do make headlines, while the countless small triumphs of self-discipline, hard work and community responsibility that shine a torch for others to follow, goes sadly unreported.
Quitsysha Frith, a 16-year old student from the Northern Territory, at one time faced what too many of her contemporaries in indigenous Australia confront – a bleak and aimless future because she dropped out of school. But to her credit she went back to school, she worked every day, she completed Year 12 and was awarded the Northern Territory Remote Indigenous Student of the Year. She’s now making the most of her talents studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts with the aim of being a pioneer in indigenous contemporary art.
Now this is not a government achievement. It’s her personal achievement. And it is part of a larger story of educational progress, albeit one with which none of us can be in any way content. But it is worth saying that 40 per cent of indigenous students progress to Year 12 in 2004. And that compares with 29 per cent in 1996 – an improvement, a big improvement – but still a long way to go particularly when you bear in mind that the figure for the rest of community is double that, close to 80 per cent.
The number of indigenous students in vocational and technical education has almost doubled in the last 10 years, from 32,315 to 62,726. Now they’re just figures but they’re important figures because there’s a sense that we’re marking time or even going backwards in some of these areas, and that’s not the case. And the proportion of indigenous adults aged between 25 and 64 with a vocational or higher education qualification has never been higher. And the proportion with a certificate or diploma has also risen significantly.
Now a lot more needs to be done but we are making some progress in that very important area of greater school retention and more going on to tertiary education. And when we look at what happens to those who graduate, show a couple of interesting comparisons. The most recent figures show that the full-time employment rate for indigenous graduates was 80.1 per cent, which is in fact slightly higher than what it is for non-indigenous graduates, at 78.6 per cent. And also interestingly average starting salaries for indigenous bachelor level graduates were also higher than for other graduates. Once again, a small snapshot, not something in which we should be in any way complacent.
But I do think these things need to be said, lest people lose what they should never lose, and that is some kind of sense of hope and optimism, that we can make progress. So there is some good news and we ought to understand that, but it ought to, very particularly inspire us to do even better and try even harder. And that, of course, is where the contribution of so many companies represented in this room today is very important. And the partnerships involving companies, governments and individuals have made an enormous contribution. Because local communities working to support safe and healthy learning environments, doing their best, is the environment for lifting the educational horizons of all Australians and in particular indigenous Australians.
It means of course that parents and carers must make sure that their children go to school every day, well fed and ready to learn. And it also means that there has to be a determined attempt by governments at all levels to ensure that that happens. But whilst the Commonwealth Government does not own or run schools, I can tell you that each of the five bilateral agreements that I’ve signed with State and Territory leaders has specific education priorities, such as early childhood education, school retention rates, improving literary and numeracy and improving vocational training and employment opportunities.
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