Page 204 - Week 01 - Thursday, 16 February 2006

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MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (11.29): I thank the opposition for that position in relation to this very, very simple procedural change. The government have absolutely no intention or desire to be anything other than very, very patent in relation to reporting on indigenous education. Indigenous educational results are something that we are very focused on, and indeed it is an area in which over the last four years, as a result of very significant increases in investment in indigenous education and support for indigenous students, we are beginning to achieve some quite remarkable outcomes, particularly in the younger years, in the achievements of indigenous children within the ACT government schooling sector.

If there is one area of genuine progress and of some pride for the government in the indigenous community in recent years, it is the extent to which indigenous students, certainly in kindergarten, are now participating far more fully in educational programs than previously. We now see in the interjurisdictional assessment of achievement against national benchmarks that indigenous children in the ACT in year 3 are achieving benchmark results that are indistinguishable from those of non-indigenous children. That is, I believe, a most remarkable achievement, something with which we can all be enormously pleased, acknowledging that it is a first step—a first step only, but certainly a first step—in breaking one of the cycles that lead to continuing disadvantage, which is equality of access to quality education and which is as important or more important, I believe, for our indigenous population of students or children than could be ever fully stated or understood.

Our results over the last two years in the testing, which is undertaken across the nation against nationally agreed benchmarks in years 3, 5 and 7, reveal that this year and last year indigenous students in the ACT are achieving at that benchmark level in year 3 and making enormous strides in year 5. At this stage they are not achieving at the levels that we would hope to achieve in the future in relation to year 7 and, as the cohort of indigenous children in the individual years age, the results regrettably continue to decline in comparison with the results achieved by non-indigenous students.

This is a major test of government. Our commitment is to seek to redress disadvantage in indigenous populations—most certainly within the Canberra indigenous community—and the great responsibility of government in relation to seeking to redress two centuries of disadvantage and discrimination is through the provision of good, high-quality supportive education for Aboriginal children within our school systems, and indeed at other stages of their life. I believe it is through the attainment of first-class educational qualifications and outcomes by Aboriginal people that we will see the greatest inroads in Australia into achieving true reconciliation and some level of equity and equality of opportunity for them to participate in this their country.

So I am very pleased with this new reporting arrangement. The government looks forward to continuing to report against achievement in relation to indigenous education. This is a logical step–a step designed to ensure that we can map the progress of indigenous children through a school year and that we do not create a statistical anomaly in comparing from third to first term and then from second to third term, which has a level of illogicality about it. We believe the new arrangement is far more logical and will produce statistically better results for us to make our annual comparisons against.

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