Page 987 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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Malcolm Fraser used his influence to mobilise the international community to meet the needs of those affected by humanitarian crises. Many remember him raising the unfolding Rwandan genocide with Nelson Mandela and other African leaders at Mandela’s inauguration as president, and he challenged the African leaders to intervene and stop the bloodshed.

Malcolm Fraser’s legacy to Australian political life was expansive. In addition to turning the tide of national economic management, Fraser oversaw reforms in immigration policy, media, federal courts, the police force, Indigenous affairs, human rights, territory rights and the environment. His legacy is one of commitment and compassion.

Our thoughts go to his family, his friends, his colleagues and all those many thousands of Australians whose lives were touched by his. Vale Malcolm Fraser.

DR BOURKE (Ginninderra): I too rise to pay tribute to Malcolm Fraser. Whilst many focus on his life after federal parliament, I am going to talk about a great decision taken in Aboriginal affairs when he was education minister in 1969.

In the 1960s there were a handful of Aborigines studying at Australian universities. The National Union of Students wanted to provide support and launched a scholarship program for Aboriginal university students called Abschol. They soon realised that this program was not enough and decided to extend it to Indigenous high school students.

Malcolm Fraser, as education minister in the Gorton government, recognised a policy opportunity. They copied the program, renamed it Abstudy, using the powers to legislate for Aboriginal people that the commonwealth had been given in the 1967 referendum two years earlier. Universities also engaged with this policy, providing on-campus support to foster success, founding additional scholarships and establishing special entry programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

By 2010 there were 25,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary graduates, an outcome that would have been difficult to imagine 50 years earlier when there were fewer than a dozen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates in the country. Further good news is that the proportion of Indigenous students in first year medical school is now equivalent to the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian population—a stunning result for what I call the most successful program in Indigenous affairs ever.

The next step is to achieve parity with the proportions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians with a university degree. Another 100,000 Indigenous graduates are needed. Abstudy continues to build a better Australian society, working to counter the past and present history of discrimination and dispossession, pushing back against the soft bigotry of low expectations and those who are uncomfortable with Indigenous high achievers.

This is a legacy of Malcolm Fraser, and I honour him for it.

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