LETTER: Garrett admits Indigenous education defeat

Sir – School Education Minister Peter Garrett has admitted today that the Gillard government has failed in its efforts to close the gap in indigenous education.

Progress with Julia Gillard’s own closing the gap targets has been underwhelming at best with most results showing no improvements and some results have gone backwards. On almost all fronts the great expectations of Kevin Rudd’s apology have not been met.

The education results are depressing with little improvement since 2008. In 2012, 14 out of the 20 NAPLAN indicators the gap has widened compared to 2011.

Across all indicators the average gap was 23.8% nationally, 37.5% in remote areas, 61.1% in very remote areas and a shocking 80.8% in very remote schools in the Northern Territory.

There has been some improvement in Indigenous students finishing Year 12 but that is just simply a continuation of the trend established by the Howard government in the 1990s.

Tragically the Gillard Government has stopped funding the successful indigenous youth leadership program which would have provided scholarships for almost 1000 young indigenous students from remote areas to attend Australia’s best schools and universities over the next four years.

As with all the closing the gap targets the education targets are so wrapped up in bureaucratic machinery like National partnership agreements, building blocks strategies, meaningless targets data clearinghouses and so on but very little comes out the other end. Indigenous Australians have been inflicted with Labor’s son of noodle nation.

If Labor was fair dinkum they would have tackled their Labor mates when they were in power in the States and Territories a few years ago. They should have got serious on issues such as school attendance and the fundamentals of a good education but Garrett wants to lecture the states about plans, partnership agreements, learning strategies and workforce strategies.

[The government] promised to deliver three school hostels in the Northern Territory. After five years only one has been built at Wadeye and it is only half full and all but one of the students comes from Wadeye – virtually no net benefit in terms of access to education.

The 120 bed school hostel at Weipa only has a little over 30 students. I have heard they are trying to get nearby students who already go to the school to board simply to fill the numbers to avoid embarrassment.

Improving the standard of education provided to indigenous students and making sure children attend school will be absolute priorities for us. Garrett is right to admit defeat but it should be him and Gillard that accept the blame.

Senator Nigel Scullion

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs

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