If you have a problem with commitment, Australian politics might be for you.
After all, we have seen seven prime ministers in the last 10 years, meaning the value of our vote is dubious at best.
Each successive Government has had varying levels of “commitment” to Indigenous Affairs. There was the Northern Territory (NT) Intervention brought in by the Howard Government in 2007.
In 2008, the Rudd Government issued a National Apology to the Stolen Generation, yet since this time the number of Indigenous children in out of home care has doubled. In 2011, the NT Intervention was extended and rebranded as Stronger Futures under Julia Gillard. The Abbott Government brought in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which has seen close to 50% of Indigenous Affairs funding handed to non-Indigenous organisations.
The Turnbull Government, through the Referendum Council, supported nation-wide consultations on Constitutional Recognition, resulting in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This was ultimately rejected.
Most recently, the Morrison Government’s budget for Indigenous Affairs, specifically Indigenous Education, had no sustainable long-term approach for, at the very minimum, supporting access to secondary school.
As a young Darumbal woman, this track record makes it hard for me to decide if it’s worth participating in the election. But let’s say I do, and that political contenders care about my vote.
I am the National Coordinator for the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition and as you might guess; passionate about Indigenous Education. I want to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination at all levels of our education system. To win my vote, you’d need to have a strong policy and funding agenda for Indigenous Education. Here are some key changes I’d like to see:
1. An Indigenous Education System, driven by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations
The historical relationship of Australia’s education system to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has been and continues to be, a tool of colonisation—children were stolen and put into missions to be assimilated, languages and culture were purposely left out of the school system. This continues to impact our families and communities today. Look no further than the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure policy as an indication of this. So at the systems level, we need to be able to establish our own institutions of learning that respond to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and perspectives. We must be able to design every aspect of our People’s learning experiences, from how we create the buildings, engage our communities, measure our successes and develop our curriculum. There are already so many examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led schools who are doing this locally, but I would like to see this leadership of our community acknowledged through greater investment in Indigenous independent schools.
2. Invest Locally
Continuing this line of thought, I want to see a strong funding and policy agenda that supports local access to education. You shouldn’t have to win the golden ticket of a fancy boarding school hundreds of kilometres away from your home to access good quality education. The thousands of dollars poured into initiatives that focus on taking kids out of communities should be put towards investing and building up schools, learning institutions and resources locally. Boarding schools and mentoring are important options, but they should never be the only option and should never jeopardise our fundamental human and Indigenous right to an education.
3. Equity in Education
Australia has one of the highest rates of inequity between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Although this impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, this is a critical issue that affects all Australians. You shouldn’t have to be wealthy in order to access a high-quality education. Further, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, equality in education includes access to culturally safe and responsive education and spaces. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are already leading in this space. For example the Murri School in Brisbane is an Aboriginal-led independent school that embeds Culture in the school, has a health out-clinic at the school, employs a majority of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander educators, and has recently embedded a healing program in partnership with the Healing Foundation. On average, for every additional dollar invested in the healing program at the Murri School there is an $8.85 return in benefits, in net present value terms.
4. Lifelong Learning Agenda
In life we never stop learning, and so this election I would like to see strong support for culturally safe and responsive learning opportunities available across our lifetimes. This means investing in early childhood education, supporting adult education and valuing our Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Importantly, I want to see fair, equitable adult education opportunities that are accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, those which align with the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations and communities.
5. Support for Educators
I want to see greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators in the system to ensure we retain and grow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educator workforce, and employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at all levels of the system. This also means investing in a sustainable workforce, especially for rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools and learning institutions that prioritise local people. I’d also want to see greater support for all educators to feel comfortable in embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and perspectives into their classrooms.
Overall, if I’m to participate in the election, what I’m asking for is a rethink of what is possible within education nationally. It’s not impossible, but it does require courage, commitment, innovation and leadership.
Hayley is a proud Darumbal and South Sea Islander. She is a passionate advocate for Indigenous social justice and ending education inequality. She is the National Coordinator and Co-Founder of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition, which is focused on asserting Indigenous rights to education. She is a firm believer of authentic youth engagement and representation and is a former member of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group.