Failings in education for aboriginal children, and Labor’s latest indigenous statement

Some of the comments on my recent post about substance abuse in remote indigenous communities touched on the issues of empowerment and education.

I noticed two stories in the recent edition of the National Indigenous Times one detailing a $181 million underspend by the federal government of moneyear-marked for the schooling of Aboriginal children, and the other highlighting an alleged practice by the Northern Territory government where the NT government receives “a bucket of money for the education of kids from the federal government, based on the number of school-aged children living in the region..”

The NT government then allocates funds based on the number of children who actually attend school – in other words, while the federal government will provide funding for 900-plus children in 2006, if only 300 turn up, the NT government keeps the rest of the cash

The story focuses on the community of Wadeye, the sixth largest town in the Northern Territory and the Territory’s largest Aboriginal community. It details the big efforts made to get kids to school at the start of the year, where they are then met with inadequate facilities, overcrowding and insufficient teachers. In an area where it is already hard enough to get good school attendance in the first place, it is not surprising that numbers quickly drop off. The worst thing is the incentive that appears to be built in for the Territory government to allow this to happen.

I also read with interest an announcement and detailed speech given today by the Labor Party’s indigenous affairs spokesperson (and Leader in the Senate), Chris Evans. The media statement talks of Labor taking “a new approach to Indigenous issues – combining our historical rights-based approach, with practical measures to address disadvantage. As an aside, this seems somewhat at odds with how it was portrayed in the report in The Australian today.

Chris Evans’s full speech can be found here and is worth reading. It’s a bit short on specifics, but one the less makes some good points.

He says Labor’s starting points on the issue include:
o Support for mutual obligation principles,
o Promotion of Indigenous engagement in the real economy,
o The need for informed consent in agreement making,
o Opposition to racially discriminatory practices,
o Protection of adults and children from violence and abuse,
o Promoting responsible drinking, and
o Payment of welfare to those in need of income support.

As he also rightly says, these principles are not mutually exclusive, but can be competing. Many political decisions involve balancing competing rights.

The main hope I have is that the whole area gets much greater priority politically than it has to date, and doesn’t keep being all but ignored except where it can be used as an ideological nulla nulla to score a short-term political point.

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  1. It does depend very much on which state you are in as to how much autonomy schools have in deciding how their funding is administered. In Tasmania schools are allocated funding based on the number of enrolments, area where the school is, etc. The Principal in consultation with the School Association then prepares a budget and decides how that money is allocated and what the priorities for the year will be. The School Association must sign of on the budget before it is lodged with the department.

    Core subjects like literacy and numeracy, social sciences, must be included. In addition some schools may run programs that focus on assisting children with learning difficulties or who are gifted, others may focus on an intense PE program, others may focus more strongly on computing or art or music, some may share the funding around to all of those areas.

    Some schools run programs orientated towards specific groups within their school community becauee they make up a large proportion of the kids so some schools have indigenous education programs, others have programs designed to assist migrant & refugee children.

    The School Association Board is made up of parents, teachers and community representatives formally elected from each of their peer groups. The Chairperson is always a parent and the Principal is an ex-officio member. The number of parent and community reps is greater than the number of teachers.

    The guidelines for the management of the School Association are enshrined in legislation, which was developed over a three year consultation period that included every one – even the kids.

  2. I wish my taxes were paying for teacehrs and resoruces for all schools, inlcuding those out back for indigenous kids – not to support bureacracsies required to deal with serial whingers

  3. Oh of course Ken, thats right! We are supposed to accept being targeted, victimised, bullied, discriminated against and treated unfairly and not say a word. That is the Australian way, is it?

    There is a very simple solution here in dealing with my families complaints and issues, all that needs to be done is there needs to be a proper and fair investigation undertaken – as per Policy and Procedure require!

    So tell me, is our basic human right to be treated fairly and to be heard only a myth?

    You do realise that you are a serial whinger, because all you do is whinge about those that you want to discredit as whingers.

  4. Geoff. Nobody has investigated anything. Those responsible have just closed the complaint internally. There has never been an investigation, the matter was closed by those responsible on the word of those responsible. Even the Ombudsman refused to investigate, he just took the word of those responsible and closed the matter and then refused to see me.

    Formal requests that those responsible not be permitted to handle the complaint as it is a conflict of duties/interests are ignored. Formal requests that my Policy and Procedure be followed have also been ignored. Formal reqeusts that these people not be permitted to have anythign to do with my children or their papers are also ignored. All our letters and complaints get sent to those we allege are responsible.

    We have been and are being denied procedural fairness and natural justice and the worse part is that the way the complaint has been handled has just added to the neglect and despair that my children have experienced and suffered. These people have been permitted to continue to target my children since the Year 2000 to date.

  5. Its not referring to any part Ken, but Geoff posted a question and I responded and it went on from there…..I thought that was pretty obvious!

    I think we can all handle a little bit of diversion without it being a major issue. There is a connection as what hope do Aboriginal parents have of having any complaints in relation to the treatment of thier children investigated and dealt with properly and fairly when the system can just discredit the parents and cover everything up and not provide any avenue of redress.

  6. Well for many, certainly in rural and the outback the major issues are more likely getting some breakfast – not worrying aobut who to complain to

  7. I didn’t post both because the topic isn’t “Jolanda and her kids” even though it seems many topics do have oodles of that in them.

    I didn’t post both because the 2nd page basically says we aren’t going to look into your previous claims because they’ve already been looked into.

    If you can get 1 part soooooo wrong Jolanda, what’s the odd’s you got the rest wrong?

  8. Geoff. If you had of posted both you would have seen that its not what it says at all. The complaint referred to in that letter was a fresh complaint – see here
    Hopefully this will work if not this is part of what it said:

    Alleged lack of procedural fairness in relation to your son’s 2003 Year 8 application for 2004 selective high school placement.

    During my review of this complaint I have noted previous action taken by the Department in relation to this and related matters. I also note that on 19 December 2003 the Minister for Education and Training Mr Andrew Refshauge MP responded to your representations to Mr. J G Brogden MP stating the Department has completed extensive enquiries and considered the matter closed.

    The Department’s complaint handling procedures, Responding to Suggestions, Complaints and Allegations states that if previous action in relation to the handling of the complaint is considered sufficient and sound, then a further investigation should not be conducted

    I regret that I am unable to assist you with these two complaints”.

    See Geoff!. Two complaints is what was referred to, not previous complaints. Previous complaints amounted to 7 complaints and they have not been investigated – see, read and digest above.

    It wasn’t a complaint about previous matters, these were new, fresh complaints; they just blended it all together so as to cover it up and as a result they continue to systemically target and victimise my children and not have to answer to anyone.

    I wasn’t wrong at all and what is happening to our children in the system is a good topic, that they happen to be mine is something that I am sure the Department regrets.

  9. Geoff. My kids were born in Australia and are Australian citizens. You may not give a damn about my kids or find them worthy but they are entitled to basic rights. Rights that have to be fought for because today its them, tomorrow it’s somebody else, one day it might be someone connected to you….:roll:

  10. Jolanda, please can you give it a rest.
    I’ve read your stuff. Geoff’s obviously read your stuff. Despite what you say you are not the slightest bit interested in what anyone else has to say because no-one agrees with you.
    You are destroying otherwise interesting topics. I’m sure there must be other people out there like me who would like to comment on the actual topic but are put off by all the nonsense.

  11. Jane, dont blame me for you not wanting to post on a particular topic. There is no reason for you not to post if you have something to say.

    Anything else you want to blame me for?

  12. There are some interesting comments on this thread, and I have read a large proportion of them. I have deliberately skipped over many of the personal attacks, as they are of little interest to anyone except the two people involved at the particular time.

    I would like to add my own comments here, based on my direct involvement with Aboriginal communities and Indigenous people. These include attending steering committee meetings in Canberra for Australians For Reconciliation, forming a local Reconciliation group in NSW, writing a weekly column about Reconciliation on behalf of the local Indigenous people (proof read by them before publication) and managing a CDEP and Aboriginal Corporation in Northern NSW.

    One other role I had was as Vocational Education & Training (VET) Coordinator at the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, in Central Queensland. I will use this as an example of exactly what this thread was intended for. This also supports the practices referred to by Andrew in the starting post of this thread.

    In comment #41 Geoff states that “education is primarily a state issue.” This is very true, but bear in mind that many schools on Aboriginal communities are independent, and do not automatically receive state funding. Wadja Wadja High School, at Woorabinda, was such a case. It apparently received IESP funding from the federal government.

    In comment #97 Cath states “money should remain in the area it was allocated to.” In a perfect world it would. Unfortunately, on Aboriginal communities as everywhere else, the world is far from perfect.

    In comment #98 Yolanda states “School principals should have the power in relation to how schools are run.” This is good in theory. It is an unfortunate fact that good teachers don’t make good principals, and principals are rarely good teachers. Often, principals are unable to understand the needs of their students. The primary concern is how much funding can be obtained.

    If principals are to have the power that Jolanda rightly states they should, then greater accountability and scrutiny needs to be put in place, to stop the temptations of such corruption.

    This is also relevant to #101 (Yulia) and #102 (Ken), who both seem to have serious concerns about how the money is spent. Ken hits it on the head, because in outback areas, distance can make accountability harder.

    Comment #110 from Ken brought back memories. In Woorabinda, nearly all the teachers and staff took turns preparing and serving breakfast to the high school students. This was free of charge, and in their own unpaid time. The intrinsic reward came from the kids themselves, with a genuine thank you, and a smile.

  13. Pragmatic rationalist? I’ll take that as a compliment, and assume it was written without sarcasm.

    As for answers – where would the fun be if I tried to impose my own versions of the answers on everybody? Would anybody listen anyway? Probably not.

    The internet has allowed us the opportunity for everybody to comment and suggest on problems that affect all of us. The scope across the community is far greater than would ever have been possible in pre-internet days.

    It is obvious that many of the people on this blog, and more specifically this topic, have experiences of shortcomings in “the system” and ideas of how those shortcomings can be avoided.

    As an individual, I can simply put forward my own ideas, and wait for others to either support or condemn those ideas, or offer critical evaluation. I do not have the answers. Answers come from collective thinking, not from individual opinion.

    In the cases quoted in these particular threads, such as the misuse of money, it comes back to the old necessity of accountability. Sadly, this seems to be glaringly absent in much public administration. In remote communities, it is almost non-existent.

    Those charged with accountability of monies in the remote areas of Australia, especially Indigenous communities, are generally too worried about appearing politically incorrect. They tend to prefer turning a blind eye, rather than risk losing their jobs and substantial pensions.

    To a certain extent, this is understandable. They have their own rent or mortgage to pay, and their own families to support. The very basis of employment these days is extremely fragile.

    However, this doesn’t help those that don’t receive the funding allocated to them. Often, the funding is sought solely for the purpose of getting what is available, with little intent if actually spending it where it is meant to go.

    One unfortunate outcome of this is that the majority metropolitan public perceive that all this money is spent on these outback programs, with no results. Often, this causes greater alienation of the groups, expecially Indigenous, who seem to bear full responsibility for the money wastage. The sad truth is, as in the examples above, the money never had any chance of getting to them.

    My own opinion, which probably isn’t the same as the opinion of others on this thread, is that a real watchdog needs to be set up, not the pretend authorities and tribunals we have now. Such an organisation would need to be able to force accountability and recover unused monies for such projects, without fear of unwarranted reprisals.

    Additionally, these projects need to be run hands on by people committed to the projects, and not by people committed to themselves.

    This is probably overly idealistic, and seeking to put responsibility in one area, and on one organisation. It is probably unrealistic and overly simplistic. I would be interested in what others think.

  14. Craig I must say that I totally agree with you when you say that what is needed is a real watchdog to be set up. One with the power to ask questions at every level and even question why! Society is seriously lacking in discipline and accountability.

    The best way to run a good system is to identify and deal fairly with complaints and learn from the mistakes!

    It is simple. The system tries to complicate it by putting the responsbility on members of the public and punishing members of the public because of the actions of a few and in turn they are ignoring the complaints that identify those few that are causing the problems.

    I guess one would have to question why?

  15. Absolutely a new real watchdog is the way to go. Lets add it to

    the ICAC
    NSW Ombudsman
    Polcie Integrity Commission
    Judicial Commission
    NSW Crime Commission
    Industrial relations Commission
    Law Reform Commission (not to be confused wiht)
    The Legal Aid Commission
    Public Accoutns Committee
    Administrative Decisiopns Tribunal
    Housing Appeasl Committee
    Anti Discrimination Board
    Commission for Children and Young People
    Audit Office of NSW
    The Courts in General
    Health Care Complaints Commission

    thats all I can think of in NSW. Not to forget the myraid of internal complaints handling departmens, systems and associated bureacrast all looking out for that good old system and covering ass.

    Any best thers even moer federally………

    So why not one more indeed – economies of scale I hear you say.

    Why is this so. Every single politicain and senior bureacrat learns in government 101 – excluding the democrats, that to deal with any problem, set up a commsiosn, or an enquiry, a new departmnet, anythign to get the media mopnkey off your back.

    Ministres get sacked ofr not disclosing Paddington Bears – remeber. Not for wasting billions and billions of dollars to placate defence boffins remeber Collins Class subs et al.

    The reason accountability is weak in publci administration is simply becasue accountability is on appropriaet process and expenditure – not on the need to survive by earnming income.

  16. Ken you are right we dont need any more watchdogs as such. We just need the Policies, Legislation and Laws to expect and support those excercising their duties to expose corruption and to fix matters and not to oblige them to turn a blind eye and protect the Government.

    I know that I wrote to the Office of the Ombudsman and Police Integrity Commission asking then to review a decision by the Ombudsman to not provide me with explanations for the issues that I brought up in my review request and for which I had documentary evidence to support and to just allow the Ombudsman to close the matter on the word of those responsbile and deny me my rights – and he refused to see me.

    When I pushed the issue I was advised that under Section 31B(2) of the Ombudsman’s Act 1974 they were prohibited from investigating particular conduct and that my complaints fell under that umbrella and they could therefore not get involved.

    If the watchdogs are not allowed to question the why and investigate allegations of bias and misconduct and conspiracies to cover up then the whole complaint system is a farce and the Laws need to be changed.

  17. Wow – jolanda – three agreemetns in one day – I better go home and celebraet. Meant in good spirit

  18. Ken and Jolanda are both right. There are too many toothless watchdogs around. I, too, have had the same argument from most of them. We aren’t allowed to investigate that. Try another watchdog.

    I’ve even had one person investigate a complaint against herself, and write to me directly that she found no complaint exists, and the matter was finalised. This was in a govt funded statutory authority, referred back to her from the supposed watchdog.

    Nearly every complaint I have actually had investigated by a watchdog employs this same “investigative technique,” including the case I quoted above about Indigenous education. Ask the person complained about if they did anything wrong. If they say no, then no wrongdoing has occurred. If the complainant persists, deny responsibility, and refer it to another watchdog, which will do exactly the same thing. It becomes so frustrating that most people just give up.

    However, think how much time could be saved if the real courts adopted the same technique. Take criminals at their word when they say not guilty, and there would be no need for police investigations or criminal trials.

    Ken particularly got the point across listing the amount of watchdogs. Far too many. Maybe we, as a society, need to get rid of some watchdogs. Then there would be less places for the remaining ones to palm things off too.

    Others could be merged, and given real powers, and less exemptions of what they can investigate. Actually, no one should be exempt. Even less places to palm things off.

    Then, when we have a manageable number of watchdogs that can actually do what they are meant to, we could have one super powerful one that simply watches over the rest. At present, none of the existing watchdogs seems to have any real accountability to anyone. How, then, are they expected to be trusted to make those they are watching over accountable?

    There is also the threat of defamation, and police intervention. If the media or an individual tries to name the alleged abuser of public funds, then they can be sued. This also seems to be the threat made against the watchdogs. Some suspect operators have even taken apprehended violence orders, or filed stalking complaints against those who try to expose them.

    It is not enough for these unscrupulous operators to abuse the public funding, at the expense of the needy and marginalised. They also abuse the judicial system and law enforcement for protection against their own illegality.

    In the meantime, as we all state so often, the ones least able to defend themselves are the ones who suffer. The ones for whom the money was intended.

  19. Craig you are right the persons responsbile are the ones that are allocated to handle and deal with the complaints against them and even to provide the documents requested under FOI. Thats the process and procedure the system uses. Its so unfair and sleezy.

    Same thing is happening in my families case, the persons that we have alleged are responsbile are dealing with the complaints and have been permitted to close the complaints internally with no questions being asked and no amount of requests for us to be afforded procedural fairness are acted upon. Then they present a misrepresentation of the facts to anybody who asks and their word is just taken on face value.

    Just with the watchdogs passing the buck, the worse thing is that then the Departments say that the matter was investigated by the watchdogs when all the watchdog did was say they wouldn’t/couldn’t investigate it.

    It presents the picture that the complainant is lying and there is no case. People think that if the allegations had some foundation and the complainant really did have evidence something would have been done. They dont realise just how unfair and unjust the system is.

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