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 â€œa 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.