Closing the Gap - in Jervis Bay

I spoke in parliament about the importance of Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, focusing on the Wreck Bay community that I represent.
Closing the Gap: Prime Minister's report 2014, 26 February 2014

I rise to speak on Closing the Gap: Prime Minister's report 2014. Closing the Gap is not a mere slogan; it is a bi-partisan commitment to change lives for the better, and we owe this to generations of Indigenous people. Closing the Gap is about life over death, hope over hopelessness, resilience over ruin. It is an expectation that all Australians should flourish. Being an Indigenous Australian should not mean being marked by disadvantage. We are learning more all the time about the challenges and barriers facing Indigenous Australians. We are making some progress on overcoming them, but there is much more to be done. All of us in this House can make a difference in improving the poor health of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when compared to that of the non-Indigenous population.

Since 2006 governments, Australia's peak Indigenous and non-Indigenous health bodies, NGOs and human rights organisations have worked together to achieve health and life expectancy equality for Australia's Aboriginal and Tones Strait Islander peoples. This is known as the Close the Gap campaign. Many of its targets were set to be reached by 2031. Seven years ago the Council of Australian Governments agreed to hold each other accountable for reaching a number of goals. They set out six specific targets for the Closing the Gap campaign: closing the life expectancy gap within a generation; halving the mortality rate for children under five within a decade; ensuring access to early childhood education for all Indigenous children in remote communities within five years; halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade; halving the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020; and halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade

The most recent Closing the Gap report indicates mixed results on the goals articulated by COAG in 2008. Unfortunately, there has been little progress in closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The gap remains at 10.6 years for men and 9.5 years for women. Over the past five years the rate has dropped 0.8 years for men and 0.1 years for women. Currently the Northern Territory is the only state or territory on track to meet its 2031 target.

The goal of halving the mortality rate for Indigenous children under five is on track to be reached. From 1998 to 2012 the Indigenous child mortality rate dropped by 32 per cent, and, if this trend continues, the target for 2018 will be achieved. We are also on track in ensuring access to early childhood education within five years for all Indigenous children in remote communities—88 per cent of indigenous children were enrolled in pre-school in 2012, and the 2013 target is 95 per cent. Conversely, there has been very little improvement in halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy in a decade. Between 2008 and 2013, only two out of the eight categories showed significant improvement, namely reading in years 3 and 5. The goal of halving the gap in Indigenous year 12 attainment by 2020 is on track to be met. In 2011, 54 per cent of Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 had attained a year 12 certificate. This is a significant improvement from 2006, when the rate was at 47 per cent.

Sixthly, the target of halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2018 has shown no noteworthy improvement. In fact, data provided by the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey indicates that the proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 15-64 who are employed fell from 54 per cent in 2008 to 48 per cent in 2013. Moreover, there has been a statistically significant fall in CDEP participant levels from 2008 to 2013.

Education is our best antipoverty vaccine. Education helps an individual to become a valued member of the community who can participate and who has the self-esteem that comes from a great education. Meeting Indigenous targets is achieved through genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, working with them as equals with compassion and a desire to understand conditions on the ground. I am proud to represent Jervis Bay Territory, which includes the community of Wreck Bay. In my first speech I spoke about its kangaroos grazing on an oval overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the most picturesque parts of my electorate. I have the founders in Canberra to thank for the notion that no capital city is complete without a port. In socioeconomic terms, the Wreck Bay community is the most disadvantaged part of my electorate. I want to speak in particular about Jervis Bay Primary School and the Indigenous learning centre. Jervis Bay Primary has the lowest ICSEA score of any school in my electorate, but on a like-schools comparison it is one of the top-performing schools, if not the top performing school, in the ACT system.

I want to pay tribute to Principal Bob Pastor, who sets high expectations and is universally well spoken of throughout the community. Through the Learning 4 Life program he has engaged representatives from nearby Vincentia High School, the University of Wollongong, Noah's Ark, Booderee National Park and local preschools and childcare centres. This year I want to commend Bob Pastor for his reporting of school attendance rates, which are very much in line with the government's new Closing the Gap target for school attendance. Bob has made a commitment to publicly present his school's attendance record every week and see how it compares with the national average. For the first time in the school's 100 year history the year 5/6 attendance rate is at nearly 100 per cent, and many other classes are not far behind. On recent numbers, year 3/4 is tracking at 95 per cent, above the national average. I congratulate the Jervis Bay School for setting these high standards, and I commend them for their multifaceted educational experience, including an AFL Auskick program and visits from NRL club the St George Illawarra Dragons, who facilitate anti-bullying and rugby league skills sessions.

Also part of the Wreck Bay community is the Gudjahgahmiamia Early Learning Centre. 'Gudjahga' means child and 'miamia' means shelter. The Gudjahgahmiamia early learning hub is a vital part of closing the gaps in Wreck Bay. This centre ensures that children are based in friendly educational surroundings, and it is a centre which is absolutely vital to the educational performance of children in Wreck Bay and indeed to attaining Closing the Gap targets. The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care has spoken to me about the importance of this kind of early learning centre. However, the centre faces an uncertain future beyond June 2014 because its funding comes out of the Australian government's budget based funding model. The Gudjahgahmiamia MACS Early Learning Centre is one of 38 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and family centres set up across Australia.

If the Prime Minister is serious about closing the gap, I call on him to confirm funding for the 38 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and family centres beyond the expiry of the national partnership agreement in June 2014. I am told by experts in the field that, without that budget based funding, falling back onto the funding approach which characterises most other early learning centres in Australia risks a high level of drop-out if families are unable to transition from the budget based funding model through to the childcare benefit and childcare rebate system. If children drop out of the early learning centre, it is going to make it more difficult for Jervis Bay Primary School to do the good work it needs to do. So it is absolutely fundamental that the government commits to funding the early learning centre in Wreck Bay. It is part of closing the gap.

I share the passion that was felt across the parliament when the Closing the Gap statements were delivered in the House. But passion is not enough. We need results and we need commitment to funding. The government must fund the early learning centre at Wreck Bay under a budget based model.

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