NT scraps human rights
The withdrawal of funding for bilingual education in the Northern Territory is a significant infringement of civil rights, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has told a Federal Parliamentary inquiry. Aboriginal language classes in schools will be scrapped and replaced by English-as-a-second-language classes. ATSIC Education Commissioner David Curtis told the Senate Inquiry on Indigenous Education that the NT's dumping of bilingual education was one of a number of deep concerns about the progress being achieved on Indigenous education. "The NT Government has, with minimal consultation, decided to remove support for bilingual education for our people", said Mr Curtis. "This suggests a further deterioration in the way this particular government has addressed the needs of the Indigenous population — a group who make up 38 per cent of the Territory's school system." Commissioner Curtis urged the Inquiry "to make the Australian community aware that this represents a significant infringement of human rights". He said it showed little regard for the rights of Indigenous communities to choose the kind of education appropriate to them and that a sense of Indigenous identity must be part of a successful education system. "As the President of the National Secretariat of Torres Strait organisations, Francis Tapim, has said — unless identity gains prominence alongside other education issues we are swamped and our languages and culture will die out." There is a significant disparity between Indigenous access to education compared to that of other Australians. A 1994 survey showed nearly half of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over either received no formal education or had reached year 10 level and that the year 10 certificate was the highest qualification achieved by almost 30 per cent of Indigenous people. Only one in six Indigenous people obtained a qualification after leaving school. The Indigenous student retention rate of 33 per cent was less than half the 75 per cent rate for all students. "With half the Indigenous population now under 25 years of age there is a great need for effective Indigenous education programs simply to maintain the current situation", said Mr Curtis. Rocky Gela from the Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board told the Inquiry that his people were a minority within the Indigenous population and it was important that government agencies ensured Torres Strait Islanders were serviced and monitored properly. ABSTUDY to be scrapped ATSIC is also strongly concerned about the Howard Government's plans for ABSTUDY, which will be scrapped as of January 2000. ABSTUDY provides special assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Indigenous students will now have to register for the means-tested Common Youth Allowance. This will have a serious impact on most Indigenous students. Financially many will be more than $60 a fortnight worse off, and in terms of education they will lose a scheme designed to increase Indigenous participation in tertiary education. The stringent requirements on benefit recipients will also disadvantage Indigenous people returning to study later in life, particularly women. Mr Curtis said the Institute of Aboriginal development (IAD) in Alice Springs was also having great difficulty with the release of Commonwealth funds from the NT Government to improve facilities for the training and teaching of Indigenous students. "It is not right that the IAD should be held to ransom by the Territory Government when the need for this funding has been recognised by the Commonwealth."