The Guardian September 8, 1999


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."

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