Question Without Notice – Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Voice: Education

Ms LAWRENCE (Hasluck) (14:38): My question is to the Minister for Education. How will recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through a voice work to get better education results for First Nations Australians?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:38): I thank the terrific member for Hasluck for her question. I told the House last month that, if you’re a young Indigenous bloke, you’re more likely to go to jail than university. I told the House how much that costs. It costs taxpayers an average of $11,000 a year to send an Australian to university; it costs around $148,000 a year to send them to prison, more than 13 times as much. In parliament today, we’re debating legislation that will help increase the number of young Indigenous people who go to university. If you’re a young Indigenous student at the moment and you get the marks, you’re guaranteed a spot at university, but only if you live in the bush, only if you live in regional Australia—not if you live in our suburbs or our cities. So it applies if you live in Townsville, but not if you live in Logan; in Armadale, but not in Mount Druitt; in Port Hedland, but not in Perth.

This legislation means it will now apply to all Indigenous Australians right across the country. It doesn’t mean uni is free; you still pay HECS. But what it means is that, if you finish school and you get the marks, you are guaranteed a spot, and the universities accord report says that this could potentially double the number of young Indigenous people at university within a decade. That’s a good thing. I want to thank the Liberal Party, I want to thank the National Party and I want to thank the crossbenchers for their unequivocal support for this. It’s a good example of what we can do when we work together.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This doesn’t close the gap—not by much. At the moment about 45 per cent of young Australian adults have a uni degree, but only seven per cent of young Indigenous adults have a university degree. If this legislation works, then that will increase from seven per cent in a decade to 12 per cent. So we still have this massive gap. We all want this to close. But if we want this gap to close we have to do more than just change laws like this; we have to change the way we do things. And we don’t need two referendums to do that. We only need one. But we need one that does something practical, and that is what the Voice is. It’s not the idea of politicians; it’s the idea of Indigenous Australians, who are asking us to listen because, when you listen, you make better decisions and you get better results. We’ve got nothing to fear from a practical idea like listening.

The SPEAKER: The minister will pause. The Member for Grey, on a point of order?

Mr Ramsey: On relevance, Mr Speaker: the minister was asked how the Voice would improve educational outcomes. He hasn’t given one example.

The SPEAKER: The minister has 25 seconds left. He shall remain relevant to the question.

Mr CLARE: We’ve got nothing to fear from listening. We’ve got nothing to lose and we’ve got everything to gain. That includes that, one day, more young Indigenous blokes go to university than to jail, and, after that, one day when it’s not just one in two young Australians that have a university degree but one in two young Indigenous Australians as well.