Doorstop Interview – Maroubra – Tuesday 10 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Indigenous education; HSC; Voice Referendum

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, MEMBER FOR KINGSFORD SMITH: Good morning. Welcome to South Sydney High School. This is where my dad went to school many years ago, and it’s great to see the school coming along in leaps and bounds. It’s wonderful to have the Education Minister Jason Clare here with us and, of course, representatives from the GO Foundation and the Yes23 campaign, Thomas Mayo, who’s here with us this morning as well.

We’ve had the opportunity to speak to some of the wonderful students who are benefits – beneficiaries of the GO Foundation scholarships that have been on offer at the school here, and to see the wonderful partnership that exists between South Sydney High School and the GO Foundation to achieve better results for Indigenous students in our community.

We’ve heard this morning about how cultural teachings and practises have been incorporated into the schoolwork of the students and how by listening to Indigenous Elders and leaders and incorporating those teachings into the school curriculum we’re getting better results for Indigenous students in our community. And that is what the voice is all about. And that’s why the education minister is here – to see the fantastic results the GO Foundation are getting at South Sydney High School, and I’ll now hand over to Jason to make a few comments.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks, Matt. It’s great to be here at South Sydney High. I walked in the front door and the first thing I saw was the hall being set up for the HSC that starts tomorrow. So, to every young person in Year 12 right across the country who’s about to sit their final exams, good luck. As I saw that hall, I got post-traumatic stress remembering doing the HSC, even though that was last century. Can we all remember that? In particular, Leah, a young woman who we met today who is the recipient of one of those scholarships, whose life has been changed by that support and is about to sit her final exams and start the rest of her life over the course of the next few days. That’s real change in action.

We also popped into the history class and got to see Year 11 students who are studying ancient history, and they’re studying ancient Pompeii, history 2,000 years old. And that’s ancient history. Australia’s got an ancient history too. It goes back more than 60,000 years. And in four days’ time we get a chance to put that history in our Constitution. We get to tell the full story of Australia. We get to embed in our Constitution the truth, and the truth is that people lived on this continent long before Captain Cook ever arrived. And we get a chance to do something really practical, something that will help to change and improve the lives of other Aussies, to help many Australians who are doing it tough. And I can’t think of a more Australian thing than that: helping Aussies that are doing it tough.

Education does that. And I believe in the power of education. I believe in it because I’ve seen it, and I believe in it because I’ve lived it. I grew up on the other side of town. I grew up in Cabramatta. I’m the first person in my family to finish school. The first person in my family to do the HSC. I’m the first person in my family to finish Year 10. My mum barely went to high school. And so, I know what education does. I’m here because of it.

But I also know that that power hasn’t reached into every home or into every corner of this country – not yet. You see that in the NAPLAN results that come out every year. One in ten young people are below what we classify as the minimum standard. But one in three young people from poor backgrounds, one in three Indigenous young people, are below that minimum standard.

The data tells us that if you’re below the minimum standard when you’re little, then it’s very unlikely that you’ll be above that minimum standard by the time you’re in high school. Only one in five young people who are below the minimum standard when they’re 8 years old are above it when they’re 15 – only one in five. And only one in seventeen young Indigenous people are. If you’re a young Indigenous person today, you’re three times more likely to fall behind in primary school and you’re three times more likely to be stuck there at high school.

We have a chance to change that. The things that I want to do as Education Minister are about changing that. They are about making sure that we’re a country where your chances in life don’t depend on the colour of your skin, where we aren’t a country where if you’re a young Indigenous man, you’re more likely to go to jail than to university. The types of reforms we’re putting into the parliament now, the agreements we want to strike next year are all about that. But we can do more than that. We have to do more than that.

And the Voice is a chance to supercharge all of that, to help to make this the sort of country that we all want it to be. And if we’re serious about that, it’s not just what happens in the classroom; it’s about what happens outside the classroom too. Because if you’re a child who goes to school hungry or not healthy, if you’re sleeping in a home where there’s ten other kids in the same bedroom, if the home is cold, if mum and dad don’t have a job, all of that affects how you go at school, or whether you go to school at all.

The GO Foundation and Aurora are a key part of changing that, changing lives, helping children from the first day they enter the school gates till the day that they finish the HSC. But there’s more to do. We haven’t finished this. The gap that exists in the lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians tells us that is true. And if you think that what we have today is good enough, then vote no. But if you think it’s not good enough, then vote yes, because we can do more here. By voting yes, we can recognise our history and we can make a better future. We can do what we say when we stand at the footy and when we stand in the playground and sing the national anthem – we can help to advance Australia fair. And in four days’ time, Australia comes together to do that.

THOMAS MAYO: Thomas Mayo is my name. I live in Darwin on Larrakia country, Yes campaign spokesperson. In Darwin where I live in the Northern Territory, almost all of the time all of the kids in youth detention are Indigenous children. And they should be in schools. They should be getting the opportunity for a better future. Jason’s right, that it’s more likely that these kids will end up in incarceration than in university. And this is something that we need to change. This is something that drives me to be so passionate about this campaign, and it’s one of the reasons why a great, great majority of Indigenous people are behind yes, and will be supporting this call to change the Constitution to see us not only recognised, but having a voice.

And having a voice is crucial. We see that in the successes in education where we have programs and policies that are designed with Indigenous people, we see the best results. And those results are direly needed to turn this around in this country. And the thing that we need to consider about the establishment of a voice is that housing affects education, health affects education, roads that don’t bust your tyre to take your kids to school, you know, every three months is vital to education as well. Everything is linked. And a voice is going to make a difference because it will take a holistic approach to policies and laws. It will defend policies and programs that have been designed with Indigenous people that are working, because the other thing that we have seen over this long history of struggle from Indigenous people to be recognised and to be heard is that when we have policies that are working, another government comes along and takes it away. And that’s what we’ve seen in education as well that has led to the very poor outcomes.

So, this is a campaign that is going to change the course of education, see children have a brighter future and with that, then we’ll see the gap begin to close. So, we hope that Australians will support this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s important to our children. It’s important to education. It’s important for seeing those life expectancy gaps close. This is the time to say yes. Thank you.

LEILA SMITH, CEO OF THE AURORA FOUNDATION: My name is Leila Smith. I’m a Wiradjuri woman and the CEO of Aurora Education Foundation. At Aurora, we partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to help them thrive in whatever path they choose, whether that’s finishing Year 12 or getting a Doctor of Philosophy at Oxford, being a lawyer, a teacher, even the next prime minister. We work to unravel centuries of systematic and structural barriers, and shift the conversation to one of proud and talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people with limitless potential.

We all want Indigenous students to get the best out of their education. Here’s the thing – Australia’s education system was designed without its first peoples. It’s a system designed by non‑Indigenous people for non-Indigenous people, and our kids know that. There is a substantial proportion of the Indigenous population whose voices are not heard. Indigenous families of students know that this system is not designed with them in mind, and that there are opportunities that they are restricted from.

The data that we have does not exist around how Indigenous students in urban areas – where most of the population is – how we define success in Indigenous education. Indigenous students and families know what we want from our educational journeys. We need more opportunities to have a say and to be heard. We are experts in what works for us, and we always have been. A voice to parliament will support our efforts. This will enable us to share our knowledge and our expertise about what works on matters that impact us. A vote for yes will be a step towards more schools and more universities that have environments in which Indigenous students can be supported, not only culturally but also academically. And that’s why at Aurora we support a yes vote, and we hope you’ll join us.

CHARLENE DAVISON, CEO OF THE GO FOUNDATION: Good morning. I’m Charlene Davison, proud Biripi Gadigal women and the CEO of the Goodes O’Loughlin Foundation. We’re here this morning at South Sydney High School visiting some of our amazing GO scholars, in particular, one who’s about to embark on her HSC tomorrow and wishing her all the very best. The Goodes O’Loughlin Foundation was founded by Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin, and I’m joined today by co-founder Michael O’Loughlin and the Head of Scholarships, Mark Heiss, who along with his team who are made up of all Aboriginal staff come to South Sydney High School and other schools across Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra on a regular basis to support the young people who are engaged in our program.

We provide educational scholarships for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in public school, in public secondary and tertiary studies across Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra. We have a strength-based approach, and as an Aboriginal-led and governed organisation we firmly believe that Aboriginal people leading and delivering programs for our mob get better outcomes, and we as an Aboriginal-led and governed organisation place culture at the heart of everything that we do and deliver our program through lived experience and with a cultural lens to ensure that we do achieve better outcomes.

We know, similar to what’s been said already this morning, that unfortunately the education systems in our country were not designed with success and achievement of our people in mind. We know that education is a key enabler for our mob, and at the GO Foundation we’re working really hard, and our mission is to empower our young men and women through education and ensure that they have every opportunity that they need to succeed and have equal opportunity as everyone else in this country.

Our program is holistic and [indistinct] and, as I said, is delivered by an Aboriginal team who understand the complexities that our students are living through at school and at home and in their communities, but also absolutely understand the opportunities that we have to provide them with to ensure that they succeed and that we’re not afraid to tell them that we’ve got their back, and we have their aspirations, their dreams in mind and that we want to see them succeed and chase after those dreams and aspirations.

And as an organisation, we’re really proud to stand here today in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, but also the voice to parliament. And standing in solidarity as well with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Aurora Education Foundation. We’re doing this work each and every day with our teams to empower our young people through education, through culture, through literacy. And we firmly believe that this – the voice to parliament is the right way to go and it will really, absolutely strengthen the work that we’re doing each and every day. And we just ask that people walk with us on this journey and vote yes with us. Thank you.

BEN BOWEN, CEO OF THE INDIGENOUS LITERACY FOUNDATION: Ben Bowen, I’m a Wiradjuri man, Gandangara man and the CEO of Indigenous Literacy Foundation. I’d just like to acknowledge Aurora and GO Foundation. To be able to stand here as an Aboriginal man with Aboriginal people wrapped around us, to be able to make statements and advocate for our people is a huge privilege that’s not lost on us.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation – we service remote communities. South Sydney High is not one of the communities that we would service, but that’s why we stand in partnership with these great organisations. Part of the work that we need to do is learning how to collaborate and how to learn to listen to each other and work together for a joint outcome. The work that we do is delivering books into remote communities. So, a part of the work we do is about delivering 120,000 books into remote communities. These are communities that don’t have school systems like this, that don’t have libraries, that don’t have easy access to books. But the beautiful thing that we’re finding out through learning to listen to our communities is they don’t want any book; they actually want books that are relevant to them, that are relevant to their literacy aspirations. And that is a key thing that we have learnt over the many, many years of growing up in Aboriginal communities, is our communities are strong, they know what they want and they are the experts with lived experience.

We are also working with publishing, so we are working with communities around the country – over 400 communities at the moment – where we work with them to publish stories of their own making or revitalise classics. The reason we do that is working in home languages and working with bilingual resources so that schools like South Sydney High here can start to get access to language-rich resources that are designed by community to tell their story, but also generate royalty to go back to their own communities, which then fund their own aspirations as well.

This is really important to us. The fact that our communities are not talking about low literacy rates, we’re not talking about how to get kids to read because we know it’s a lifelong journey. Schools play a huge part of that, but a larger part of that is how our families and communities do it. Our communities are not only learning how to read and write with the rest of Australia, but they are becoming the next authors – the next published authors around the globe. This is what we want to start looking at, is that strength-based approach, and that’s why we stand with Aurora and GO Foundation and the work that we do every day on this.

Our communities are strong. They do have the solutions and they are the experts at it. I’d just like to say with that, we work with communities every single day to be community-led. We work outside the government because our communities are asking us to be able to do this sort of work. We are funded by everyday Australians and corporations and donations that allow us to do that work with communities, to the point that we offer our communities the information of where those donations come from so they can say yes or no to it.

This is the power of listening to what communities want to say. They are experts. We know that they have the solutions to all the challenges that they face. And as Thomas said, it’s not a simple thing of saying – getting kids to school and keeping an attendance rate, it is about the whole picture. It’s about the literacy, it’s about the scholarships, it’s about the pathways that go beyond school. That’s what we all want to come together for, and that’s why we stand in support of the voice. That’s what helps us to create a future for Australia.