1938

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Submission Number
1938
Participant
Colin Hearfield
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

I am a non-Aboriginal Australian who has been teaching for a number of years
now a mandatory NSW government subject on Aboriginal Education for pre-
service school-teachers. It has become increasingly clear to me that without
some measure of shared sovereignty with Aboriginal peoples, all attempts at
reconciliation, or at closing the gap in educational and health outcomes, not to
mention reducing incarceration rates, will fail. A Voice to Parliament protected in
the Australian Constitution constitutes a first step towards realizing this vision of
shared sovereignty and self-determination.

The NSW Department of Education’s Aboriginal Education Policy (AEP, 2008) is
overwhelmingly dedicated to processes of cultural inclusion but never once
addresses the issue of racism and its debilitating effects, despite being advised to
do so by the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) in 2004. With this
critical omission, the AEP (2008) falls short of truth telling, seemingly convinced
that an emphasis on cultural inclusion will of itself overcome any past or present
problems of racial injustice. This failure, I submit, is at once the reason for the
failure of one of the AEP’s key strategies, namely, that it ‘is committed to
collaborative decision-making with Aboriginal peoples, parents, caregivers,
families and their communities’. This commitment was also part of an earlier,
1996 version of the policy. The 2008 version recognizes the failure of this
strategy for improving Aboriginal educational outcomes by introducing a further
strategy concerning the need for teachers to become culturally competent in
their engagement with Aboriginal students and their community. The NSW
Board of Studies document, Working with Aboriginal Communities (2008) refers
to this strategy in terms of a learning partnership, a partnership that concerns
consultation with local Aboriginal communities on matters of language,
sensitivities and protocols. Learning partnerships, however, are quite different
from decision-making partnerships, where there is promise of some measure of
self-determination. Ongoing difficulties in bringing about decision-making
partnerships seemingly prompted the NSW DET to then release what it called a
Connected Communities Strategy in 2011, where, amongst other matters, a
regional principal would be appointed to ensure decision-making partnerships
between the DET and local Aboriginal communities. The interim and final
reports concerning this process are inconclusive at best. There is ongoing failure.

Not until a Voice to Parliament or some measure of shared sovereignty is
recognized in the Australian Constitution will this problem begin to be resolved.
Cultural inclusion, through learning partnerships where teachers’ cultural
competency is developed, is not enough to overcome the inter-generational
trauma of personal and institutional racism. Aboriginal peoples will only begin to
feel fully respected, recognized, or culturally included once non-Aboriginal
peoples assent to their right to sovereignty.

Colin Hearfield.