International and Australian Indigenous News

Support for Recognition continues as a referendum draws closer
27 May, 2016

Support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continues with 77% of non-indigenous and 87% of Indigenous Australians saying they would vote yes in a referendum if held today.

The findings were released at a Reconciliation South Australia breakfast to celebrate the start of National Reconciliation Week and the 49th anniversary of the historic 1967 Referendum.

RECOGNISE Joint Campaign Director Tanya Hosch told the audience of 1300 people, which included 1967 campaigners Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue and Shirley Peisley, that there is consistent and encouraging support for constitutional change.

The new research by independent company Polity, and conducted using large samples and random selection, is the eighth consecutive poll since 2012 that shows a consistent trend of high level support for recognising Indigenous people in Australia’s Constitution.

The survey also found high levels of agreement that the push for recognition is being driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and leaders:

  • Of non-Indigenous people surveyed - 53% agreed and only 6% disagreed
  • Of Indigenous people surveyed - 65% Indigenous agreed and only10% disagreed.

“This consistent data shows that the Australian community supports the strong need to fix our Constitution to tell our country’s whole story and deal with the racial discrimination in our highest legal document,” Ms Hosch said.

Ms Hosch said the findings were consistent with what thousands of Australians around the country are saying during conversations in the three year long Journey to Recognition, the national relay to raise awareness about constitutional change.

“Our research identifies that fixing the Constitution to recognise the place of the First Australians in our history is important to us all.”

“Momentum is building towards a Referendum in 2017, and this research shows the Australian community is ready to unite to leave a legacy that future generations can be proud of.”

The March 2016 survey has seen a drop in awareness levels since the last survey- 51% (Non-Indigenous) and 63% (Indigenous). From a high of July 2015 (63% and 73% - respectively) which followed the widely reported 2015 July leaders meeting and an advertising campaign by Recognise last winter. Awareness is still above the long-term trend.

“This dip in awareness shows that progress must continue to be made to resolve a model and it’s good to see that consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are being rolled out from now to the end of the year.”

“This can’t be rushed but equally, we can’t let this opportunity pass us by”.

The survey also found that 62% of Indigenous respondents would be likely to get involved and support the Recognise campaign.

About the Survey

Survey Method: The survey was conduced by Polity Research between 9-27 March 2016. Results are based on an online and CATI phone survey of respondents randomly selected among the Australian population (i.e. the “general community”) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people.

Accuracy: For the general community sample size of n=2966, the margin of error is +/- 1.8% at the 95% confidence interval. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community sample size of n=750, the margin of error is +/-3.6%. Questions:

  • Have you heard about a proposed referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution?
  • If a referendum was held today and you had to decide, how would you vote?
  • Who is driving the campaign for a referendum to determine whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians should recognised in the Constitution?
  • How likely would you be to get involved and support Recognise’s campaign?


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Education system unfair and failing while we ignore needs of First Peoples’ students

Angelo Gavrielatos

We cannot say our school system is fair or succeeding while outcomes for Indigenous students are so far behind the rest of the nation.

The recent Productivity Commission report into Indigenous Disadvantage told us, yet again, there is a huge gap in achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. It also found literacy and numeracy outcomes for Indigenous students have shown very little improvement over the last five years.

Closing gaps in achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students can only happen if we close the gaps in resources between schools.

This is why the decision by the Abbott Government to abandon the full six year Gonski funding agreements with the States, failing to deliver two thirds of the extra funding promised, is a betrayal that will hit Indigenous students hardest.

Gonski funding is our chance to shift to a system that is funded on need and one which recognises that better targeted resourcing, recognising the needs of students, is the key to closing the gaps in achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Under the Gonski school funding reforms, schools with Indigenous students receive greater funding. As do schools with low income students, in regional areas and where students come from non-English speaking backgrounds, all of which apply to the schools which educate the majority of Indigenous students.

This recognises the compounding nature of disadvantage – when schools are remote, low SES and primarily Indigenous, it’s a totally different classroom environment from a school in a middle class suburb. It also recognises the historic under-funding which has denied Indigenous children the resources they need and deserve.

Resourcing is not just about buildings and equipment. It is about having the teachers and support staff to implement the programs to ensure children can get individual attention and access to specialist literacy and numeracy programs and speech pathology programs which can make such a difference for students. Without this support many students will not be able to make the most of their potential.

The Abbott Government will not admit the strong link between equity in school resourcing and performance. Instead we have had a series of distractions from issue of properly funding schools in remote communities or in regional towns.

Ideas like expanding Direct Instruction in schools in Indigenous communities, based on the Cape York trial, despite a Queensland Government review showing there was no evidence the trial had improved outcomes.

We have no issue with trying new things in classrooms. We will support anything that works to improve results for Indigenous students but to pretend that Direct Instruction, or any other teaching method can solve all problems without the resources we need is wrong. It may work for some students, in some areas, at some points in their education but to claim it is a universal panacea is to waste scarce resources and ignore the deeper problems in Indigenous education.

School attendance is another huge issue. Again we would support any measures which can raise long term attendance rate but attendance can not be separated from other health, social and educational issues affecting Indigenous students.

We are concerned the Truancy Officers policy is not delivering long term results. Reports are it has caused some short term increases in attendance, which have led to overcrowded classrooms and teachers without the support to deal with the needs of students who may have missed considerable schooling.

Prime Minister Abbott admitted last month efforts to increase Indigenous school attendance had “stalled” but we have no leadership from the Federal Government on this issue.

Up until the introduction of the Gonski reforms this year, we had endured a lost decade in education funding, where funding systems based on sector, not need, saw big increases in funding to wealthy schools, while the public schools which educate the vast majority of Indigenous students fell behind.

We must not go back to those days. Funding based on student need must be the cornerstone of our school system.

The gaps in results between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students cannot be closed overnight but they will never be closed unless we get serious about closing gaps in resources and providing minimum standards of resourcing to all schools.

To do anything less is to fail another generation of Indigenous children.