Minister a strong voice at Transforming with the Spirit Conference
13 Oct 2022
Proudly hosted by Catholic Schools NSW together with Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, 550 educators from across Australia have gathered in Leura for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Education NSW State Conference.
With a strong focus on Closing the Gap in educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, Minister for Indigenous Australians Hon Linda Burney MP headlined the event calling delegates to action on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The proud member of the Wiradjuri nation shared her own story in conversation with MC Professor Anita Heiss, speaking about growing up in country NSW in the 1950s and 60s. Delegates heard that Minister Burney had a political awakening when she became a school teacher, starting out working in Lethbridge Park in the Mount Druitt area in the 1980s. This work in Aboriginal Education taught her that “If you’re not at the table having your say, your voice will not be heard”.
Minister Burney was inspired to join the teaching profession by a school Principal who was the mother of her high-school sweetheart. This inspirational woman helped her to apply for a scholarship to study education. Despite initially being disappointed at not being placed in a regional community, Minister Burney learned a lot from her time working in Mount Druitt.
Recalling her time in the classroom, she commented: “You learn more from your students than you teach them”. Visibly moved by memories of her students, she spoke about sharing food as a class at lunchtime to ensure “no one was ashamed” as a result of having no lunch. She spoke with warmth about the strengths of these young people and their community. These experiences taught her two life lessons that she has carried into her career in politics: “Be kind” and “Manners cost you nothing”.
Minister Burney told delegates that the Federal Government is committed to making a real difference on Closing the Gap on education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. She noted that the Catholic Schools NSW Aboriginal Education Strategy aims to see increases in Enrolments, retention and post-school transitions as well as improvements in numeracy and literacy and NAPLAN results.
“But importantly, it also aims to see improvements in wellbeing outcomes and better understanding of the histories, cultures and experiences of Aboriginal people,” Minister Burney said.
These are important factors in making schools welcoming, supportive environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Several initiatives were outlined to support this agenda including that all Indigenous children will be able to access 36 hours of subsidised childcare a fortnight from July 2023, a committment to re-establishing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Council and work towards a new Early Childhood Care and Development Policy Partnership between all Australian governments and First Nations people. Further initiatives included more boarding schools on country in partnership with Studio Schools Australia, scaling up proven reading programs to accelerate First Nations students’ literacy outcomes and a commitment about teaching First Nations languages in primary schools across Australia.
Reflecting on Reconciliation, Minister Burney reminded delegates that we all have a role to play. In a stirring call to action, she urged everyone present to talk to each other and colleagues about the importance of the upcoming National Referendum to establish an Indigenous Voice to the Australian Parliament. The Voice is one of the key actions arising from the Uluru Statement of the Heart which Minister Burney described as poetic, generous and beautiful.
“We are on the cusp of something great in this country, we are on the cusp of real change where the nation’s birth certificate will finally be completed,” Minister Burney said. “So, who’s with me?”
Minister Burney was the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the NSW Parliament and the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the House of Representatives. She was elected federal member for Barton in 2016, following a 14 year career in the NSW Parliament as Member for Canterbury. During her state political career she served as Minister in a number of senior portfolios including as Minister for Community Services and later as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. She has held senior positions in the non-government sector serving on a number of Boards including the SBS, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, and the NSW Board of Studies.
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