SUBJECTS: Connected Beginnings program, Closing the Gap program, Education Health for SNAICC.
DAVID REILLY, HOST: Dr Anne Aly is the Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education and the Minister for Youth, in Hobart today. Came down with the rest of the Labor Cabinet and joins you now.
Welcome to Hobart and welcome to Drive.
MINISTER ANNE ALY: Thank you so much, David, it's great to be here and Hobart is such a beautiful city.
REILLY: We'll talk about this program that's being rolled out in Tasmania; it's called Connected Beginnings.
But can we sort of just dial it back a little bit and just talk about this concept of Closing the Gap, because we've had it since 2007 and there was a report back in 2020 roughly. Just remind us of what is it and what are the objectives?
ALY: The objectives of the Closing the Gap report is to monitor and report on how Australia is faring in terms of closing, you know, it's called a gap, but in some areas there's actually a gaping chasm, in terms of outcomes between First Nations people and non‑Indigenous Australians.
So in early childhood, for example, there are gaps in terms of school readiness for First Nations children. There are gaps in terms of outcomes for school and university attendance for First Nations children. And one of the things that we know is that when young people, children attend good quality early childhood education and care and they get good quality health care that they need and they have parenting support, then they actually do better. They do better in terms of their school readiness, which means they do better in terms of school, which means they do better in terms of school outcomes and better in their adult life.
So Closing the Gap is about literally that, closing the gap.
REILLY: And we get a report card on this every year, don't we?
REILLY: From the Productivity Commission. We had one earlier this year. Safe to say that we're not really making a lot of progress.
ALY: Certainly not. And I think, you know, despite all the best wishes and best intentions of progressive and successive governments, we haven't been able to close the gap. This is a stark reality of the nation that we live in today.
REILLY: I mean in many cases we're going backwards.
ALY: Exactly, we are. We are going backwards. And so it really is a responsibility that we carry on all our shoulders, I think, as a nation to do better in terms of the outcomes for First Nations people.
REILLY: When we look at Tasmania, and I know this isn't it, sort of, you know, where you're from, but what does that gap look like here in Tasmania? How are we different from the situation elsewhere in the country when it comes particularly to those key things, education and health for young people?
ALY: Well, you know, obviously there is a gap here and that's why part of our $81 million that's invested in Connected Beginnings, which looks at closing the gap in those first five years, three of the services that we have are here in Tasmania. One in Burnie, one in Georgetown and one in Bridgewater.
Those three services have helped 600 First Nations young children in terms of getting them ready for school and in closing that gap of school readiness for them.
In terms of how Tasmania fares against the rest of the country in this regard, I can't really, you know, speak to specific figures but suffice to say that the presence of three Connected Beginnings programs here means that there has been a response to the need for closing the gap in those first five years in Tasmania.
REILLY: On ABC Radio, you're with David Reilly. My guest, Dr Anne Aly who's the Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education and the Minister for Youth, in Hobart, and we're talking about a Federal Government ‑ well it's a funding bucket really, it's called Connected Beginnings and it provides funding to community groups who have an interest in, well assisting young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to get a good start in life.
Anne look, you obviously travel around the country, you've seen the roll out of these projects. Are there any sort of real ‑ I mean where does it work? Where do you see actual real progress and success stories being made?
ALY: Well that's a great question. So our aim is to have 50 of these sites across the country by 2025. We're now up to 40 sites rolled out across the country so we are well on our way to achieving that target of 50 by 2025.
They're mostly rolled out in rural and regional areas. So I visited Connected Beginnings sites all around Australia really, and really it's about this. So we know that, you know, if you're healthy you're going to do better in your education, and if you've got a good education you've probably got better health outcomes as well. Those things are intrinsically tied. And the thing is that for First Nations communities that's how they raise children. You know that saying it takes a village to raise a child?
And so Connected Beginnings is really about supporting First Nations children from pre‑birth, so it's also for pregnant mums, from birth right through to age five, from my area through access to quality early childhood education and care, but also connecting to that all the health supports they need, the parenting supports they need, health interventions they need, your antenatal and prenatal care that's needed to have those first five years thriving to the same extent that non-indigenous children are experiencing in other parts of the country.
So it's made a huge difference in rural-regional, it's made a huge difference for First Nations communities wherever they are, wherever these sites are. And the thing is how we choose these sites is in partnership with the First Nations communities. We've got a partnership with SNAICC and with the local communities and they tell us this is where this would work, and this is how this would work in this site or in that site.
REILLY: Well you just mentioned SNAICC, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, which is the partner group that's operating some of these initiatives here in Tasmania.
I want to bring in Gretchen Young who's the Executive Director of programs at SNAICC. Gretchen, welcome to the program.
GRETCHEN YOUNG: Thanks so much, David, for having me.
REILLY: Gretchen, look, talk us through exactly what's being rolled out here in Tasmania. What might a day look like for a child who's involved in one of these Connected Beginnings projects here in Tasmania?
YOUNG: Yep, sure. Look, I think just to pick up on one of Anne's points is that Connected Beginnings is a key piece in the puzzle that will help to close the gap in educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
In terms of the Connected Beginnings sites in Tasmania, one of the things that TAC as the backbone organisation provide really well is everything from employment for local people and engagement activities, so it really provides those supports around service integration.
And as Anne, Minister Aly has also suggested that part of the Connected Beginnings program is about providing that service integration that meets the needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. So it may be attending a supported play group, it may be attending a particular eat and talk event in Georgetown, it may be a particular activity that really breaks down barriers and fosters trust between service providers and Aboriginal community members.
REILLY: Gretchen, one of the things that really stood out to me from Warren Mundine's address to the Press Club recently from the No Campaign was his view that instead of funding this national indigenous advisory body the single best thing that we could do would be to spend more money on addressing educational disadvantage for indigenous people. That's the best way to lift people out of poverty.
Now regardless of your stance on the Voice do you agree with that as a sentiment? Is that really where we need to put our energy?
YOUNG: Look, in terms of putting our energy anywhere I think one of SNAICC's key priorities is the more Aboriginal community led early youth services that include family supports, so one of I guess the key focus that SNAICC has currently is around building the capacity of the Aboriginal community-controlled sector.
So one of the things that SNAICC does is acknowledge that our children will have a better start in life with access to quality community controlled early education, to early childhood education and support services. So in terms of, I guess, Warren's comments, that in terms of Aboriginal people knowing what's best, and let’s acknowledge that for over 60,000 years Aboriginal communities have been raising children, so let's give a big nod and acknowledgement to child rearing practices in Aboriginal communities.
But in terms of I guess Warren's approach, SNAICC would have to agree that putting funding, any funding into Aboriginal community led and community-controlled organisations certainly makes sense.
REILLY: On ABC Radio, you're listening to Drive. My guests are Dr Anne Aly, the Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education and the Minister for Youth, in Hobart, also Gretchen Young who's involved with SNAICC, the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, which is the peak body that's helping roll out a new ‑ well, an initiative called Connected Beginnings here in Tasmania.
Look, can I just come back to you, Dr Aly, with the very short amount of time we have left. This initiative, we've got three rolled out already in the State, is there scope for further expansion of this program here? Are you still taking grant applications?
ALY: Well the way that it works is we listen to the First Nations communities, and we work with them to identify where there are potential sites to open up Connected Beginnings.
And I just want to take that point that you raised earlier there with Gretchen, yeah, sure, we could put more money into this but as long as we don't listen ‑ yeah, if we don't listen and work closely with First Nations people we will continue to have the same outcomes that we've been having that have been reported in those Closing the Gap reports year upon year upon year upon year. So we need to be taking their advice, we need to be working with them and we need to be listening to them about where that money should be directed and how that money should be directed. And Connected Beginnings is a great example of that.
REILLY: Well to both of you thank you for your time. We are out of time. Really appreciate you joining us in the studio today, Dr Anne Aly, Federal Minister for Early Childhood and Youth, thank you.
ALY: Thank you, David.
REILLY: And Gretchen Young who's with SNAICC, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, thank you for your time also this afternoon.
YOUNG: Thank you, David.