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Good evening everyone.
I start by acknowledging the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land on which we gather here and pay my respects to elders past and present.
I want to thank everybody at the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation for everything that you do.
Thank you to Andrew, to Michelle, Renee and Warren, Carlie, Rob, Greg, Emily, Helen, and the whole team.
The work you do really does change lives, and tonight we celebrate that.
And I want to congratulate the stars of tonight – the Year 12 Aboriginal Indigenous Education Foundation Class of 2023.
The Botanic Gardens, where we are right now, is a long way from Walgett, or the deserts of Coober Pedy, the mining town of Newman in the Pilbara or Duan Island in the Torres Strait.
I know that’s where this journey began for some of the students in this room. But the journey you have all made in the last few years is more than just those kilometres.
As I said a moment ago, education changes lives.
And not just for the individual in the classroom. For their families too. And their communities.
It ricochets through generations.
Because if you finish school your children are more likely to finish school.
You are more likely to go on to TAFE or university.
And earn more money, pay more tax.
And your children are more likely to live better lives.
That’s the power of education.
And if you need proof of that, Andrew has plenty of real-life examples from more than 15 years of running this Foundation.
One thousand, two hundred to be exact.
That’s how many young people this Foundation has helped so far.
The real, long-term impact though, as I said, is so much bigger than that.
We have a good education system in Australia, but it’s not perfect, not by a long shot.
The truth is if you are young person from a poor family, or from the regions, or you are an Indigenous Australian, you are less likely to go to pre-school, you are more likely to fall behind in primary school and you are less likely to finish high school.
And if you are an Indigenous man today you are more likely to go to jail than to university.
This is what we have got to fix.
Three weeks ago I introduced legislation into the Parliament that guarantees a place at university to all Indigenous students who get the marks for the course they want to study.
You still pay HECS, we just guarantee the spot.
At the moment this applies to all Indigenous students who live in regional Australia, but not if you live in a big city, like here in Sydney.
Now it will apply right across the country.
It’s got the potential, I am told, to double the number of Indigenous students at university in the next 10 years.
But before we get too excited about that, think about this.
Almost 50 per cent of young Australians in their twenties today have a university degree. Only 7 per cent of young Indigenous Australians do.
And if this works, that might jump to about 12 per cent in the next 10 years.
See what I mean. We have a long way to go.
There’s still so much to do to make this a country where your chances in life don’t depend on how wealthy your parents are, where you live or the colour of your skin.
But this Foundation is part of that.
Part of that journey.
And you are part of that.
In fact, you are at the heart of it.
Congratulations on your incredible achievement.
It is an honour to share the stage with you tonight.