As part of my Parliamentary Committee service in Canberra, I am currently a Member of the House of Representatives Indigenous Affairs Committee.
With the Federal electorate of Parkes currently spanning one-third of Western New South Wales (NSW), I am proud to represent more Aboriginal people than nearly any other Member of Parliament in Canberra.
Something that I hear a lot about from members of Indigenous rural and remote communities in my patch is the challenges faced by parents in accessing educational opportunities for their children.
No matter who you are or where we come from, having access to a good education as a child can often impact on the opportunities we are presented with in adulthood.
I was heartened by the announcement from the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, that the Coalition Government has overseen the biggest jump in Indigenous higher education enrolments in nearly a decade, as well as increases in enrolments of regional and low socio-economic students.
According to new student data for 2015, we’ve seen more students enrol than ever before, with strong growth in enrolments from Aboriginal students and students from regional areas. Together, these students make up nearly one in five of all domestic enrolments.
This is definitely fantastic news for students and parents in rural and regional Australia. However I know there is still a lot to be done in this space.
A key issue raised at Regional Higher Education Forums held across Australia last year, including in Narrabri, indicated that both Indigenous and non-indigenous students from rural and remote areas still face significant cost burdens in accessing a range of education. These costs are often associated with accommodation for students who need to relocate to access courses, a cost not faced by city students who can remain at home while they study.
It is issues such as this that will be considered by the Indigenous Affairs Committee during its current inquiry into educational opportunities and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The Committee will examine the access to, participation in and outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at different types of schools including remote and regional, independent, boarding, scholarship, community and city schools.
As part of the inquiry, the Committee would like to hear about the experiences of students and their families, their teachers and principals, about what can be done to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with the best education and the best opportunities for their future.
I encourage everyone across the electorate to get involved by either completing the online questionnaire or making a submission to the Committee.
The questionnaire will be online from now until March 2016. A link to the online questionnaire can be found on the inquiry website at www.aph.gov.au/educationalopportunities
The Committee will be accepting submissions throughout its inquiry. For advice on making submissions, please contact the Committee Secretariat on (02) 6277 4559 or email firstname.lastname@example.org