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Mr Mundine, stop harming kids if you want them to go to school!

Written by: Lindy Nolan on 30 November 2023


(Above: Twiggy Forrest and Warren Mundine.  Image Flickr Commons)


Before the Referendum, Warren Mundine revealed plans to completely crush or assimilate First Peoples, to silence them, and provoke their allies to hit out blindly.  

Alongside Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Coalition politicians and former prime ministers, Mr Mundine is a self-serving spokesperson for far-right corporations. These corporation know strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and language stands in the way of their profits from Aboriginal lands.

Mr Mundine identified four fronts of ongoing corporate attacks – accountability, education, economic participation and social change.   

On education, Mr Mundine particularly targets absenteeism among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students. 
Who wouldn’t support action on Indigenous school absenteeism? According to Mr Mundine, Yes campaigners didn’t care about it. “Imagine,” he said, “if they devoted all that energy into getting Indigenous children into school!”  
He condemns teacher unions and supports welfare cuts to families of school avoiders. 
Regrouping against a nationwide attack 
Let’s ignore Mr Mundine’s clickbait insults, and turn the heat on a punitive agenda which has already betrayed those young people, their families and their communities in the Northern Territory. Because Mr Mundine and his faction aim to roll it out nationwide. 
Even in a post truth era, we start with facts. The rate of school refusal among First Peoples, particularly in remote communities, is sobering. It’s a symptom of young peoples’ despair and trauma, not the cause. 
The bipartisan fifteen-year NT Intervention ended in July 2022.  
It shut down successful school programs involving community members overnight. It slashed all commonwealth funding to communities on Country, where children were healthiest and safest. It introduced Basics Cards (which are still enforced) and refused to authorise their use in community run stores, forcing people into towns to buy food hundreds of kilometres away.  
Gradually it forced people off Country into overcrowded towns and regional centres, setting children adrift.  
Yolngu law man Yingiya Mark Guyula was a cross-cultural educator in schools and Charles Darwin University as Senior Lecturer. As the Intervention bit, he was chosen by the Yolngu Nations Assembly to stand successfully for NT parliament. 
His election pamphlet listed the Intervention’s many deliberate attacks including, “the abuse of our children’s minds” by offering English-only instruction and narrow curriculum. “Schools are making our children dumber not smarter,” he wrote in 2016. Labor governments supported the attacks. 
Only Elcho Islanders fought and won against this educational and cultural disempowerment, though some communities gradually clawed back language programs.  
Now John Howard and Tony Abbott stand alongside Mr Mundine, and bleat about the NT as a failed state. Their Intervention is the biggest cause. They want its carnage to roll out nationwide, including in education. 
Remote communities in WA were also systematically closed down in the same time frame as the Intervention began across the border. 
Making it personal 
It costs money to properly support school refusers. Instead, Mr Guyula pointed out the Intervention systematically cut welfare payments to families who couldn’t get their kids to attend. 
When Mr Mundine speaks of fixing poor school attendance, this is what he means. 
Underpinned by massive government funding, elitist private schools cherry pick children with particular skills or from prominent, wealthy or even politically active families. It they don’t attend regularly there’s support. But if they continue avoiding school, they’re booted out. 
In contrast, the vast majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people attend obscenely under-resourced state schools. Remote schools, once the showplaces of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth empowerment now face constant threat of closure and loss of staff members.  
Most people easily understand that cutting family welfare harms the children it’s supposedly helping. It’s the opposite to positive support proven to increase attendance, through rich and relevant culture. Community-run initiatives like access to a school swimming pool also assist.  
Covid disruption and fear caused ongoing spikes in school refusal, not just in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where it was already alarming.  
Many of us know young school refusers among family, friends and neighbours. Parents and guardians know there’s no quick fix. It requires kindness, slow patient work, and understanding of the individual and collective importance of education. Working from this personal base, we can show the flaws in Mr Mundine’s solutions.  
Respect for teachers also grew dramatically during Covid. In NSW parents overwhelmingly refused to condemn teachers strikes. They told media cameras teachers deserved pay rises and workload reductions. We need to build on this! 
Who is our strength?  
The First Peoples’ phrase “Nothing about us without us” means self-determination.  
Across these lands, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders led by elders embrace language learning more deeply each year, especially on Country, assisted by language centres.  
Hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are teachers who live and breathe education. Many are active leading unionists. When Warren Mundine attacks teacher unions, he tries to kick aside these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. 
Instead, they are our experts. We need to promote their presence in every community.  
Get kids back to school! 
Dump failed policies 
Reverse cuts to remote schools 
Culture and language alongside English 
Listen to teachers not politicians and media personalities 
Support students and families 


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