Respect for diversity and difference has to start in Australia’s schools, Labor Senator Pat Dodson has told the annual Garma Festival in the Northern Territory.
Senator Dodson said young people needed to be valued and helped to blossom.
“How do we create a respect for diversity and difference in our society?” he said. “If we can’t inculcate it in a school environment, it’s far more difficult to inculcate into a society that is distracted by many other challenges.
“Unless those seedbeds, in a schooling context, enables those young people to understand diversity and difference and respect and they are able to live in a way that gives recognition to that, then we are not building the kind of citizens we require in a complicated modern democracy.
“Because what we will see are the prejudices, the extreme right-wing attitudes towards things like same-sex marriage or many other factors, the intolerance in our society.”
Senator Dodson said establishing a good relationship with young people was at the core of education.
Senator Dodson said one of the horrifying aspects of the footage from the Don Dale detention centre which has sparked a royal commission was that the prison officers and the boys obviously didn’t have any kind of relationship.
He said it was important to make an effort to understand different people’s experiences.
“To really enter into the space they live if they don’t get sleep at night, if there’s arguments, if there’s rows, if there’s insufficient accommodation, all of those things we’ve got to be able to understand that and then use those factors also as part of the reform for the learning context,” he said.
“It’s not just the school. It’s not just the teacher. Those kids are coming out of some kind of learned environment. The systems the royal commission is going to inquire into, it’s not going to look into that, unfortunately.
“It’s going to look at the system that prevails according to law when it comes to the running of institutions that incarcerate and hold kids and subject them to the sorts of discipline it believes are appropriate.”
Senator Dodson said when he was a growing up in Katherine in the NT the most Indigenous children were expected to achieve was to get their driver’s license and a job with the Works and Housing Department.
“As I looked around growing up and saw Aboriginal people more senior than me and who I respected carrying water on a yoke after a full day of snipping weeds or grass around someone’s house and walking back to the bush because there was no water reticulation and I wondered why was this the case,” he said. “Why people had to live like that and why was it after a long hard day battling in the sun, these senior people still had the burden of carrying water back to the little humpy they had in the bush behind where I lived?”
He said as a 12-year-old he was paid the same rate to move cattle from Katherine to Darwin as the senior men and had thought it unfair.
“So education for me has always been about looking at things, analysing them and asking yourself, ‘Why is this the case? Can it be improved? And can I improve in the process of helping others to improve?” he said.