Muswellbrook High School’s Nikita O’Hara praises inaugural Economic and Social Policy Summit in Canberra

TEN Aboriginal secondary students from around Australia who are enrolled in the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation’s Follow The Dream program, including Muswellbrook High School’s Nikita O’Hara, took part in a special event this month.

The group flew to Canberra in mid-January for the inaugural Economic and Social Policy Summit, hosted by the Australian Treasury. 

During the week-long summit, students learnt about Treasury’s role in advising on key policy matters, how the department supports the government to make important budgetary decisions, and the impact Treasury has on issues important to everyday Australians.

Pupils also had the opportunity to explore potential career pathways in government, tour parliamentary institutions, and visit local landmarks. 

The summit marks the inaugural event for the newly-formed partnership between the Australian Treasury and the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation. 

The two organisations will work closely together to provide opportunities for Aboriginal students who are interested in social studies, economics and mathematics and who would like to learn about the many exciting career opportunities in Treasury. 

“We called this Summit Gadi Mura – a Ngunnawal expression for ‘pathways’,” Secretary to the Treasury Philip Gaetjens said.

“We wanted to make this experience a pathway for students to understand more about what Treasury does, and learn more about Canberra and its institutions. 

“We also hope that the pupils will be inspired to follow public policy and join the public service in a professional role.” 

Each student was paired with several mentors from Treasury, who provided support throughout the week, hints and tips on career planning, and a “front row” view on issues the department is currently working on. 

They also had the opportunity to visit their mentors in the workplace to get a glimpse of what a career at Treasury would entail. 

Throughout the summit, the youngsters took part in a variety of interesting and stimulating activities, including a Policy Challenge where they worked in teams to tackle a “live” policy issue and develop advice for the appropriate Minister on a recommended course of action. 

“It was an invaluable experience,” said Ms O’Hara, a Year 11 Follow the Dream student from Muswellbrook, which is managed by the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation and partnered by BHP.

“This week has been a really great opportunity to meet inspiring and motivated people at the Treasury who have kick-started my determination to do well at school. 

“Visiting the Parliament Houses, the High Court and the Tent Embassy has given me a very real view on history.”

During a tour of Parliament House, students heard about how Treasury interfaces with parliament and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have influenced parliamentary process. 

Another highlight of the summit was an excursion to the High Court to learn about the national significance of decisions made there, including the Mabo Case. 

Treasury also organised a tour of the Old Parliament House where students staged a mock debate about the historical motion to construct a dam across the Franklin River in Tasmania, one of the most significant environmental campaigns in Australian history. 

Pupils took this opportunity to visit the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of the Old Parliament House to gain a better understanding of the role the Embassy has played in national politics since it was established in 1972. 

In between debating hot policy issues and touring parliamentary buildings, they also visited the National Museum of Australia to explore the ancient and recent experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, learn about the Stolen Generation, and experiment with Indigenous tools. 

About the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation 

THE Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation has more than 20 years’ experience and success in empowering Aboriginal students in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory to complete school and move into successful post-school pathways, including university, apprenticeships, traineeships, and direct employment. 

The first program began in the Pilbara in 1997 with 23 students. 

Today, there are in excess of 1800 students enrolled in 46 primary and secondary programs around Australia. 

Pupils participating in the foundation’s programs are encouraged to aim high. 

Their school attendance rate is 88 per cent (vs 67 per cent for all Aboriginal students), over 90 per cent of students successfully complete Year 12, and they are up to 60 per cent* more likely to achieve a WACE (than Aboriginal students not on the program). 

The foundation has built long-term, trusted relationships with major government and industry partners, including the WA Dept of Education, Australian Government Dept of Prime Minister & Cabinet, the Australian Treasury, Rio Tinto, BHP, Woodside, North West Shelf Project, Wesfarmers and Anglo Gold Ashanti. 

* Independent study in 2017 by PWC commissioned by the WA Department of Education