First peo­ple put MPs on no­tice to lift their game in par­lia­ment

The Australian - - THE NATION - STEPHEN FITZ­PATRICK INDIGE­NOUS AF­FAIRS EDITOR

Ques­tion time is never for the faint hearted, but a group of indige­nous school stu­dents ex­plor­ing the mech­a­nisms of democ­racy in all their flawed glory found it a par­tic­u­larly whacky case of back to the fu­ture.

Seated in the pub­lic gallery last week for the ses­sion in which Peter Dut­ton de­scribed his for­mer bor­der se­cu­rity chief Ro­man Quaed­vlieg as “Bill Shorten’s God­win Grech”, Elyssa Clark ad­mits she emerged more than a lit­tle be­wil­dered.

“It was all very loud and noisy, not an ap­pro­pri­ate man­ner for par­lia­ment,” the Year 11 stu­dent at St Peter’s Lutheran Col­lege in Bris­bane said. “I mean, we got told to stay off our phones and not talk and yet these peo­ple are yelling at each other.”

For­tu­nately Elyssa and sev­eral of her peers in the Aus­tralian Indige­nous Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion had the op­por­tu­nity to take Scott Mor­ri­son to task on how the cur­rent rab­ble of pol­i­tics was un­fold­ing, when they were in­vited to the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice for a pri­vate in­ter­view.

“He did say that it’s been so dis­rup­tive and that the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the past 10 years has been more tu­mul­tuous than in the pre­vi­ous 40 years, and that he wants it to re­turn to sta­bil­ity,” she re­vealed af­ter­wards.

“And he said that on the anniversary of the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks in New York and on the Pen­tagon, we’ve got to make sure we cre­ate a safe com­mu­nity, and that safety ex­tends to eco­nomic se­cu­rity for fam­i­lies.”

Elyssa was with a group of about 70 stu­dents on an annual work ex­pe­ri­ence week put on for the foun­da­tion’s high­est achiev­ers, de­signed to help them learn about ca­reers in gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic ser­vice.

And she might not have got­ten the Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter’s ref­er­ence to Grech — the pub­lic ser­vant at the heart of the Ute­gate al­le­ga­tions which em­broiled both Kevin Rudd’s and Mal­colm Turn­bull’s lead­er­ship in 2009 — but as the foun­da­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Pen­fold pointed out, there was a di­rect his­tor­i­cal link for the visi­tors.

“We had a sim­i­lar group in Kevin Rudd’s of­fice just be­fore he lost his job in 2010, which is a re­minder of how close to the big his­tor­i­cal mo­ments they can some­times get on these trips,” Mr Pen­fold said. “It would have been amongst one of Rudd’s last meet­ings in his of­fice, and (last week’s was) among Mor­ri­son’s first.”

Also vis­it­ing the of­fice of Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Nigel Scul­lion, Elyssa said she was im­pressed by “how pas­sion­ate he was about indige­nous peo­ple; he did men­tion the cul­ture and con­nec­tion they have and also that be­cause of this they’re more suit­able to hav­ing a role in his of­fice”.

The youngest of nine sib­lings from an East Palmer­ston fam­ily, she’s lin­ing her­self up for ter­tiary qual­i­fi­ca­tions in nurs­ing and mid­wifery af­ter grad­u­at­ing, but was also look­ing for­ward to a visit to the Aus­tralian De­fence Force Acad­emy.

“I do want to work in the army, to step up and make sure the coun­try’s safe,” she said.

GARY RAMAGE

Jack Mudge, Kodie Mason, Scott Mor­ris­son, Matthew McDon­ald and Elyssa Clark in the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice

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