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Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association

Kids need fair crack at decent, affordable education and life security

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Katherine NTCA Branch chair Justin Dyer's speech at the ICPA luncheon in Katherine on 21/07/2020


Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and a sincere thank you for the opportunity to talk to you firstly about the Isolated Children’s Parents Associations role in my own education and the synergies between the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association and ICPA.
Before I get onto that, particularly I’d like to thank Kerrie Scott, ICPA Katherine Branch President for extending an invitation to speak to you all here today. I’d also like to acknowledge all the Katherine Branch members and guests, fellow speaker Sarah Cook ICPA NT President, ICPA life members and the Honourable Selena Uibo our Territory Minister for Education - thanks for taking the time to join us all here today.

Now, for those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, I’ll give you a bit of my background as a way of introduction. As you heard earlier my name is Justin Dyer and I reside on Hayfield Station which is about halfway from here to Tennant Creek with the Stuart Highway rolling through the middle of it. Considering we are three hours from Katherine or Tennant and our dirt road driveway is only 10km before the bitumen with wet season access for heavy vehicles, Hayfield is not as isolated as many other stations here in the NT. 

My parents John and Val moved to Hayfield in 1974 and have pretty much resided there ever since. All the kids, which includes Nick, Lisa and myself were born in Katherine and raised on Hayfield. Lisa and her partner Brad run what we now call Sturt Plains which is on the southern end of Hayfield, Sally and I run the northern section of Hayfield and the Shenandoah lease, Nick and his wife Kathy live in Katherine and operate Helimuster NT out of a hanger in Katherine and Victoria River Downs Station. So, the whole family still resides here in the NT which is nice.

Nick who is the eldest started Katherine School of the Air in 1980 and by the time myself and Lisa went through in 1994 it was 14 years of KSA in total. Our classroom had not only the Dyer kids but several of the local Aboriginal children from Elliott attended who were children of some of the staff that worked at Hayfield. We always had a governess and mum used to fill in when we were in-between governesses who were prone to float for various reasons. Then it was off to boarding school which was our only option at the time and we all pretty much completed our high school in Adelaide. With Nick going on to graduate with a Batchelor in Rural Management from the University of Queensland in 2000, Lisa attending a year of environmental science at CDU Darwin in 2003 then deferring to travel overseas and myself completing a diploma of Agribusiness Administration from Marcus Oldham College in 1999.

So, the role that the ICPA played in my primary education was to make sure that not only the children, but the mums and govvies and even dads sometimes all get together for as many occasions as possible. There were gymkhanas at Timber Creek and the beef bash at NTCA AGMs organised by the ICPA. They were incredibly exciting events and good little fundraisers. ICPA also supported and lobbied funds for the School of the Air to run annual sports days, swim schools, camps and excursions. All of these “in schools” for remote children are essential for a good balanced education. They are an essential service for the children of families who, the majority of, provide an essential service, as shown by covid by participating in the NT Agriculture industry one way or another.

My memories of primary school, KSA, are extremely fond ones and lifelong friendships forged. For a while later on I recall I would get my set work for two weeks, knock it out in a week or so then go out to camp and help with the stockwork out there.

Secondary schooling options were to go to boarding school, that’s it, no ifs or buts about it. I remember catching the bus to Adelaide and back a few times, flying a few times and sometimes not coming home for holidays at all. I believe the ICPA managed to lobby for some boarding and travel allowance although it wasn’t much, all I know for sure was that my weekly spending money started at nine dollars. All in all, I got through okay and had a bit of fun along the way.

Right, so that sounds fairly straight forward and when you say it quickly enough it would be easy to think that it is so. However, I am here to assure you that it was far from easy and that the challenges faced by pastoral station families at that time were vast and compounding. A lot of those challenges we are still facing today and frankly the list is getting bigger. Even though I believe the future is bright we need to be able to attract as much talent to the fold as we can, and having equitable access to a decent education is a deal breaker for many. I am here to talk about education so please let me indulge into two subjects that I believe are fundamental for the future. I know I might be at risk of straying out of my policy/expertise lane here but I believe it is a core issue for all and I’m here now so apologies in advance.

Firstly, social skills, social inclusion from your peers, the ability to grow and interact with other children of similar age. To develop values that mean the most when you are in a group environment with kids your own age. Such as fairness, cooperation, teamwork, patience, compassion, tolerance, kindness, the art of negotiation and leadership. Or as JD used to drum into me “either lead, follow or get out of the road!”  

Growing up as a “bush kid” there are certain values that will be common to many because of the nature of your environment you find yourself in. Isolated, interacting with working adults you will soon figure out what you need to be to become valued and accepted. Honesty is a big one, people around you need to trust that you will do what you say and if you don’t then lookout. Work ethic is another, discipline, doing a job well, performing a task that might be undesirable  not because you have someone looking over your shoulder or you will get scolded but because you know it is the right thing to do, integrity, determination, facing your fears, being handy and having a sense of humour will all sit you in good stead with the rest of the “crew”.

But a lot of the most critical values that I mentioned earlier will mainly come from social interaction with your peers, and it will be these values that will help guide you in adult life and especially if you aspire to a successful professional career. It is not one or the other but a healthy balance of both and the values that you may acquire from growing up as a bush kid, critically need to be balanced with these other community values.

Another major challenge is one that is perhaps most obvious but seems difficult to prosecute, that is equity of access to an education. Every child born in this great country has a right to have access to free primary education, that includes costs associated with delivering that. Mainly, funding for teachers aids or who we know as governesses, I can not for the life of me find a decent reason why the cost burden for these critical teachers continues to be put with the parents of children living in isolation. No one else in the NT or Australia have to pay for this essential service so why should we? And now as many parents around Australia have had to deal with the reality of home schooling and the subsequent perhaps related increase in alcohol consumption due to covid, now would be an opportune time to lead the charge for change. Governesses, travel and accommodation to town for in school are a cost that we should not be expected to cover.

Regional families are some of the hardest working and productive people around, they contribute significantly to not only the export dollars and economy of Australia and the NT but to the social fabric of the communities we support. We keep it real, and I think it is time that it is recognised by all levels of government that our kids need a fair crack at a decent and affordable education. I don’t need to tell you all here today that by jingo’s they are going to need it and we will need them to keep the ship steady as we sail into the future.

Our business APN P/L have always been members of the NTCA and in fact John and Val were one of the founding members, I chose to become involved with the NTCA for the same reason as many of you, who chose to become involved in the ICPA: To help lobby for change, to be involved in an organisation that represents grass roots families and industry and run issues up as the need arises. Importantly both NTCA and ICPA are independent from government and other outside influences and that holds our reputation of integrity up if and when our policies come under scrutiny.

My role as Katherine Branch chair is to listen to issues arising from the branch level, mediate debate around those issues and with the support of the CEO and EO bring them up to the executive level. Also reporting back from the executive to branch level and keeping an open door to any communication that arises in-between meetings. The hard decisions are made at the executive level where policy and recommendations are formed then run up to various organisations, Territory and Federal Departments. As an organisation, I think the results achieved over time speak to the ability of NTCA to do that job successfully.  

Two of our core values of the NTCA are People and Unity, and under these values I think the NTCA and ICPA can absolutely work together “in support of” policies that are common to us both.  Speaking as the Katherine Branch Chair I would be happy to have a Representative from ICPA formally present issues at branch level that require a united approach, as well as direct communication to NTCA office staff at Buffalo Court as need be. ICPA are also open to become associate members, I think our relationship is closer than that, however it could help with updated correspondence from us. The NTCA works with, has close relationships and memberships with many organisations with in the NT such as the NTLEA, NT Farmers and NT Road Transport Association. We collaborate often on Territory matters and present a united front when needed, or NTCA, or other associations may take the lead when appropriate with “support of” other said associations. The same can be said on a National level, the NTCA has access to resources and lines of communication to other National Organisation’s such as the National Farmers Federation to help put weight behind submissions that are pertinent to our cause.  

We have had a glimpse already of what the “new normal” may look like, now more than ever the importance of Agriculture is in the spot light.  It is accepted that not only do we put food and fibre into every house hold in Australia but the export dollar that we generate is a foundation of our Territory and National GDP.  It is indeed and exciting time for Agriculture, which by necessity is, and will remain one of the most sustainable industries on the planet, but we need to keep upskilling ourselves and our workforce to stay on top of future challenges. Our children and their education are the key and they will need the ability to adapt and continue to learn through their whole careers. We are running businesses first and foremost and that means those businesses must succeed for the sake of us all.

In summation I personally know that the NTCA and ICPA are basically joined at the hip, and I am open to any advice on how we can improve our cooperation and help each other achieve our goals for our children and their security of a decent life and job in the future.

Thank you.

Justin Dyer

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