Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer
3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013
Opening of the Refurbished Ashfield School of Arts Building
5 June 2009
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Let me also acknowledge a great Australian and someone I've had the privilege of working with over a number of years: the Reverend Bill Crews. Bill was a terrific help to me in my previous guise as Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services.
During the many years I spent in that role I witnessed something important that has great significance for Australia's future – and that's seeing Australia's welfare sector take up the cause of education.
Under the leadership of people like Bill and others, organisations like Exodus, ACOSS, the Smith Family, the Jesuits, the Brotherhood and others have thrown their full force behind a simple but powerful idea. That's the idea that the best way to exit poverty is to re-enter a school.
Of course they haven't put all their eggs in one basket.
They continue to do a great job pushing the case for extra social and emergency housing, better employment assistance and higher incomes for our poorest citizens.
And their magnificent practical help goes on, as ever: putting a roof over people's heads and putting food on their tables – something I've had the opportunity to help with myself.
They've had a profound influence on the Government's policy directions and will continue to do so.
Australia's welfare organisations are critical allies in the cause of creating a stronger and fairer nation.
And that's why I am so proud to be here today – to open this fantastic new Tutorial Centre we are all standing in front of. To help Exodus continue on the path to helping so many others.
Education as the Answer to Poverty
By focusing on education, Exodus has sent a powerful signal that they're not only part of the solution to poverty. They're part of the long-term solution to Australia's economic problems too.
The future of our country lies in the minds and talents of all of our young people – including the ones who need to come here.
We can and do put enormous resources into re-equipping Exodus' adult clients with the skills they need to get a job, find a home and start a better life. But it's not easy.
A better idea is to ensure they don't need to come here in the first place – by giving them the one thing that will give them independence and control of their own destinies: education. Success in this task means starting young.
That's why the Rudd Government has given such emphasis to creating a new early education agenda. Reversing the shameful neglect of the previous decade, which caused us to drop to near last in the OECD in early childhood investment.
But when those early learning opportunities have been lost – as a result of poverty and the disruption it causes to young children's lives – we need to provide those children with a second chance.
The New Tutorial Centre
That's what this fantastic new Tutorial Centre will do.
How it came about is a marvelous story of people pitching in to help with a great cause.
Over the years this once-grand School of Arts had fallen into disrepair. It was in a derelict and sorry state. But the donation of the structure by the State Government and the generous financial help of the Exodus Foundation's patrons – especially John Singleton and the Potter Foundation – have made it once again a real asset to the community.
As you can see, the building remains true to its origins as a place of learning.
The excellent work of the architects and builders makes the new Tutorial Centre a terrific place to come and learn.
But bricks and mortar are only part of the story.
The most important ingredient will be the literacy programs that will be taught here. Those programs will help disadvantaged Australian children catch up on the years of literacy development they missed out on in their preschool and early primary years.
We know the programs work. The students who have attended here have made significant and life-changing gains in reading accuracy, comprehension, word recognition, spelling and other vital learning skills. This is a central part of the Rudd Government's social inclusion agenda.
It's also – of course – a central part of our reconciliation agenda. In Ashfield, Redfern, Gladstone and Darwin, Exodus is helping us narrow the gaps in literacy and numeracy and Year 12 attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
For too long, the Australian government forgot the 'e-word': equity. This Government has once again given it the priority it deserves.
In education, the huge gaps in attainment that have opened up between the bottom and the top represent bad public policy. But they're also bad economic policy, because the failure of any of our children holds all of us back.
We have to make everyone part of our nation's success story if we're going to maximise our prosperity. Programs like this one are helping turn this around.
Just as they're helping young Aussies regain lost early years of opportunity, they're helping Australia regain lost years of investment in educational equity.
So today it's my terrific pleasure – as a believer in equity and as a believer in good economic policy – to join with Bill and everyone here to help declare this new Tutorial Centre officially open.
Thanks and well done to you all.