Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, has today paid tribute to Mr Charlie Perkins, who on this day 50 years ago became the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian to graduate from an Australian university.
Mr Perkins graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney on 27 October, 1966.
“I acknowledge the leadership and pioneering spirit that characterised Mr Perkins’ endeavours and on this day, recognise his achievement as the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to graduate from an Australian university,” Minister Scullion said.
“After completing his degree, Mr Perkins had a remarkable influence on Australia including as the leader of the Freedom Rides across New South Wales and as a successful advocate for the 1967 constitutional referendum.
“When he was appointed as the permanent Secretary of the then Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1981, he became the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to head up a Commonwealth department on a permanent basis.
“I pay tribute to Mr Perkins and the legacy he left – something his family, friends and community must be rightly proud of on a day like today.
“It is also useful to acknowledge at this time that while more First Australians are enrolling in university than ever before, not enough has been done to close the gap on university completion.
“The Coalition Government has introduced reforms to Parliament to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged students – and in particular, Indigenous students.
“The Government is providing $253.1 million to support Indigenous university students. It is important this support not only focuses on getting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enrolled in university, but that it allows universities to tailor assistance so more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students graduate from university and take up professional and academic careers.
“University enrolments by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have increased by 70 per cent over the past decade. Although this is good news, Indigenous students remain two‑and‑a‑half times more likely than other Australian students to drop out of university within their first year.”
The amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 will enable universities to tailor scholarships, tutorial assistance and other support to address the needs of each student.
On this day, the Coalition Government recognises the efforts and perseverance of Mr Perkins in the face of hardship and racism and applauds his many achievements.