Indigenous leader Tom Calma has urged the federal government to look at the big picture in its attempts to improve indigenous education outcomes.
20 Feb 2014 - 11:27 AM  UPDATED 20 Feb 2014 - 4:56 PM

Indigenous leader Tom Calma has warned the Abbott government that improving indigenous education outcomes will take more than just getting bums on seats in classrooms.

Dr Calma said attendance was just one measure of success as he addressed the National Press Club on Thursday, the same day he became University of Canberra chancellor and the first indigenous man to hold such a position in Australia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week proposed a new Close the Gap target to dramatically improve school attendance of indigenous children within five years.

Dr Calma said improving indigenous education outcomes needed a holistic approach.

"Attendance is only one measure of success," Dr Calma said.

"Getting people in the door is not going to mean you're going to learn."

He said the involvement of indigenous parents in children's education through reading programs was critical to classroom success.

Other factors included bilingual lessons, fixing the high rate of otitis media or middle ear disease among children and addressing overcrowded houses.

"For every year of education you improve health outcomes, you can't see any of these issues in isolation," Dr Calma said.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Abbott hailed the launch of National Australia Bank's sixth Reconciliation Action Plan, which encourages indigenous employment and inclusion.

"A bank should not be foreign country to indigenous people," he said.

"A fair go for Aboriginal people means a country where kids go to school, where adults go to work. ... because these are the indicators of ... happy people living in tranquil communities."

Dr Calma, a founder of the National Congress of Australia's First People, expressed his disappointment the Abbott government had scrapped the previous Labor government's funding commitment to the body.

Last year's May budget allocated $15 million over three years to the Aboriginal representative body.

"(The money) was in the forward estimates ... that's been reneged on and that's created a problem," Dr Calma said.

"A lot of success will happen when people feel included, and their voice is being heard."