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ABC Pilbara with Kelly Gudgeon, 10 August 2023

Kelly Gudgeon: The $42 million redevelopment of the Roebourne District High School will replace existing facilities which have been in place since the 1960s and provide schooling from kindergarten through to secondary school. The State Government has been leading the consultation on the design of new facilities and construction was due to begin mid this year, but concerns have been raised this morning by the Federal Education Minister about the future of the Roebourne Studio School. That’s the part of the school that would provide boarding facilities for Year 7 to 12 students attending the high school, which would make it easier for students to focus on their education without hours of travel, in some instances. Shadow Minister for Education, Senator Sarah Henderson, good morning to you. How are you, Senator?

Senator Henderson: Hi Kelly, it’s wonderful to join you this morning.

Kelly Gudgeon: Can you just outline what the concerns are this morning about the future of the Roebourne Studio School?

Senator Henderson: Well, absolutely. The Coalition, when we were in government very proudly delivered $75 million to build three new Studio Schools in WA and the Northern Territory and upgrade a fourth. Regrettably, at a time when the Prime Minister is spruiking all of the advantages that the Voice will deliver to children in remote Australian communities, including of course Indigenous children, the government has cut funding for two Studio Schools, including the Roebourne Studio School, which as you say Kelly, was going to be so important for Year 7 to 12 students who currently travel or are forced to travel up to four hours a day to go to school. So this is absolutely devastating and it really does shine a light on the Labor Government’s hypocrisy over the Voice.

Kelly Gudgeon: So when did this information come to light? Was this during Senate Estimates?

Senator Henderson: It was during Senate estimates, but we’ve actually got a number of Questions on Notice about the Studio Schools program. They were due back, and they still have not been returned. So I guess we raised some serious concerns about these schools. But we saw of course, the Prime Minister at the Garma Festival talking about giving children the opportunity of a better life, saying the Voice was a vehicle for progress, a practical tool to make children’s lives better. And yet, the government has not been able to explain why it’s not only cut this vital funding for Roebourne and another Studio School in East Arnhem Land, but of course it’s also failed to address the terrible attendance rates at Roebourne at the moment, through no fault of the students I have to say. I mean we should not be expecting students to travel such extraordinary distances, and this was a really important initiative to provide children with a more stable form of learning in a residential environment, which of course maximised the opportunities for children to attend school.

Kelly Gudgeon: The Federal Government, the Education Minister’s office are saying that with regards to the funding that the previous government, the Coalition Government, did not actually allocate enough funding to deliver on the commitment to build these schools. What do you say to that?

Senator Henderson: That’s actually not the case. When we funded it in our Budget, these projects were fully funded. We certainly do know there has been some cost escalation of these school projects but what Jason Clare, the Education Minister, has fundamentally failed to explain is that over two budgets, Labor failed to provide any additional funding so that these schools could be built. I mean that’s the bottom line. They were fully funded in our Budget, the 2022-23 Budget, but in two successive Budgets from Labor we have seen an absolute failure by the Albanese Government to prioritise funding for these schools. So Kelly, when I look at some of the other failures of the Government in relation to supporting Indigenous students, the failure to fund boarding facilities at Yipirinya School in Alice Springs, the failure to provide equitable funding under the Alice Springs community safety package, and now of course, no explanation as to what’s going to happen to the children living in and around Roebourne, this is simply not good enough.

Kelly Gudgeon: So the impact of this obviously is going to be, you know, with this school not going ahead will be you know, pretty big for those kids who would be attending the school in Roebourne.

Senator Henderson: Yes, and there is, of course, the Roebourne District High School. But for children who are living quite a few hours drive, it’s very, very tough. Roebourne District High School has an average attendance rate of 30.5% in 2022 against the statewide average of 80.4% Now of course we know children need to travel a very, very long distance, some are travelling up to four hours a day. Now that’s just not tenable, to go to school to learn, it is just not tenable. So that is why this Studio School was so important. Boarding schools in remote communities are an incredibly important part of the Coalition’s focus on ensuring Indigenous students got every possible opportunity to flourish at school, to go all the way through to Year 12, to achieve their very best, to reach their best potential. And now, of course, we see this Prime Minister going to Garma spruiking all these wonderful things about the Voice and of course, what this government is demonstrating Kelly, it’s failing to listen to the Indigenous voices who really matter, the Indigenous voices in the regions, in remote communities who really do need government support. So this is really, devastating.

Kelly Gudgeon: Senator Henderson, thank you for your time today.

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