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Labor must start to deliver for high-risk Indigenous students

The Opposition is calling on the Albanese Government to urgently deliver equitable funding to high-risk Indigenous students under its Alice Springs community safety package.

On 30 July 2023, I wrote to Education Minister Jason Clare requesting that he deliver $40.4 million to Central Australian schools to increase school engagement and combat youth crime, as he promised to do.

More than a month on, it is disappointing that I have not received a reply to my letter.

Mr Clare’s decision to plug the Northern Territory government’s education budget black hole, rather than prioritise Indigenous students most at risk such as those who attend Yipirinya School in Alice Springs, constitutes a blatant broken promise.

As Yipirinya principal Gavin Morris told the Daily Telegraph today, “… what we are seeing is you can have a Voice in Parliament but if you are not being heard, you are voiceless.”

The Opposition recently called out the Albanese Government for axeing the construction of two Indigenous boarding schools in East Arnhem Land and the Pilbara.  Now, plans to build a satellite school in Burt Creek, 60 kilometres north of Alice Springs, are in ruins.

This is such gross hypocrisy from Labor which is failing to listen to the voices of some of the most disadvantaged Indigenous children in the country.

My letter to the Minister is reproduced below.

Dear Minister

Request to provide equitable funding to high-risk indigenous students in Alice Springs

On behalf of Senator Nampijinpa Price and myself, I write to raise deep concerns about the Albanese Government’s inequitable distribution of funding to 46 Central Australian schools, as part of a package of measures to combat youth crime in Alice Springs.

As you announced on 9 May 2023, $40.4 million was to be shared between these schools for ‘On-Country Learning’ to improve school attendance and engagement.  The schools were asked to “develop tailored solutions to better engage children and young people in school and provide them with the wrap-around support they need to succeed” to “…improve community safety, tackle alcohol-related harm, and provide more opportunities for young people.”[1]

In short, this funding was delivered to keep young people at school, off the streets and out of jail.

Astonishingly, you have determined not to provide some of the most at-risk indigenous students with their fair share of funding. 

Indigenous independent school, Yipirinya School in Alice Springs, which is home to many vulnerable and disengaged aboriginal children suffering acute disadvantage, has been advised it will receive only $329,000 and not the nearly $1 million it was expecting. 

It is understood that 10 independent and catholic schools, including Yipirinya School, will receive only $2 million of the $40.5 million with the lion’s share going to government schools, calculated in accordance with the ‘Gonski’ School Resource Standard (SRS) and not for the purpose for which the funding was intended which was to combat the Alice Springs crime wave.

In distributing this funding to prop up the Northern Territory Labor government which is providing only 59 per cent of the 75 per cent funding required under the SRS, we believe you have profoundly misled local principals and their school communities.

This is the latest example of the Albanese Government listening to selective indigenous voices, and not the voices of local indigenous people most in need.

Consistent with your request that Central Australian schools develop On-Country Learning initiatives, Yipirinya School was planning to build a satellite school at Burt Creek, 60 kilometres north of Alice Springs, which would have allowed students to attend school in their community rather than drive three hours to and from Alice Springs each day.  These plans are now in ruins.

We also note that despite repeated requests and funding submissions for more than a year, your government including the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, continues to stall on the delivery of funding to build boarding facilities at Yipirinya School which are vital to keep children safe at school. 

We urge the Albanese Government to deliver on its commitment to ‘support a better, safer future for Central Australia’ by distributing the $40.5 million On-Country Learning measure consistent with its purpose.  Distribution of funding should be equitable, taking into account schools which have the highest rates of student disengagement and youth offending, and the lowest attendance rates.

Given the lack of transparency about these funding arrangements, we also seek information as to the indicative amount allocated to each of the 46 schools as soon as possible this week, noting it is open to us to request this information by way of an Order for the Production of Documents in the Senate.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Henderson

[1] Ministers’ media release, 9 May 2023

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