The Albanese Government has axed plans to build two remote boarding schools for some of the most disadvantaged Indigenous students in the country, making a mockery of Prime Minister Albanese’s visit to the Garma Festival where he spoke of giving children “the opportunity of a better life.”
In 2021, the Coalition announced $74.9 million to build three new schools in Western Australia and the Northern Territory and to upgrade a fourth existing boarding school in the Kimberley under the innovative Studio Schools model. The purpose of the model is to provide on-country school and boarding facilities to Indigenous students in remote communities, which is vital to lifting school attendance and providing a safe and stable learning environment.
One of the axed schools, Dhupuma Studio School in East Arnhem Land, was to be a Year 7-12 residential school to be built in the same region as Gulkula where the Garma Festival is held each year. The existing school at Dhupuma only caters to students up to Year 6. The attendance rate for children in the East Arnhem Region in Term 1 this year was 47.2%.
The other school which has been axed is Roebourne Studio School in the Pilbara, a proposed new secondary school with boarding facilities for Year 7-12 students. This would have accommodated students who currently have to travel four hours a day to attend the Roebourne District High School where the school attendance rate was 30.5% in 2022, against the statewide average of 80.4%.
The Studio Schools model at Yiramalay in Fitzroy Valley, in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, has been a resounding success, transforming student attendance rates to 90 per cent.
“Labor is failing to deliver a better education for some of the most disadvantaged Indigenous children in the country”, Senator Henderson said.
“The construction of remote boarding schools was a hallmark Coalition policy designed to lift attendance rates and provide indigenous students with a safe and secure learning environment”, said Senator Henderson.
In his speech at the Garma Festival, Prime Minister Albanese said he wanted “ …an Australia where more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are going to school, finishing school and finding a path to a qualification they want and deserve for a job they love.” He said that the Voice was “…a vehicle for progress, a practical tool to make their children’s lives better.”
“How many Indigenous children must forego an education while the Prime Minister spends $384 million on the Voice referendum? While Anthony Albanese goes to Garma to tout his commitment to Indigenous Australians, more than 150 Indigenous students miss out on the schooling they desperately need”, Senator Henderson said.
“This is gross hypocrisy from Labor which shows once again that they are not listening to remote Indigenous voices”, said Senator Henderson.
“These projects were fully funded in the Coalition’s Budget and it is a terrible indictment on Education Minister, Jason Clare, that he failed to prioritise the funding required to build these two schools,” Senator Henderson said.
The Opposition has also raised deep concerns about the Government’s failure to fund desperately needed boarding facilities at Yipirinya School in Alice Springs and its decision not to provide equitable funding to Indigenous students under the Alice Springs community safety package.
- The Opposition has lodged a range of questions about the cuts to Studio Schools infrastructure funding which were due to be returned by 8 August 2023 (see Portfolio question number Question on Notice no. 223, 2023-24 Budget Estimates). The 2023-24 Budget Papers No 2 (pages 100-101) shows that of the $74.9 million over four years allocated to the Building Boarding Schools on Country Program to construct and upgrade four Studio Schools, the Albanese Government cut this funding to $70.8 million.
- In evidence provided during Senate Estimates (see Committee Hansard, Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, 1 June 2023, page 110), the Government and the Department of Education claimed that due to an escalation of construction costs, two of the Studio Schools (being Dhupuma and Roebourne) could no longer be built.
- However, under questioning from Senator Henderson, the Department of Education admitted that $16.2 million of the $70.8 million had been allocated to Studio Schools Australia for concerningly high “operational costs for delivery of the project” even though two of the planned schools were no longer proceeding.
School attendance data sources: NT Department of Education and WA Department of Education.