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Labor’s Indigenous boarding schools funding fiasco

The Coalition has forced the Albanese Government into an embarrassing review of costs of a charity engaged to deliver four remote Indigenous boarding schools, two of which were axed by Labor.

In Senate estimates today, Shadow Minister for Education, Sarah Henderson, raised concerns about Studio Schools’ operations including the cost of executive salaries, charter flights and contractors.

The Coalition also raised conflict of interest concerns about an ATO Deputy Commissioner who sits on the charity’s board.

“Under Labor, the cost of the two axed schools in the Pilbara and East Arnhem Land blew out from $44 million to $120 million which is ridiculous, demonstrating the scope of Labor’s mismanagement,” Senator Henderson said.

“This has robbed around 160 disadvantaged Indigenous children in remote communities of an education they deserve.”

The former Coalition government fully funded the $75 million construction costs for three new boarding schools and one upgraded school across the Pilbara, Kimberley and East Arnhem Land under the Building Boarding Schools On Country Program.

“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,” Senator Henderson said.

“Rather than wield his axe, why didn’t the minister hold Studio Schools to account and ensure these schools could be delivered on time and within a reasonable budget?”

“In Senate Estimates today, we learned that the minister and his department were not aware that two charity executives, including the CEO, were being paid around $600,000 a year, even though this information was in the charity’s financial statements published in June 2023.”

“The minister and his department have sat on their hands, taking no action on these exorbitant salaries or the cost blowouts.”

“Following my request to the minister for an urgent review, his department today advised it was investigating this funding fiasco.”

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