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Outsiders, Sky News, 22 October 2023

Rowan Dean: Let’s go to Sarah Henderson, who is, of course, the opposition spokesperson on education. Sarah, always great to see you, thanks for joining us this morning. Obviously, you can tell we’re rather hot under the collar about the Voice. Love to get your thoughts on what it means for Victoria, but also Sarah, really keen to understand the money that has gone into Indigenous welfare, the cuts that have been put in your portfolio, for example, in education cuts supposedly to Indigenous schools, you can talk about that and Australians want real concrete action on Indigenous affairs, not all this waffle about treaties and waving bits of burning branches and so on. Tell us your thoughts.

Senator Henderson: Well Rowan, good morning to you all, great to join you as always. Look, there is no doubt that Australians want to see Indigenous Australians supported, but on a needs basis- and we saw the no vote come in loud and clear. We know what Australians want, they want to back Indigenous Australians, the most disadvantaged and marginalised Indigenous Australians. And in my portfolio, Rowan, there’s a provision for Indigenous boarding schools and yet this government, in the year of the Voice, actually cut funding to the On-Country Indigenous Boarding School program. And then we’ve also seen gross mismanagement of this program by the minister. Costs for schools have increased almost, you know, threefold. Schools in the Pilbara and also in East Arnhem Land have skyrocketed and yet the minister has not raised any questions. The minister has not said what’s going on here, and now we see that the CEO and the chief operating officer are paid jointly $815,000 over 18 months, exorbitant salaries, exorbitant operational costs, and this just builds the case for an audit.

Rowan Dean: James you wrote about this brilliantly this week. James?

James Morrow: Yes, sir. I want to ask about this here because, you know, we wrote about this in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week. The minister, Jason Clare, he says that, oh, well, it was the Morrison Government that failed to fund the schools properly. But you have revealed that in fact what happened was that they warned the new government, the Albanese Government, of cost blow-outs, the funding was there when they came into office and then they warned about the cost blow-outs and they didn’t do anything to actually top up these funds. Tell us more about that.

Senator Henderson: That’s right. So we had funded four Indigenous boarding schools, $75 million, and not only did the minister cut funding from that program, he didn’t do anything about the increase in costs. So look absolutely the government should have acted to add more money to the program so these four schools could be delivered. But when these exorbitant cost blow-outs occurred, you know, from $22 million to $64 million, ridiculous, the minister never raised questions. What’s going on here? Why can’t we look at other forms of construction such as prefabrication? We need to ensure that the most marginalised and disadvantaged Indigenous children in this country get a decent schooling. And of course now these kids are missing out while the minister is grossly mismanaging this program. And then to make things worse, as you say, James, and as you revealed, Senate estimates documents showed that the minister was not telling the truth. He tried to attribute blame to the former Coalition Government, saying these four schools weren’t fully funded by us when in fact they were. And while there were some cost increases during Covid and we accept that, the minister didn’t do anything about it, it’s been grossly mismanaged.

Rita Panahi: Senator, we saw a hundred Indigenous leaders and groups, some advisory bodies break the week of silence to come out and condemn the Coalition and the calls for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities. What’s your response to that?

Senator Henderson: Look, I think that’s a really sad occurrence that it’s occurred – that this really important proposal for a Royal Commission into sexual abuse of Indigenous children has not been supported by the government. I say shame on the government. As you know, we’re also seeking a full audit. Again, we have had no commitment from the government. So rather than the government listening to the activists, to the inner city elites and to the big corporations, it is time the government listened to ordinary Australians because that’s what the Coalition has done and that’s why we’ve seen so many parts of Australia say no to the Voice, including all across regional Victoria and in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. There are the patron seats that I look after, strong Labor seats like Ballarat, like Bendigo, like Corio, Richard Marles’ seat – they all said no, because these Labor members, these Labor ministers are only listening to the elites, they’re only listening to the activists and not to ordinary Australians, including ordinary Indigenous Australians.

Rowan Dean: Senator Sarah Henderson, just quickly before we go, we got the news this morning that the Albanese Government won’t be kicking the Chinese out of the Port of Darwin. They’re allowed to keep it or keep the lease going as long as possible. What did you make of that?

Senator Henderson: Well, we were obviously hoping that decision would be reviewed and all I can say is that is regrettable, Rowan.

Rowan Dean: It is regrettable indeed. We agree with that. Senator Sarah Henderson, thanks so much for coming on and keep up the great work. Keep the spotlight on Indigenous affairs there, particularly with education. We need to see where did the money go.

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