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Sharri, Sky News, 10 August 2023

Sharri Markson: While the Prime Minister is advocating the Voice to Parliament, today we learn that the Federal Government has cut funding for two schools in remote WA and the Northern Territory. It’s funding that would have provided schooling for 150 Indigenous children and would help replace school facilities that have been there since the 90’s. These children have to travel up to four hours a day just to get an education. That story by Angira, in the Daily Telegraph today. Now let’s bring in Shadow Minister for Education, Sarah Henderson.  Sarah, why is this funding being cut when remote Indigenous children clearly need an education and good school facilities?

Senator Henderson: Well, Sharri, great to join you. This has been cut because, quite frankly, the Albanese Government does not care enough about this issue. The former Coalition government provided $75 million to build and upgrade four Indigenous boarding schools. There has been a cost escalation, but the government decided to cut funding and not go ahead with two of these schools. These are, Sharri, some of the most disadvantaged Indigenous students in the country, and I say to the Prime Minister, as he is waffling on about the Voice and improving the lives of Indigenous children, where are the voices of those children who are now being denied a proper education? It really is absolutely appalling and Education Minister, Jason Clare, has really dropped the ball and demonstrated that he is not placing the needs of Indigenous children in these really remote areas as a priority.

Sharri Markson: Now the Institute of Public Affairs claims that university campuses are effectively killing free speech. They report that 90% of universities are running policies that are hostile to free speech. From discouraging students to disagree with indigenous people, a ban on typing in upper case because it’s shouting, and also instructions to avoid using words like man and ladies. What do you think about this?

Senator Henderson: Well, firstly, can I say that academic freedom and free speech is a foundational principle of education. Classroom rooms and lecture theatres are for education, not indoctrination. I have to say the IPA has done some really good work here. I was shocked to read some of their findings, including the dictum from the University of Wollongong that students should not use words such as ‘father’ and ‘mother’ and ‘wife’. I mean, this is absolutely nuts. We’ve seen some really serious incidents of breaches of freedom of speech on university campuses. The Coalition worked very hard when we were in government to implement an academic freedom framework, led by the former Justice Robert French. But I have to say I’m really shocked by this, this is not good enough and this deserves a far greater attention by the government.

Sharri Markson: What can actually be done in this area, though? Because it does seem like universities are kind of a law unto themselves.

Senator Henderson: I’ve been saying long and hard that the government must do much more to hold universities to account. Universities seem to be very focused on driving revenue and getting students through the door, but much less focused on how they look after students and about their performance, including things like completion rates. Too many students are falling through the cracks and I think universities, to some degree, are getting away with far too much Sharri. So the government must look at this very, very closely and must take action. It’s clear to me that the universities are not supporting our framework that we established, supporting free speech in universities, and that’s detrimental to education. So the government must take action.

Sharri Markson: All right, Sarah Henderson, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time at the end of a very busy sitting week in Canberra.

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