Question: Could you explain the decision here- why the decision’s been made to revoke the funding?
Simon Birmingham: Well, today we’ve made the decision to revoke funding to the Islamic School of Canberra where this is a school that is part of six that are affiliated with the Australian Federation of Islamic Organisations and what we’ve found is that this school, along with the Malek Fahd School in New South Wales has serious issues in terms of the governance arrangements, the accountability in relation to public funds. The Commonwealth Government supports freedom of choice for parents in relation to where they go to school and through that we support funding to a range of non-government schools right around Australia.
But we do expect that those schools are managed appropriately, that they are managed independently and overwhelmingly for the benefit of students. Australian taxpayers rightly expect that every dollar of taxpayer funds that goes to a school is spent for the benefit of the students in that school and unfortunately in this case, there seems to be evidence that the funding arrangements, the independent governance arrangements that we expect of schools are simply not being met.
Question: So where was the money being spent?
Simon Birmingham: There are real concerns that funding through these schools has not necessarily stayed within these schools it has gone into other AFIC activities. But there were also concerns about whether the governance arrangements of the schools meet the high standard we expect in terms of their independence and their impartiality from outside organisations and the expectation that they put the school and the students in those schools first and foremost.
Question: What happens now, then, with the students?
Simon Birmingham: This really is a matter for the school itself. There are around 200 or so students in this school. I’ve spoken this morning to ACT Minister Shane Rattenbury to offer any information or assistance the Commonwealth can provide. Of course it is up to the state and territory authorities to make sure that those students, if the school closes, are accommodated elsewhere in government or non-government schools. But ultimately that’s a matter for the school to determine. What we’ve been very clear about here is that the high standards that have been set for the use of taxpayer funds must be met and that the Commonwealth will enforce those standards.
Question: Minister, the action you’ve taken wouldn’t take effect until 8 April. Why isn’t it taking effect immediately?
Simon Birmingham: 8 April aligns with the end of the first term of the school year so this of course is giving at least a degree of certainty, to provide some weeks’ notice to the school community, should alternative arrangements need to be made.
Question: Was there any chance of working with the school to address the concerns?
Simon Birmingham: There’s been a very long process that’s led to this point, an independent audit undertaken by Deloittes, then of course notice was served to this school along with five others last year that gave them a chance to respond and to provide information about how they would address the real concerns that the Commonwealth Department of Education held. Those responses have been assessed and in this case it has been found to be an inadequate response which is the same as what occurred with the Malek Fahd School in Sydney. We are still considering the four other responses from the four other schools.