Simon Birmingham: …issued a notice of intention to the Malek Fahd School in New South Wales that its funding would be suspended and terminated from the end of term one of this year. This decision was undertaken by the Department following extensive investigations into where or not the authorised authority for that school was compliant with our funding arrangements, and the conditions of the Australian Education Act.
Those conditions do require that school authorities are operated and run by fit and proper persons, that they have a degree of independence, and that all funds are used for the welfare and educational betterment of the students. Unfortunately concerns in relation to governance matters and financial matters have led to this decision.
What is of utmost importance is of course the welfare and the benefit of the students, which is why this decision was taken. It is also why the Commonwealth will do whatever is necessary in working with the New South Wales Government, independent and Catholic school sectors in New South Wales. But should those students need to find new schools we will work to make sure that happens in as smooth and acceptable a manner as possible for those students and their families.
Question: What do you believe the money was being used for?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t want to go into specific allegations, but it is critically important that we make sure that every single dollar of taxpayers’ money that is given to schools, for school funding, is used for the benefit and welfare of the students within those schools.
Question: Can you just clarify what the statuses of the other schools that were also linked up with- I think they’re pending investigation now, or where are they?
Simon Birmingham: So investigations were launched into six schools last year, this obviously is the conclusion of one of those investigations. The other five remain outstanding. Each has to various extents provided replies to the Department detailing their response to the allegations and the way in which they might reform some of their operating structures, and those responses are being carefully considered at present.
Question: So other schools could yet lose funding?
Simon Birmingham: Well I hope that’s not the case, and I hope and trust that all of those approved authorities for those schools are acting solely in the interest of those school students, and are cooperating completely with the Department.
Question: Is it likely the school will have to shut down now?
Simon Birmingham: Well that is really a matter for those operating the school, but we stand ready to work with New South Wales and non-government school authorities in New South Wales to assist if required in the eventuality of any school closure.
Question: How much money are we talking about, and what kind of range is being spoken about of the funds that haven’t been used on the students?
Simon Birmingham: To get into details of how funds might have been used or applied would be getting ahead of where we want to be at present given that the school authority has a number of appeal mechanisms and internal review mechanisms available to it. But obviously this is a large school, around 2000 students, and very significant Commonwealth funds applied to that school.
Senator Birmingham’s media contact: James Murphy 0478 333 974
Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
Department Media: firstname.lastname@example.org