Sky Regional Breakfast interview

RHIANNON ELSTON [HOST]: An additional $18 million to build boarding school facilities in Central Australia has been allocated to the Better, Safer Future of Central Australia Plan. This money is on top of the existing $250 million. Joining me now is Senator Anthony Chisholm, Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development. Anthony, good morning to you. Exactly how will this money be spent?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: It'll be used to upgrade existing facilities, but importantly, also build new facilities. So it will be open to schools in the area, and new providers who want to provide boarding facilities, who will be able to apply before the end of the year. It will also go through a proper merits based selection process to ensure that we're choosing the right schools to support, but it’ll also ensure that we get good value for money as well.

ELSTON: And this is for boarding schools. Why boarding schools?

CHISHOLM: Because what you see in Central Australia is that a lot of people have to travel from remote communities. They don't always have schooling in those communities, and particularly for senior schooling, and that is where somewhere like Alice Springs often provides that support. So, that's why those boarding facilities are so important, is to ensure that every young person in that area has the opportunity to get a good education, and that's what these facilities will help provide.

ELSTON: Yeah, education is obviously extremely important, but so is the safety of kids. And for some of our indigenous kids, going away from community to study is extremely daunting. What kind of support will they have to stay connected with family and community while away from home for potentially many years?

CHISHOLM: That's right. It is really important. And I'm here in Tennant Creek at the moment and they're looking at doing a boarding facility and it's taken a while to get those settings right, because they do want to ensure that they have the right support when they're at school, but also they don't lose that cultural support and family support by being away from home so much. So it is something that I'm sure will be evaluated as part of the process to ensure that we're choosing the right facilities that have the right support around the students, so that they can get that good education. But we understand that boarding school isn't for everyone, but for some places in remote areas, it's the only option, and that's why it's important government supports it.

ELSTON: Well, is there any funding for improving schools in communities so that kids who don't want to leave home or aren't able to, also get strong education?

CHISHOLM: There is, and as part of the $250 million that you mentioned in the introduction, $40 million of that was going to support schools. So, I was in a school in Ti Tree yesterday and they received additional money as part of that process that they'd been able to use to improve student wellbeing and services. So, there was additional money that went to schools as part of that package. But overall, across the country, obviously over the course of this year, we need to renegotiate the school funding agreement between the Federal Government and the States and Territories so that work will be ongoing and that will be important to boost those levels of education in regional and remote communities, because we understand what a significant challenge that is.

ELSTON: You're in Tennant Creek this morning for an update on the Barkly Regional Deal. What's happening with that?

CHISHOLM: Well, we're making progress, obviously. I'm sure everyone would want to make progress quicker. We were slowed down during COVID because it was hard to build facilities in many parts of the country, including here. There's been some challenges with the Barkly Regional Council as well that I'm sure you're well aware of. But here today, I'll be able to get an update on what progress is being made and where I can help. If I've got to knock down a door or phone someone to get things happening, I'm prepared to do it. This will be my third trip in less than twelve months. So, the Federal Government is committed to ensuring that we deliver on our end of the bargain. And we want to work with our partners, Northern Territory Government, the Council, traditional owners, to ensure that we're implementing this plan and getting it right.

ELSTON: The Albanese Government promised practical measures to close the gap following the failure of the Voice referendum. Are these funding measures going to be enough to help close the many gaps that still exist?

CHISHOLM: We know it's an enormous challenge, but when you look at those important areas of housing, of education. I know the Prime Minister is going to be in Katherine today to announce that we'll be building more than 200 houses a year in remote communities. So, I think you can see from the Federal Government that we are committed to doing what we can, whether it be boarding schools, whether it be remote housing. We understand that we need to be putting money on the table, but also working constructively with the Northern Territory Government, traditional owners and remote communities to achieve this.

ELSTON: Okay. Senator Anthony Chisholm, thanks so much for your time.

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Rhiannon.