Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney will finally consider a proposal to fund a boarding house at a Northern Territory school to help support disadvantaged students.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ms Burney said the National Australian Indigenous Agency and the Department of Education would evaluate a proposal from Yipirinya School.
Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, whose mother works at the school, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the funding, repeatedly describing it as an “out of the box” example of how the government can make a practical difference to the lives of disadvantaged Australians.
Nampijinpa Price expressed concern that the proposal, which would give at-risk students a bed and supervision on campus if they wished to spend the night, was being ignored in favor of the push toward the Voice referendum.
Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has campaigned enthusiastically to fund the Yipirinya school.
Bess Nungarrayi Price, a Warlpiri woman and mother of Mrs Nampijinpa Price, is the school’s deputy principal.
‘These students come from a very, very tough lifestyle situation. Some of them barely sleep well at night and (there’s) everything else that happens inside the camps in those cities,’ he said in January.
An opposition member told Daily Mail Australia that the timing of the announcement (days after the referendum) had not gone unnoticed.
Yipirinya School principal Dr Gavin John Morris previously expressed concern that the project was not being prioritized due to Ms Nampijinpa Price’s advocacy.
After the announcement, Nampijinpa Price said the government “left everything on hold while it continued its virtue signaling referendum”, at a time when it “could have taken real action for those children who desperately need help”.
‘The Labor Government has had a proposal on the table for months from the Yipirinya School and is now taking it further forward. This is a sign that a minister is lazy or afraid to act,” he stated.
Dr Gavin John Morris, headteacher of Yipirinya School, told an inquiry into the cost of living in Alice Springs in August that the delay in considering his application had meant it was essentially no longer viable.
Ms Burney said: ‘Listening to the views of the people of Central Australia is an important step and is consistent with the approach we are taking in our plan for a better, safer future for Central Australia.
“It is important to understand the current supported student accommodation provision, existing expansion proposals and the needs of remote students.”
The proposals, if successful, would be funded as part of a $250 million Labor government package to improve the lives of central Australians.
Assessments on the potential of the proposals and advice on whether the government should proceed to fund them will be delivered at the end of the year.
Lingiari MP Marion Scrymgour jointly announced the commitment, saying: ‘It’s really important that we work on the boarding needs and views of the local community in Central Australia.
“This approach is intended to ensure that federal funding is targeted, accountable, and aligned with community needs.”
Education Minister Jason Clare also backed the initiative. A spokesperson for Mr Clare said: ‘The assessment will consider existing proposals to establish, expand or improve boarding accommodation to deliver the best outcome for the entire Central Australian community.
“The government has been listening to the local community on these important issues.”
But it is unclear whether the proposal will remain viable.
Ms Burney said the National Australian Indigenous Agency and the Department of Education would assess a proposal from Yipirinya School on its merits.
Dr Morris told an inquiry into the cost of living in Alice Springs in August that the delay in considering his application had meant it was essentially no longer viable.
The project initially cost $8 million and the school was hoping to receive some of the money quickly as part of the government’s commitment to help Alice Springs.
But as lead times often shrink over months and years, Dr. Morris said that “when you put the shovel in the ground (after getting approval), there has been a huge increase in terms of how much it costs “.
As for the boarding school, the $8 million estimate was provided in May 2022. Now, that same project would cost around $12.1 million, meaning that even if the government approved the initial request, it would now not cover the costs.
“That model is no longer on the table,” Dr Morris said at the inquest. “(It would have been) a really important piece of our puzzle.”
With 300 students, Yipirinya has 38 school buses that travel 7,500 kilometers a week to drop off and pick up students, feeding them all three meals a day – between 800 and 900 a day.
One of the bus routes takes 2.5 hours each way.
Bess Nungarrayi Price, a Warlpiri woman and mother of Mrs Nampijinpa Price, is the deputy principal of the school and knows very well the difficulties faced by the students.
The school receives federal funding of about $35,000 to $40,000 per student, but it doesn’t amount to much given the current circumstances. Attracting high-quality teaching staff is also an ongoing challenge.
Nampijinpa Price said during the campaign that he feared “real issues were being left aside” as the government moved “full speed towards the referendum”.
In June, before the campaign to get The Voice reached capacity, Nampijinpa Price told Daily Mail Australia there were several proposals “similar to this, across the country, coming from grassroots people”.
He said Yipirinya’s request had been “on the government’s desk” for months.
“These people know what the needs of their communities are,” he said.
‘It is our job to ensure that these proposals are heard and, based on their merits, supported. There are issues that can be addressed immediately. But unfortunately, the government is very focused on putting all its eggs in one basket in terms of the Voice.’