Updated July 12, 2019 10:13:13

A former Queensland Treasurer has denied claims he pledged to provide funding to a Far North Queensland Indigenous boarding facility for girls that abruptly closed its doors within a semester of its opening.

Key points:

  • Boarding school Kaziew Rangath Academy in Cairns closed just five months after it was opened, leaving teenagers from remote communities stranded
  • Federal MP Warren Entsch said this is because the Queensland Government failed to honour a deal to provide funding to the not-for-profit that ran it
  • The state’s former treasurer, Curtis Pitt, has denied that he pledged any funding when he held the office

Youth organisation the Young Australia League (YAL) opened Kaziew Rangath Academy in Cairns last year but left teenagers from remote Cape York and Torres Strait communities stranded just five months later when it was shut down due to ‘financial constraints’.

The Western Australian not-for-profit had opened the academy with the aim of providing young women with a chance to further their studies and pursue vocational opportunities not available in remote areas.

But despite boasting a 54-bed facility featuring a pool, gym and 18-station computer room, it is understood that a little more than a dozen students boarded at Kaziew Rangath during its existence.

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said the Queensland government had failed to honour a deal to provide YAL with ‘operational funds’ following the 2017 state election.

“They had approached Curtis Pitt when he was the Treasurer and he had offered them strong support for that funding,” Mr Entsch said.

“When they approached me looking for financial support they did so assuming the operational funds would be forthcoming.

“It’s disappointing the State Government didn’t step up and do what they were supposed to do. It may well have been a very different outcome.”

Changes to Cabinet led to Jackie Trad being entrusted to manage the state’s finances and the funding getting lost in the shuffle, Mr Entsch said.

“The incoming Treasurer did not fulfil the undertakings by the previous treasurer and my understanding is that there was nothing in writing to compel them to do it,” he said.

While admitting to taking an interest in the boarding academy, Mr Pitt said he never entered into any agreement with YAL.

“I did not, whilst Treasurer or Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, formally or informally pledge funding for the Kaziew Rangath Academy,” he said.

“I did receive information from the Young Australia League of their plans for the Kaziew Rangath Academy, but my recollection is that this was not a formal funding application.”

Early Concerns

Boarding Training Australia’s Dr Steve Florisson, who helped train Kaziew Rangath’s staff prior to its opening, said he raised several issues with YAL prior to the academy’s opening.

“The biggest concern I had is that Indigenous boarding is complex,” Dr Florisson said.

“That means the people involved need to be experienced, have training and be willing to take advice from people in the industry.

“We raised our concerns with people on the ground and they were in the process of turning things around.

“We also raised them with the chair [of YAL, Frank Schaper].”

Dr Florisson said the academy’s closure served as a reminder of how challenging running an effective boarding facility for Indigenous students can be.

“These organisations run very thinly,” he said.

“That means you need a full house and if you don’t have your numbers up, you’re just not viable.”

Academy becomes motel

The YAL received $1 million in Federal Government funds to upgrade the Martyn Street facility and now runs a motel on the site, charging guests around $80 a night.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has issued the charity with a breach notice but would not disclose whether the money would have to be paid back to the Federal Government.

“The Department takes non-compliance matters very seriously and has issued Young Australia League with a notice to remedy the breach,” Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt said.

“The Department will continue to pursue the matter until the issues are addressed.”

Cairns Regional Council will also review whether YAL receives ongoing concessions.

“YAL has received Rates Based Financial Assistance in the past,” a council spokesperson said.

“Council assesses RBFA on a six-monthly basis.”

YAL CEO Tammy-Rae Schaper could not be reached for comment.

Topics: access-to-education, states-and-territories, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, federal-government, government-and-politics, education, cairns-4870, qld

First posted July 12, 2019 10:12:03