Hypocrisy within government undermines the credibility of policymakers, erodes public trust, wastes precious time, and squanders taxpayer funds.

An example of this is the federal government’s decision to spend upwards of $380 million to conduct the referendum for the Voice to Parliament proposal, while simultaneously cutting funding to remote schools serving Indigenous communities, and cancelling plans to build two much needed schools.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that a ‘yes’ vote is needed to recognise that Indigenous Australians have historically been marginalised; and giving them a formal bureaucratic mechanism to influence policy decisions directly affecting their lives will rectify this. The federal government alleges that an affirmative referendum result would be an important step towards achieving social justice and equality.

So why is the Prime Minister not focusing on marginalised Indigenous Australians now?

At the recent Garma festival in Arnhem Land the Prime Minster spoke of giving children ‘the opportunity of a better life’. Anthony Albanese said he wanted ‘an Australia where more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are going to school, finishing school and finding a path to a qualification they want and deserve for a job they love’.  He said that the Voice to Parliament was, ‘a vehicle for progress, a practical tool to make their children’s lives better’.

And yet, at the very same time, the federal government has axed plans to build two remote boarding schools for some of the most disadvantaged Indigenous students in the country.

One of the axed schools is the Dhupuma Studio School in East Arnhem Land, ironically in the very region where the Garma festival was held. The existing Dhupuma school only takes children up to year 6. The attendance rate for children in the East Arnhem region in term one this year was 47.2 per cent. The new school was to be a years 7-12 residential school built in the same Gulkula region.

The other axed school is the Roebourne Studio school in the Pilbara. This studio school would have accommodated students who currently have to travel four hours a day to attend classes at the Roebourne District High school. With such an unsustainable commute, it is little wonder attendance at the district high school in 2022 was just 30.5 per cent.

The school model Roebourne was to have followed is based on the Yiramalay studio school in the Kimberly region’s Fitzroy Valley. Yiramalay has achieved outstanding results, boosting student attendance to 90 per cent. That studio school has seen 96 per cent of students completing year ten, and 75 per cent of all students completing year 12 – compared with a national completion rate of 79 per cent. And 79 per cent of its students go on to employment or further education.

The decision to axe the funding to build these schools is not just setback for Indigenous children in these regions; it reveals a lack of genuine commitment to addressing the practical needs of remote Indigenous communities. While the activist class has its heart set on a new Canberra bureaucracy with the Voice to Parliament, the federal government is cutting Indigenous schools in remote communities.

By axing funding for remote schools, and denying access to education, the federal government risks perpetuating the very cycle of injustice and disadvantage it says to Australians that it is committed to addressing through its Canberra-based Voice to Parliament.

The government’s decision to spend hundreds million dollars on a referendum to permanently change our Constitution, while cancelling projects fundamental to the needs and aspirations of remote Indigenous communities, represents more than just misaligned spending priorities – it reveals a distinctly disingenuous agenda.

Imagine how many schools the cost of the referendum could provide.

The path to real Indigenous progress lies in genuine investment in education, not tired old rhetoric.


Colleen Harkin

National Manager, Class Action Program and Research Fellow