Probe of hardline Muslim schools
The largest provider of Muslim education in the country will be subject to a nationwide audit of its schools, as the federal government swoops on the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils following a series of complaints.
Serious concerns have been raised over the financial management and governance of all AFIC Islamic schools, which cater for 5481 enrolled students and receive about $45 million a year in state and federal funding.
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Islamic schools across Australia will be scrutinised in a federal government crackdown on the way they are run.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne said today the federal education department will audit all six schools run by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to investigate concerns relating to their financial management and governance.
Mr Pyne is also worried by reports about the curriculum taught at the schools, segregation of male and female students, and movement of senior staff.
After a six-month investigation by the federal Education Department, six schools across five states and territories will be subject to audits.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the schools’ adherence to curriculum and student policies such as separating boys and girls would also be examined.
The department’s analysis of the schools’ most recent financial data has raised a series of red flags over financial management, identifying a number of unusual adjustments and payments.
Schools under investigation will include Australia’s largest Muslim school, Malek Fahd, which has three campuses in Sydney’s southwest.
Malek Fahd was previously forced to pay back $9m by the NSW government after The Australian revealed millions of dollars had been funnelled back to AFIC.
Mr Pyne told The Australian that a number of concerns had been identified relating to financial management and governance at the schools, and the role of AFIC in administration of the schools.
“I am of course concerned with some of the more recent allegations reported in the media in relation to curriculum, gender segregation, senior staff movements and financial transactions,” Mr Pyne said.
“These audits will help to get to the bottom of these matters and provide resolution for all concerned. Of course we all want to be confident that each school is operating in the best interests of its students.”
The department wrote to the schools late last week informing them of the audits, which will take place next week.
The audits will also consider the level of control AFIC has over the operations of each school and the role of AFIC representatives in the financial affairs of the schools.
A spokesman for AFIC president Hafez Kassem said he was overseas and not available for comment on the matter.
The Islamic College of South Australia will be one of the schools examined.
It has been the subject of parent protests and allegations that the school made a number of inappropriate payments to AFIC.
The school is also the subject of a separate South Australian government review.
School board chairman and AFIC vice-president Farouk Khan yesterday told The Australian he rejected all allegations of improper use of taxpayers’ money.
The Islamic College of Brisbane will be reviewed after The Australian revealed it was the subject of a police complaint by a former principal alleging AFIC officials attempted to pull hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the school as well as create false loans also worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. AFIC has previously rejected these allegations.
Under investigation will be the school’s compliance with the Australian Education Act, which asks schools to operate as not-for-profit entities, maintain financial viability and adhere to “fit and proper” governance standards.
The schools will be asked to provide all books and records relating to recurrent funding grants from state and federal governments and capital grants, including details of Building the Education Revolution funding arrangements under the Rudd-Gillard governments.
Other schools to be subject of the audits, which will be conducted by Deloitte, are the Islamic College of Melbourne, the Islamic School of Canberra and Langford Islamic College in Western Australia.
The Melbourne and Perth schools have been accused of forcing hardline teaching upon students.
The Melbourne school allegedly threatened to send home children who missed morning prayer and Koran recital, while the Perth school allegedly forced Year 1 girls to wear a headscarf.
The Canberra school has also been the subject of numerous complaints by its former principal relating to financial mismanagement and impropriety.
Like many private schools, Muslim schools receive about 80 per cent of their funding from the taxpayer, and receive funding in the highest bracket because of the poor economic background of students.
Latest figures show AFIC-controlled schools enrolled 5481 students — a 53 per cent rise in enrolments in five years.
In 2013 — the latest available data — AFIC schools received $42m in funding from state and federal governments. This amount is likely to be at least $45m this year.
AFIC schools received $21.5m in government funds for new buildings and other capital works between 2009 and 2013.
A previous audit of some AFIC schools by former Labor education minister Peter Garrett identified numerous failing and questions about the schools’ financial management, but an inability of commonwealth and state governments to agree on mutual standards for which funds to recoup largely led to inaction.
In 2013 the Australian Education Act was introduced, with changes to combat the problem between state and federal governments, particularly in regard to schools suspected of operating for profit and related party agreements.
Mr Pyne said this audit would take place in co-operation with state and territory authorities.
Federal Education Department statistics show that 28,267 students attended Australia’s 39 Islamic schools last year — 82 per cent more than the 15,503 who were enrolled in 32 schools in 2009.
Student numbers in all Australian schools grew by 6 per cent over the same period, to 3.7 million.