On Tuesday, the Federal Court ordered the release of funding to Australia’s largest Islamic school, which faces potential insolvency.
Justice Steven Rares directed the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham
, to take all measures possible to release $5.2m to the school which he said was “due and payable immediately”.
“In my opinion the Minister is under immediate obligation to make payment of the significantly delayed April entitlement,” he said.
Sydney’s Malek Fahd Islamic School has 2,400 students and 200 staff, and is fighting a Supreme Court case against the Federal Government over $19m worth of funds, which were revoked following the findings of an audit earlier this year.
In April, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) ordered that the school’s funding be restored ahead of an appeal by the school, but last week the Department refused to release the funding, citing non-compliance by the school.
However, despite yesterday’s ruling, the Federal Education Department said it must now consider whether to delay the April payment – and future payments – under the Australian Education Act 2013 (the Act).
The Department added that as part of the Federal Court orders, the school must undertake to the Court that it will not make payments to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils [AFIC] – the nation’s peak Muslim body.
“In addition, it must commence proceedings against the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to recover $4m, or such other amount as is owing,” the statement read.
“In making its decision, the Court did not consider whether Malek Fahd Islamic School Limited complies with the requirements of the Act. This matter is subject to a further decision to be made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.”
‘Dramatic spike’ in panic attacks over school’s uncertainty
Malek Fahd’s lawyer, Rick Mitry, told The Educator
that the local doctors told him that there had been a “dramatic increase” in the number of young children having panic attacks over the uncertainty they faced.
“As Malek Fahd’s counsel, Ian Coleman, said on Tuesday, the Commonwealth is threatening to take away the future of 2,400 students, 200 teachers and the school’s contractors. The impact on the local community having to take on all of these students would be horrendous,” he said.
However, Mitry said he was confident that the school’s troubles would soon be resolved now that the Federal Court had ordered its funding to be released by the Federal Government.
“Firstly, the judge issued a declaration that the school is entitled to the $5.2m. That is unassailable. The Federal Government cannot disturb that declaration by simply making an application to defer compliance to the court’s order,” he said.
“All the Federal Government can do is, if they still want to further delay compliance, they can go to the judge and prove to him as a fact – not an allegation – that the school is not compliant with the Act, the judge may agree to the school complying, but he won’t set aside his declaration.”
Mitry added that in the case that non-compliance is proven by the Federal Government on Friday when court resumes, the judge would tell the school to resolve the issue by Monday and that payment would simply be delayed until then.
“That’s basically what would happen, but there would no longer be a guillotine hanging over the school as it counts down to a deadline by which they would lose everything,” he said.