Australia's largest Islamic school may be forced to close after losing $19 million in government funding

Photo: Malek Fahd Islamic School’s Greenacre campus/ Google.

Australia’s largest Islamic school has been stripped of $19 million in annual government funding after it was found to be funnelling millions of dollars to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal on Thursday upheld the federal government’s decision last February to strip the Sydney school of the funding.

It was revealed the Malek Fahd Islamic School was paying higher rents to AFIC, provided loans — which was never repaid — and paid years of rent in advance despite not having a formal lease agreement, among other payments to the AFIC.

The school, with campuses in Greenacre, Hoxton Park and Beaumont Hills, is 80% government funded and may now be forced to close, displacing 2,400 students.

It plans to launch last-ditch court action, seeking to block a federal government decision, to try to remain open.

It also will demand the AFIC relinquish control of the school after the tribunal showed concern more funding would leak to the peak body.

However, AFIC chairman Keysar Trad told The Australian that Malek Fahd’s new chairwoman Miriam Silva has rejected meetings with him to discuss the school, adding that handing over control of the school was a “ridiculous” suggestion.

The ruling came despite students’ strong performance in the 2016 HSC, with Malek Fahd ranked 76th in the New South Wales.

“The evidence suggests Malek Fahd is a good school which provides quality education. It appears to enjoy support in the community. It has the loyalty of its students and staff. But the reviewable decision is not directly concerned with the quality of the education provided by the school. The requirements … of the Act are concerned with accountability,” the tribunal found.

The NSW Education Department has begun making preparations in case the school closes.

Federal education minister Simon Birmingham said Australians rightly expect that taxpayers’ dollars committed to education are used accordingly.

“AFIC needs to take a long, hard look at the way they have handled these matters in relation to this school, and indeed others, that has put those who are trying to do the best on the ground in very difficult circumstances,” he said.

The government will work with the school community on how to be best to provide support, he said.

Five other schools were audited by the Education Department: the Islamic College of Brisbane, the Islamic College of Melbourne, the Islamic College of South Australia, the Islamic School of Canberra and Langford Islamic College, in Western Australia. All face demands to show they remain in compliance or face losing federal funding.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter published by the school’s board on Thursday regarding its decision to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

In a judgement given to us late on the afternoon of Friday 23 December the Tribunal rejected our appeal against the Commonwealth’s removal of public funding. We will now lodge an appeal with the Federal Court and keep you informed of progress.

In its judgement, the Tribunal acknowledged the considerable progress of the new Board since March 2016 and the improved governance and management of the School. It was, however, concerned that the Greenacre campus continues to be owned by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

The Tribunal said that it was convinced that Commonwealth money would, as a consequence of AFIC’s ownership of Greenacre, ‘continue to leak from Malek Fahd Islamic School to AFIC’ and,
therefore, had no alternative but to uphold the Commonwealth decision and reject our appeal.

The Tribunal concluded that this ‘is a hard outcome for Malek Fahd Islamic School and for the students and community it serves. But the ultimate responsibility must be laid at the door of the
previous management of Malek Fahd Islamic School’.

Among the positives noted by the Tribunal is our School’s NSW Supreme Court action against AFIC and the previous Board of MFIS for the repayment of School funds, damages and relief from other
inappropriate obligations.

The message to AFIC could not be clearer. Our School’s future and the welfare of students, teachers and families can immediately be guaranteed if AFIC does the only right thing and turns over the Greenacre campus to Malek Fahd Islamic School. This will ensure that the campus serves the purpose for which it was dedicated by AFIC more than 25 years ago.

I will formally approach AFIC this month with that request on your behalf and that of our School. The Tribunal and the Commonwealth have spelt it out very plainly. It is up to AFIC. Our future
hinges on AFIC doing the right thing by Malek Fahd Islamic School and our community for this generation and generations to come.

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