Security expanded for more than 50 schools

The federal government is putting $18 million into a program designed to provide safety and security for schools deemed to be at risk of racially or religiously motivated attacks.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan. Source: AAP

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The federal government is putting $18 million into a program designed to provide safety and security for schools deemed to be at risk of racially or religiously motivated attacks.

The Schools Security Program, extending a previous program, will fund CCTV cameras, improved lighting, new fences and security guards at certain schools.

It comes amid parliament's expected passage of new data-retention laws and Prime Minister Tony Abbott's condemning of what he called "hate preachers" and "Islamist fanatics."

Will Mumford reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

The federal government will help bolster security at more than 50 schools across Australia it has identified as at risk of violence, terrorist attacks or harassment.

Almost a hundred schools and preschools applied for funding under Schools Security Program late last year, and the $18 million investment in security upgrades will come over three years.

Bruce Handley is principal of Al Zahra College, a private school in Arncliffe providing alternative education options for Australia's Muslim community.

The school, which admits students from preschool to Year 11, was among 32 Islamic or Jewish schools to secure the funding out of 54 schools overall.

Mr Handley says increased protection for the his students is essential to ensuring an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.

"I think this is just an easy way to be able to ensure that the students, once they're at school, are in a safe environment, that we ensure that people who come onto the school site are people that we want to be on the school site, and that the parents are also very, very confident that, once their students have arrived at school, they are safe and secure and can get on with the job of learning."

Al Zahra College will use the funding to employ a security guard, which Mr Handley says will allow students to focus fully on their education.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan announced the new government policy at Al Zahra.

He says, while the schools receiving the funding are considered those most at risk, the move is a pre-emptive measure, not a response to any identified threat.

"I want to stress that there is nothing specific that we're concerned about with any of the schools that we will be funding. What this is is a confidence-building measure to make sure that we've identified schools that might be at slightly higher risk of having a security problem, and we're taking proactive measures to secure those schools."

Mr Keenan has denied Islamic schools face an increased risk due to Australia's involvement in the Middle East.

He says the Government decided where to target its funding after consulting state education departments and the Independent Schools Association.

Mr Keenan says they helped identify schools, which they thought may be of particular concern.

He says the need for the program is not an indication of growing sectarian violence in Australia.

"I don't think that that is a good way of characterising it. Australia is a very tolerant country. The vast majority of Australians, I think, believe in the diversity that we have here. So this isn't a response to anything specific. There hasn't been an increase in the threat. We're just taking sensible precautions to make sure that we're doing everything we can that, when kids go to school, they are safe."

Of the 54 schools that will receive funding, almost 30 are based in New South Wales, most of them in Sydney's west.





4 min read
Published 2 March 2015 at 2:28pm
By Will Mumford