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Government steps in to clear $630,000 charity debt

Education Minister Dan Tehan has stepped in to clear Father Chris Riley’s debt, but does not have a plan for a long-term solution

The federal government has stepped in to clear a $630,000 debt owed by a charity after an onslaught of community outrage.

Father Chris Riley, a respected charity Founder behind Youth Off The Streets, was ordered to repay $630,000 when the government “changed the model” for education funding. But Education Minister, Dan Tehan, stepped in and said it has now been taken care of.

Tehan said the schools, which cares for vulnerable teenagers – some of whom are sleeping rough or escaping domestic violence situations – would have funding secured for the next year, but there is no resolution to the “unique” problem beyond 2019.

“These students aren’t accessing government schools, they are accessing his independent schools,” Tehan said. “This was the first time that this issue has been raised with me.”

The schools had its funding cut from $17,000 per student to just $8,000 following the government’s decision to change the Education Department formula. Father Riley was informed of this change via email and ordered to repay over $600,000.

Labor MP, Tanya Plibersek, said the decision to demand repayment in the first place put the schools and its students at a huge disadvantage.

“What sort of government is it that wants to give a $17 billion tax cuts to the big banks but wants to cut funding for some of our most disadvantaged young people and prevent them getting an education?” Plibersek said.

Father Riley said he was “amazed” by the response to his plight and thanked Tehan for fixing the problem in the short-term, but stressed the need for ongoing funding. Tehan has promised to visit the schools in Sydney on Friday.

“Our kids have no voice, they don’t have parents to scream and yell… me and my staff are the ones who have to scream and yell,” Father Riley told reporters.

“We do keep opening new schools on a regular basis – because we are in need – and we will discuss that with the minister.”

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