Forget trickle fountains and serene Buddhas, ‘yarning circles’ are the latest must-have addition for a safe space in the NSW government.
Forget trickle fountains and serene Buddhas, ‘yarning circles’ are the latest must-have addition for a safe space in the NSW government.

$35k yarning circle likened to ‘Kath and Kim’ makeover

The NSW Department of Education has spent more than $35,000 refurbishing government offices to create a "culturally safe yarning circle", sparking claims of a waste of taxpayer money and ridicule online.

NSW Education Group Deputy Secretary School Improvement and Education Reform Georgina Harrisson posted online images of the revamp at its Parramatta offices, saying the new space, created with the Aboriginal Education Team, would "provide a culturally safe work space".

The colourful meeting room features round tables, indigenous designs on stools, didgeridoos in a corner and more than $5000 worth of window glazing to include an indigenous design.

NSW Department of Education 'yarning circle' office at Parramatta, tweeted by education executives. Picture: Twitter
NSW Department of Education 'yarning circle' office at Parramatta, tweeted by education executives. Picture: Twitter

One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham intends to take the matter to budget estimates next month, and quizzed Education Minister Sarah Mitchell about it in the NSW parliamentary questions on notice.

He said that the state had the fastest falling school results in the world, and it was "self-indulgent" for the department to build such a space.

"It is ridiculous and unnecessary to create a culturally safe yarning circle," he said.

"How many people in the Department of Education Parramatta offices would feel unsafe with an indigenous background?

One Nation NSW Leader Mark Latham. Picture: Richard Dobson
One Nation NSW Leader Mark Latham. Picture: Richard Dobson

"You would think it would be the most accommodating of workplace environments.

"There's no evidence it's an unsafe work environment.

"Why aren't they focusing on education policy, with NSW having the fastest falling school results in the world."

In response to his parliamentary question, Ms Mitchell answered:

"At its head office in Parramatta, the Department of Education purchased furniture and window glazing for a large-scale, multipurpose conference room that can be used flexibly to support a number of different working structures.

"The furniture cost $29,226.40 plus GST and window glazing $4641.98 plus GST."

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw

NSW Education Secretary Mark Scott said that "conference rooms require furniture and this is not a waste of money".

"It's not unusual for organisations to have themed work spaces," he said, in response to questions about the cost, purpose of the circle and whether it would be open to all.

"The department purchased furniture with Aboriginal designs and window glazing to reflect the recently signed Partnership Agreement with the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

"The furniture is for a large-scale, multi-purpose conference room that will be used by many."

The reception on social media to the colourful revamp has been less than kind, with many questioning the taxpayer dollar cost, while others said it looked like it was made in China and was designed for "Kath and Kim". Some asked if "printed fabrics" were enough to make a space "culturally safe".

"Beats Buddha heads and a trickle fountain I suppose," another commented.

"Yarning circles" have been adopted by various government and non-government organisations in recent years and are promoted as a way to "build respectful relationships and pass on cultural knowledge", drawing on traditions within Aboriginal culture.

Originally published as $35k yarning circle likened to 'Kath and Kim' makeover



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