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Mining money to fund new Arnhem Land education centre

People in remote northeast Arnhem Land will be able to access a $6.4 million tertiary institution to improve their job prospects and learning.

As the 24th annual Garma Festival opens, the Yothu Yindi Foundation will receive funding from the Aboriginals Benefit Account for the design and development of the Garma Institute.

The foundation already offers a Yolngu-centred curriculum for school students through the Dhupuma Barker School at Gunyangara, a 1000km drive east of Darwin.

The independent bilingual school has driven strong attendance rates and improved education outcomes.

The institute will give the students a pathway to continue their higher education.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is attending the festival, said it was important for students to be able to live and learn on-country.

"This has been a long aspiration of the Yolngu people," he said.

"This partnership shows how governments can work alongside communities, meeting their needs and helping them realise their full potential."

Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said the Garma Institute would give Yolngu people the opportunity to continue their education without having to move away from family.

Yothu Yindi Foundation chief executive Denise Bowden said it was "ground-breaking and exciting work".

The benefit account receives money from the Commonwealth based on the value of royalties generated from mining on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

The four NT land councils receive money for administration from the account, which also provides funding for projects that benefit the Aboriginal people of the NT.

In November last year, Ms Burney announced changes to the benefit account, setting up a new Aboriginal-led corporate Commonwealth entity to manage the process, the NT Aboriginal Investment Corporation.

Ms Burney said at the time establishing the corporation would shift decision-making over the benefit account from Canberra to the NT, a process that began in 2021 under coalition minister Ken Wyatt.

In 2007, changes to the Land Rights Act meant while the benefit account Aboriginal advisory committee could make recommendations, it was the minister who had ultimate control over how and where the money was spent.

Since that time, ministers from Labor and coalition governments have been criticised for allocating funds to pet projects outside of the advisory committee's recommendations and for topping up budget shortfalls from the account.

According to the corporation website, it began legally operating on November 15, 2022, and the first grant process under the new system opened in April.

A spokesperson for Ms Burney told AAP the funds for the Garma Institute had been allocated before the new arrangements kicked in.

Consultations with the community and stakeholders about the facility's curriculum would begin at this year's Garma Festival.

Paul Osborne and Rudi Maxwell - AAP

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