Community Affairs - Friday 25 February
CHAIR—Senator Siewert, you wanted to clarify something?
Senator SIEWERT—Yes. Last night we did not break it down into what was Northern Territory and what was Queensland of that 120. Of the 120, there are 38 in the Northern Territory?
Mr Tidswell—That is right.
Senator SIEWERT—That is over the period of the trial, isn’t it?
Mr Tidswell—That is right.
Senator SIEWERT—Can I ask a follow-up question. This might be for either you or FaHCSIA. Of the families that were suspended, what is done to look at what impact it is having on them when they do not have any income?
Mr Lye—In relation to SEAM?
Mr Lye—I think that probably would be a question for DEEWR.
Ms Hay—During the period that a person is suspended under the SEAM process, we have a review at the two-, four- and 10-week stage with our social worker, and they also have ongoing interaction with the education liaison officer during that period.
Senator SIEWERT—Thank you for that. When you talk about the social worker, I am thinking in terms of the fact that these families do not have any income, which is the point we were making during the debate. I am not going to go into a policy debate, because we have had that and my opinion is well known, but my concern is: what impact is this having on families when no income is coming in, in terms of how they are surviving and how they are putting food on the table? Is it leading to other social problems? Are those the things that the social workers are looking at?
Ms Hay—That is certainly a conversation that the social worker has with the family. But the primary purpose of the interaction with the social worker is to look at the reasons the children are not attending school. It is about parenting support. But that is certainly one aspect. There are times when there may be other referrals to other organisations to support that family during that period.
Senator SIEWERT—I appreciate that this is also a DEEWR issue, but we are crossing over from DEEWR into general welfare for these families. Is there information on who has been referred to organisations? I presume here we are talking about NGOs that are coming in and supporting families. Is that what you mean?
Ms Hay—That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT—Do we have details on how those families are being supported and how they are putting food on the table?
Mr Tidswell—Senator, we will take that on notice to get some advice about how that is occurring. It is important to note that family tax benefit is still provided. That is not suspended; it is the income support payment. The whole goal here for our staff is to get the customer to do what needs to be done to enrol their child or get their child to school. Now, one of the things we would look at is that the parent has to do whatever is reasonably possible, but if there is a difficult adolescent or child and they have taken all reasonable steps we would accept that. In that sense, the game plan here is to try to get kids at school—get them enrolled and attending. It is not the desired effect to suspend payment. We work hard with those families to get those kids at school or enrolled at school and that really is the process we use.
Senator SIEWERT—I understand what you are intending. I disagree with it because of the approach that has been taken. I do not want to have an argument about that because we have had it, but what I am concerned about is what is happening with these families and whether it is creating more social problems.
Senator Arbib—We will get you the answers on that. I have asked Centrelink the same questions because, obviously, I have an interest in the area. My understanding is that there are welfare workers who are involved throughout the process, obviously attempting to get the children to engage in education but also looking at the welfare of the family and working in with the local school, of course, and the other agencies. So we will get you a more detailed answer on that, but we all agree that we are not just worried about the welfare of the children in terms of going to school but also their general welfare. The two matters are totally linked.