Back to All News

Welfare Suspension Truancy trial in Cannington

My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Evans. I note that Minister Macklin announced the welfare suspension truancy trial in the suburb of Cannington.

Can the minister confirm whether this trial site is in fact restricted to the suburb of Cannington or does it in fact extend across the Cannington Centrelink district, which includes the suburbs of South Guilford, Burswood, Victoria Park, South Perth, Queens Park, Belmont, Bentley, Rossmoyne, Welshpool and Canning Vale, to mention several of them?

What support services are in place for the families that have had their payments suspended, particularly for those that have more than one child-in other words, children other than the ones involved in the suspension of payments?

What is the expected increase in demand for charity and other services in this region when they are forced to cope with the families that have had their payments suspended?

Answer

I thank Senator Siewert for the question. I acknowledge her interest in these matters. I will help her to the extent that I can. I will have to take the rest of the question on notice. As Minister Macklin and the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, have made clear, we believe stronger measures are required to ensure school attendance. We know that school attendance is necessary for good outcomes in children's lives and that if they do not attend school their chances for success later in life are much poorer. We need to find ways of encouraging greater parental responsibility so that parents make clear their expectation that children go to school.

I know that we have debated this previously in the context of Indigenous children and the very poor school attendance rates in many Indigenous communities. The whole Senate would join me in acknowledging that tackling that problem is very important to those children's life chances. It is one of the reasons why this government has invested in the nought-to-five years of children's lives and made them such a priority. We know that the investment early in their habits will have a huge payoff in their later life but also in terms of their connection with the education system. As the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Macklin made clear, the question of dealing with the trial of measures linking school attendance to welfare is a trial in eight communities across Australia affecting 3,300 children. One of those is in her home state of WA in Cannington.

I want to stress, though, that the measures are a last resort. They are designed to encourage parents to take positive steps towards improving their children's education. A decision to withhold a parent's income support will not be taken lightly. It will be a last resort where it is shown that, despite help from the principal, teachers and Centrelink, the parent is continuing to fail to exercise their basic responsibility as a parent to ensure their child is enrolled and attending school. There is a reason why we have compulsory schooling in this country. We think it is a public good. We think every child should have the opportunity to have proper schooling. That is why it is compulsory in this country. If parents are failing to meet their obligations to ensure their children attend school, you do have to do something; you do have to take measures. As we know, in a range of areas, we have just failed to be able to get some parents to take on those responsibilities.

There are a range of issues that you have quite correctly pointed out that go to supporting this program, to ensuring that it does not unfairly impact on the children themselves when we deal with the welfare payment issue. Those will be put in place, and I am happy to get further information for the senator on those. But I also say that in terms of her first question as to whether the measure is purely in the suburb of Cannington or in the Centrelink area of Cannington I have to say that I do not know the answer to that. It is not included in my brief. I will get the senator an answer to that specific question as soon as I can. Also, I will get her further information on the question of the support measures being put in place.

Supplementary Question

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. On the support services, could the minister clarify if in fact only one financial officer will be available for that district? What is the total support program that is available? Centrelink is going to be provided with a list of non-attendants, as we understand it, at school. Will the school be given a list by Centrelink of those who are on income support in their region in order that the school can inform Centrelink of who is not attending school? 

Supplementary Answer

Senator CHRIS EVANS-I thank the senator for the supplementary question. I think it is best that I take those issues on notice and get a detailed response for her. Clearly notification from the schools as to non-attendance is a key part of making the system work-identifying those who consistently do not attend school. In my day we had truancy officers, and I do remember being contacted by one on one occasion during a certain rebellious stage of my life. But it will require close coordination and I will get further information for the senator.

Back to All News