Wednesday, 3 September 2008

School attendance and welfare: Amnesty

School attendance and welfare: another blow to human rights

Last week, the Australian Government introduced legislation linking school attendance with welfare payments. Under the new legislation, if children don’t go to school regularly, their principal carer could have their welfare payments stopped for up to three months. The 3-year trial will begin at the start of the ‘09 school year in six Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

The way that the policy is being implemented specifically targets Indigenous people without seeking to adequately address the underlying causes of Indigenous disadvantage.

Successive Australian Governments have failed to meet their international human rights obligations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and consequently, Aboriginal Australians are denied rights to the highest attainable standard of health, adequate housing, an adequate standard of living and freedom from discrimination. These failures contribute to Aboriginal children's lower levels of engagement with the education system and are not adequately acknowledged by the governments new policy.

As such, it's questionable whether the policy will actually work. This model has been tried before, notably in Cape York, in parts of WA and through the NT Intervention. The evidence shows that quarantining welfare will have little effect on whether children go to school.

An issues paper by the Australian Education Union shows that the programs that work combined sanctions with case management, supportive services and positive financial incentives. Even those programs showed limited success and this was attributed to the case management, not the welfare quarantining.

Not only that, but evaluations of the trials found that illness rather than truancy was the major cause of absence rather than truancy, and ACOSS cites other factors for absence, which include "a lack of basic education and support services in some areas, poor quality education programs, bullying, insecure housing and health problems affecting children and families."

The most appropriate policy response is one that protects all human rights. It must seek to repair the cumulative effects of the history of rights violations, poverty, exclusion and discrimination and emphasise the restoration a sense of empowerment and dignity not just in the punishment of truants but in the sense of community engendered by the school. Only then will children go to and stay in school.


No school, no cash 'hardline' benefits plan
Withholding welfare payments is unlikely to fix the causes of family dysfunction: Australian Council of Social Service. Families face losing their welfare for three months if their children continually skip school, under legislation to be introduced to Federal Parliament this week.

NT election turnout lowest in 20 yrs
The raw final figures from the Northern Territory election have revealed the lowest level of voter turnout in at least the past two decades.

Indigenous welfare quarantine scheme gets go ahead
Parents in four Cape York Indigenous communities could soon have their welfare payments quarantined if they do not take care of their children and homes and do not stay out of trouble with the law.

Union calls for $2.9b to fund education shortfall
The Education Union is calling on the Federal Government to provide an extra $2.9 billion in funding for public schools.

Retailers' warning on welfare card shop spies
EMPLOYEES across the country will be at risk of entrapment by government "spies", retailers have warned, under a Federal Government proposal to control fraudulent use of a new welfare debit card.

Abandon NT intervention: Commissioner
The Northern Territory's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Tony Fitzgerald says the Federal intervention into remote Aboriginal communities should be abandoned and the legislation underpinning it should be repealed.

Income management extended for NT

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has announced income management will be extended for up to a year in four Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

Aborigines want end to NT intervention
Thousands of Aborigines are petitioning to have the Northern Territory intervention abandoned.

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