Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Building stronger futures for children in the Northern Territory

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Peter Garrett AM, MP, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth
    The Hon Warren Snowdon MP, Minister for Indigenous Health, Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Science and Personnel

Educational outcomes for children across the Northern Territory will be improved under an expanded initiative that links income support payments with school attendance.

The Australian Government will enhance the Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM), so that it aligns with the Northern Territory Government’s Every Child Every Day strategy and promotes greater parental responsibility around a child’s school enrolment and attendance.

This is part of a legislation package the Australian Government will introduce to Parliament next week to build stronger futures for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, and Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett said Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have told the Government that education is a priority.

“We have listened to what Aboriginal people have told us about education – how they want children to attend school regularly and they believe parents have a responsibility to help make this happen,” Ms Macklin said.

“We know that school attendance and enrolment rates in many communities are still unacceptable. Getting kids to school is the responsibility of all parents.”

“This initiative will allow us to work with families who want their children to get the best education possible, and to do everything possible to make that happen.”

The Australian Government will now extend the strengthened initiative to apply in schools in communities of Yirrkala, Maningrida, Galiwin’ku, Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Umbakumba, Angurugu, Gapuwiyak, Gunbalanya, Milingimbi, Lajamanu and Yuendumu, the townships of Alyangula and Nhulunbuy, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and remaining schools in Katherine.

This is in addition to where SEAM is currently operating in Hermannsburg, Katherine and its town camps, Tiwi Islands, Wadeye and Wallace Rockhole.

“School attendance in these new sites is particularly poor, and it is clear that our efforts in these townships must be strengthened to ensure children are getting a decent education and go to school every day,” Ms Macklin said.

Mr Garrett said the expanded initiative will help provide parents with the support they need to ensure their children attend school every day.

“By aligning the SEAM program with the Northern Territory Government’s strategy we will ensure greater engagement between schools and families and give parents extra support when they need it,” Mr Garrett said.

“Seminars will be held in each community before the start of the new model to explain to parents their responsibilities, and ensure they understand that their income support entitlements may be affected if their children are not going to school.

“If children fall below the set benchmark of attendance, the school will discuss with the family ways to improve the child’s attendance and an attendance plan will be agreed. Support to help families play their part in fulfilling the attendance plan will be provided by additional social workers and attendance officers from the Northern Territory Government’s Education Department.”

Ms Macklin said that if parents do not meet their part of the agreed attendance plan, income support payments will be suspended.

“Payments will be reinstated once the parent gives clear signals they are complying with their responsibilities under the attendance plan and re-engaging with the school.

“The current enrolment component of SEAM will be continued and improved in order to address unacceptable levels of under-enrolment.

“These improvements include data exchange between schools and Centrelink to ensure that children are enrolled in a school and attending even if they have moved during the school year. This will prevent children, particularly those in mobile families, from falling through the cracks,” Ms Macklin said.

The Gillard Government has invested significantly to improve the quality of education in Northern Territory schools, including:

  • $16 million to expand pre-school services
  • $70 million in additional funding for schools in poor communities
  • $50 million for initiatives to improve teacher quality and literacy and numeracy teaching
  • $46 million for 200 additional teachers
  • $256 million in new school infrastructure under the BER and a further
    $10 million for classrooms in remote schools
  • $12 million to build Trades Training Centres.

“We are seeing some improvements, particularly in participation in early childhood services and early years literacy, but regular attendance is absolutely essential to ensure these improvements are sustained as children continue through school,” Mr Garrett said.

The Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon said a high quality education provides opportunities for all children to have a job and a career of their choice.

“We will continue to work with the Northern Territory Government to ensure that all children have access to a great education as an important stepping stone to improved employment outcomes and a stronger future,” Mr Snowdon said.

The changes to the SEAM program will be made by amending the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999.