Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Working Together to Improve School Enrolment and Attendance

Encouraging parental responsibility will be central to a new approach to ensure children are enrolled at and attending school.

The Australian Government will provide $17.6 million for a pilot with state and territory governments, non-government education authorities, and parents to improve school enrolment and attendance under a new approach to welfare reform.

These measures will initially be trialled in eight communities across Australia – six in the Northern Territory and two in metropolitan communities in other jurisdictions.

Final locations will be determined in consultation with state and territory Governments.

The Rudd Government is committed to a child-centred approach to family policy that includes ensuring that welfare payments serve the interests of children.

For the first time, parents receiving income support in the trial communities will be required to tell Centrelink where their children are enrolled at school and will also need to ensure their children attend school regularly.

Parents who fail to enrol their children at school may have their income support payments suspended until their children are enrolled.

This approach is designed to encourage parents to take positive steps towards improving their child’s education.

Parents notifying Centrelink where their children are enrolled is a simple but effective way for the Australian Government to make sure children can access the education they need.

Schooling is key to improving children’s life chances and directly impacts on their employment opportunities, financial independence and social inclusion.

School attendance will also be monitored and improved in the trial communities through a new approach with state, territory and non-government education authorities.

The Australian Government will seek agreement to acceptable attendance benchmarks with state and territory governments through the COAG reform agenda. Student attendance against these benchmarks would be monitored by the relevant education authority in the trial communities.

Education authorities will be able to refer cases of students with chronic non-attendance to Centrelink for further inquiries.

Parents will be required to show they are actively trying to improve their child’s school attendance. Those who fail to do this may have their income support payments temporarily suspended until action is taken.

A decision to temporarily withhold a parent’s income support will be a last resort where it can be shown the parent has failed, despite help from the school and Centrelink, to exercise parental responsibility to ensure their child is enrolled at and attending school. Full back pay will be provided when parents have met their responsibilities.

Currently between 11 and 20 per cent of child protection investigations in Australia are from notifications by school personnel. Under a complementary Rudd Government trial, if these investigations show a risk to the child then child welfare authorities can ask Centrelink to introduce income management to help the family.

The Rudd Government’s new approach to welfare payment reform contrasts with the approach of the previous government that left a series of unfunded proposals with no workable implementation plan.