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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 12139


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (10:18): I speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Further 2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012. This is a miscellaneous bill that deals with a number of issues. Firstly, it extends the Cape York welfare reform trial, and I will talk about that in detail. It extends the Indigenous education payments. Both of these measures are budget measures flowing out of the 2012-13 budget. There are a number of other non-budget changes as a result of this, including changes in relation to disclosure of information and privacy issues under the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. There is a change in relation to child support that fixes up a problem caused by the decision of the Family Court in relation to the payment of child support particularly in circumstances where paternity is disputed and found to be otherwise than that which was expected by both the mother and the father.

There are other minor amendments in relation to the schoolkids bonus and other changes as well in terms of the rounding of payment rates for family assistance and clean energy legislation. In relation to the other minor amendments, the amendments make sure that the schoolkids bonus is consistent with our intended policy. The schoolkids bonus, as you know, is the successor to the education tax refund which we brought in. The schoolkids bonus provides $410 for each child at primary school and $820 a year for each child in high school. It will benefit and has benefited about 11,000 families in the Blair electorate, which is based in Ipswich and the Somerset region. There are 19,400 children who have benefited from that particular piece of legislation. It is a great Labor initiative. It costs a lot of money to raise a child. The Institute of Family Studies indicates that it costs a parent about $1 million to raise a child to 18 years of age, so this will assist parents to meet the needs, to make sure school items are purchased. Not having to wait months to get something back is good policy.

It is a good initiative of this federal Labor government. I was at one of the biggest primary schools—Raceview State Primary School, where both my daughters attended—in my electorate when we actually brought that in, and was talking to mums and dads as they dropped kids off in relation to changes we were making. There was not a person there I spoke to who was not happy with what we are doing. Sadly, of course, those opposite opposed the legislation when it came into the House. It is one of those things where the other side have the visceral commitment in their DNA to saying no, and sadly they did.

The other aspects of this legislation deal with extending the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial. As chair of House of Representatives Standing Committee on ATSIA, the committee looked at and commented extensively on the work being done by that particular organisation in Queensland. It is a particularly successful organisation and we commented upon that in our recommendations in the Doing time—time for doing report. In fact we recommended to the Commonwealth government in recommendation 38:

… that the Australian Government in partnership with the Queensland Government and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership extend the funding of the Family Responsibility Commission—

in relation to this particular reform—

until December 2013, pending further evaluation.

I am pleased to say that the committee noted that in this budget and in the previous budget the Australian government provides $16.1 million to extend the FRC until 31 December 2012. We are of the opinion that it is critical to extend the funding until December 2013 in order to allow the operation to continue and an adequate evaluation in relation to that. I am pleased that this legislation will continue the income management element of the Cape York Welfare Trial for a further 12 months until 31 December 2013.

The background to this reform is really important. It is important to note, and as a Queenslander I am pleased to speak on this bill. The Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission began operating in four communities—Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge—in July 2008. The purpose is to support the restoration of socially responsible standards of behaviour and to assist community members to assume and maintain primary responsibility for the wellbeing of their community, individuals and families. It is about strengthening communities and improving personal resilience. There are a number of objectives in relation to that: to restore social norms and to make sure that the wellbeing of children is promoted. The objectives are about making sure that children go to school—truancy is a problem—and making sure that the norm is not to drink alcohol in the home or to have pornography in the home. There are a range of other things that Commissioner David Glasgow from the Family Responsibilities Commission explained to our inquiry. This has proved to be a successful operation and it has made an impact for good in Queensland in relation to all of those issues.

We have seen improvements as a result with stronger communities in North Queensland. One of the things I was most struck by as we looked at that work done by the FRC was in notification. If a person's child is absent from school three times in a term without reasonable excuse or a person has a child of school age who is not enrolled in school without lawful excuse there are significant consequences that flow. Commissioners are involved, elders are involved and the whole community takes ownership of what is going on. This particular measure in this bill takes up the recommendation of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. I am pleased to see that the budget measure correlates with the recommendation of the House of Representatives committee.

We are seeking a commitment from the Queensland government to continue funding for the Family Responsibilities Commission including some amendment of Queensland legislation. The Queensland government has not always been generous with its funding of organisations, particularly Indigenous organisations, for those who are suffering homelessness or are at risk of homelessness, for front line services such as family planning, or for tenancy, family support, health and other services in Queensland. In Queensland the attitude is to purge and financially cut off funding. We are hopeful the government will put its money where its mouth is. It talks positively about what is happening and it is about time it put up or shut up. There will be an evaluation of the trial, which, I understand, is currently under way. It will assist us in our efforts in Cape York

The other budget measure in this legislation is for Indigenous education payments. I am pleased to see there is about $16 million in funding for the combined 2012 and 2013 calendar years. A number of the programs relate to improving school attendance and to improving the quality of education and teacher training. They also improve nutrition and make sure that children are more likely to not absent themselves from school but are more likely to be focused on their school achievement and to be focused not just on education in the classroom but on high-quality development on the sporting field as well. Programs such as building a quality workforce talk about the need for teachers in remote Northern Territory schools, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, to have the skills they need for specialist teaching in intensive numeracy and literacy.

The committee, for its inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities, went across all of northern Australia and all around the place for 23 public hearings. We went to a place called Utopia Homelands in the Northern Territory. It is a very remote place and you get there by plane. One of the things that struck me as we travelled around Western Australia and the Northern Territory was the need for it to be compulsory for teachers to be trained in English-as-a-second-language education. There needs to be good accreditation and good-quality understanding of first language and the need for bilingual education. We must make sure that those teachers who come from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane who go into these communities are trained well and understand the Indigenous languages. There are a plethora of recommendations in the report, Our Land Our Languages, to promote that.

Building a quality workforce is one of the initiatives funded in this budget and I applaud the government for it. School nutrition continuation programs are also important. We can see that in the Northern Territory. I have seen that sort of program adopted by Indigenous elders in my community at my old high school, Bundamba State Secondary College, where the Davidson women, elders in the local Ipswich community, have taken the initiative with a number of other Indigenous elders. They call them uncles and aunties in the local community and they do great work making sure that Indigenous kids at Bundamba State Secondary College get to school.

That is a program that has been picked up by places like Ipswich State High and other areas—so Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids are going to school with food in their bellies and are able to improve their educational output and their capacity to learn by the fact that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are helping to make sure they have good nutrition. This particular program, School Nutrition, provides meals to about 5,000 students, and I am pleased it is being funded in this particular legislation.

The Sporting Chance program is also particularly important. We are very happy to cheer on our Indigenous stars in the AFL and the NRL. We are very happy to cheer them on and assist them at the State of Origin and in other areas of sporting endeavour, whether it is Cathy Freeman, Jonathan Thurston or any other sporting hero, but we need our next champions to come through. I am pleased that the House of Representatives ATSIA committee, which I chair, is looking at the role of sport in Closing the Gap. The Sporting Chance program, under this particular legislation, is using sport and recreation to increase the engagement of Indigenous students in their schooling. Sport has a particular role to play.

I can recall a boy of about 14 years of age in Utopia. He was an AFL champion of the future. He found himself in a position where he was struggling as school. But it was explained to him that his starring on the field was just as important as his starring in the classroom. So what the teacher did was, through this type of program, make sure that he had stars—stars that were listed beside his name when he achieved good things in the classroom. This boy, this great star of the future, was proud of the fact that he starred. His physique was incredible; he is going to be a champion in the AFL for sure, no doubt about it; he was one of the best players in the Northern Territory. He had a sporting chance. Sport was so important to his good education on the team. So that Sporting Chance program is the kind of thing that is important: sport-focused learning and development. There are a number of things like that program that teach initiative in remote areas as well.

In conclusion, there are great improvements in the bill. It fixes a problem in terms of child support where the Family Court has made an order which confused the issue of paternity. I was involved, when I was a lawyer, in those types of cases in the past. They are very complex and very difficult, so we are effectively bringing back what we thought was the longstanding policy that we have in terms of accrediting money in one way or the other, making sure that we do not go through the process of further litigation, which was the consequence of that decision.

There is another amendment in relation to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, enabling SSAT members to release some protected information to relevant authorities where there is risk to life, health or welfare; and improving privacy protection. So this legislation has some really good things in it which will make a difference to people's lives, particularly our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It is not just fixing things up with some technical amendments, overcoming an adverse decision; it will make an appreciable difference to the lives of Indigenous people across the country. I support the bill.