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National strategy targets truants -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: It's barely been announced and already a Federal Government strategy to fight
truancy is under attack.

The Federal Families Minister Jenny Macklin joined Queensland Premier Anna Bligh to announce the
plan this morning.

The Minister has told journalists under new laws parents in urban communities will have welfare
payments suspended if their children consistently miss school.

Our reporter Annie Guest was at this morning's press conference and she joins me now.

Annie, what details did the minister reveal about her anti-truancy plan?

ANNIE GUEST: Elizabeth, Jenny Macklin said it would be trialled in 30 schools, affecting 2,000
parents. It'll be the first to be trialled in an outer metropolitan area. It is already being run
for the past six months in Katherine and some Northern Territory communities. This one will operate
in Logan, south of Brisbane, which is an area of, a lower socio-economic area, more people on
welfare and truancy about 15 per cent worse than the rest of the State.

And children who persistently skip school could have their, the parents of those children could
have their welfare payments suspended for 13 weeks. But the minister was at pains, Elizabeth, to
stress that that would only be in extreme circumstances.

JENNY MACKLIN: We want to make sure that children are enrolled to go to school, each and every one
of them. We want to make sure that children go to school on a regular basis. If they don't go to
school on a regular basis they are not going to get a good education. That's what this is all
about. This suspension of welfare payments will be used as a last resort.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the Federal Families Minister Jenny Macklin speaking in Brisbane a short
time ago this morning.

Annie it sounds as though the minister is laying the blame for truancy at the feet of the parents.
How has that been received?

ANNIE GUEST: Well while this was only announced within the last couple of hours officially it was
leaked to the papers last night so people have had time to digest it this morning and there has
been a negative response in some quarters.

Now I should just clarify that it is also going to be trialled in the Aboriginal communities of
Doomadgee and Mornington Island in Queensland.

But here in Logan where I am at the moment, there is concern from the Logan Mayor that people
could, if they have the payments suspended, may not be able to pay their rent and put food on the
table. So the Mayor of Logan Pam Parker said the children could be worse off.

PAM PARKER: So how are you going to feed the family? Because I come back again to the child. The
child is the victim here. The child is not getting the education then you're wanting to take the
child's food away from the child as well.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the Logan Mayor, Pam Parker.

Has the minister responded to that Annie?

ANNIE GUEST: Jenny Macklin said that she understood that people did have that view but that there
was a simple answer to it and that parents should just send their children to school.

She said that, she reiterated that it was really in extreme circumstances that payments are cut off
and that a lot of work is done with parents in stages before it gets to that point to try and
encourage them and help them to get their children to school.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now what about families which don't receive welfare benefits? Has the minister
got a plan for them?

ANNIE GUEST: At this stage no, except for to encourage principals to take enrolments and firmly
insist that children attend school. But no, this plan is aimed at the children of parents who are
on welfare benefits.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh was with Jenny Macklin this morning. What
involvement if any will the State Government have in this?

ANNIE GUEST: Well it's interesting because the emphasis really was on the principal being the one
to have the relationship with the parents. So the principal of the school will meet with the
parents and if necessary go to the home of the family to have that meeting.

And then they will also along the way prior to that point have been sharing data, enrolment data,
with Centrelink.

So Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh said in a sense that the inference that you could draw from what
she said was that it was breaking down a bureaucratic barrier.

ANNA BLIGH: Really what we've got is two different levels of government, two government agencies,
the Education Department and Centrelink, who have kept their own data and never shared it. What we
will do here is share that information for the first time.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh. And that report from our Brisbane
reporter Annie Guest.