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Participant in welfare payment trial welcomes proposed changes; Democrats Senator acknowledges efforts to improve child welfare; Liberal Party Member approves of proposed changes to welfare payments.

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Monday 1 May 2006

Participant in welfare payment trial welcomes proposed changes; Democrats Senator acknowledges efforts to improve child welfare; Liberal Party Member approves of proposed changes to welfare payments


MARK COLVIN: The Minister for Family and Community Services Mal Brough has come under some harsh criticism over his proposal to hold back nearly a third of parents' welfare payments to ensure that money is spent on essential payments for children. 


Some welfare groups say it's punitive and paternalistic, and doesn't tackle the real reasons for child neglect. 


But even some of the minister's harshest critics say he deserves some credit for trying, at a federal level, to improve the welfare of children. 


Paula Kruger reports. 


PAULA KRUGER: Under Mal Brough's proposal about 30 per cent of a parent's welfare payment could be diverted and go straight to essential payments like food for their children and power bills. 


It is scheme that is already being trialled in some Aboriginal communities in Cape York and in Halls Creek, Western Australia. 


Eva is one of the mothers from Halls Creek who's decided to take part. 


Every fortnight Centrelink takes $60 out of her payment, and that covers food for her children every recess and lunch while they're at school for two weeks. 


She says about half the women in her community are taking part in the trial. 


EVA: It makes it a lot easier, because you know that your children is going to be fed at recess and lunch. 


Some mothers travel because of their work life or (inaudible) life. And if they're not here, the money's still going to go to the canteen, which is good idea. 


PAULA KRUGER: It's a voluntary trial and it's on a small scale, but this is the same concept the Family and Community Services Minister is proposing for all Australian families if their children are seen as not getting the benefits of welfare payments. 


Some welfare groups have criticised the idea and being punitive and paternalistic. 


The Federal Opposition says the Government is incapable of implementing such a plan. But the Democrats aren't as quick to criticise. 


Senator Andrew Bartlett. 


ANDREW BARTLETT: I have two clear responses to Mal Brough's proposal. The first, in regards to a specific proposal, is I can see a lot of problems with being able to make it work fairly, and also concern that it would another way of stigmatising welfare recipients.  


The other response I had to the minister, though, was much more positive, and that was that it is the first time that I can recall this Federal Government having a minister talking about the issue of child neglect and abuse as a national problem. 


And whilst it's one thing to criticise the proposal that Mr Brough's put forward, I would call on the community and the welfare sector in particular to also acknowledge that we do have a real problem nationally with child neglect and child abuse; and beyond criticising the specific proposal, we also need to come up with other ideas. 


PAULA KRUGER: While it may be one of the first times a Federal Minister has raised the issue, it isn't the first time a Federal Liberal MP has proposed it. 


Queensland backbencher Steve Ciobo has been calling for a similar system for some time. 


Today, Victorian backbencher Sophie Panopoulos also gave her support. 


SOPHIE PANOPOULOS: There is a reality. The reality is money is going to families and it's not being used effectively to look after children and to nurture them. And that is a more serious concern than some of the so-called concerns from welfare groups. 


PAULA KRUGER: Sociologist from Sydney University Dr Alec Pemberton has some difficulties with what the minister is proposing, but says it could work as a first step in a broader plan to tackle child neglect. 


ALEC PEMBERTON: Mr Blair's got it in train over in England, where you use the leverage of welfare benefits to get certain behaviours out of people. If they're misbehaving in a housing estate you'd say: "Well, you can't stay there anymore." So I don't think this Government's original. 


But if a problem is complex it may well be that small piecemeal solutions can help. Again, I wouldn't rule out the positive benefits of this, but it's only part of a package. 


MARK COLVIN: Dr Alec Pemberton from Sydney University, ending that report by Paula Kruger.