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Thursday, 28 June 2012
Page: 4954

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (23:51): I am really conscious of the time, but I do think it is very important that we get to the bottom of this. There has been a school attendance and enrolment model introduced in the United States, and people who may have been following the academic research and the evaluation of that will know that the research showed that, where SEAM is introduced and implemented, if it is not backed up by a comprehensive plan through an education department and through education of parents, it will not work. It did not work in the United States, as the evidence shows. I think Larissa Behrendt from Jumbunna first highlighted that research and brought it to our attention.

When the SEAM trial started in the Northern Territory, in those six schools, it did not have a whole lot of that backup or support, even though school attendance in some of those schools actually increased and improved. The evaluation was done in Australia. What is not in this legislation but on the website of the Northern Territory's Department of Education and Training is their strategy called Every Child, Every Day. It is a comprehensive strategy that goes through the number of school attendance plans they have had—over 400, I think, across the Territory—and goes into the number of children that have started to come back to school as a result of that. In two years, they have referred something like 37, out of that 400, for further help and assistance.

So the initial statistics are showing that there have been many improvements with our assistance, with the additional 200 teachers, with the support that we have given schools through the BER and the School Pride program. A lot of schools have actually implemented loop systems in classrooms for kids with hearing difficulties, and there are now dedicated attendance officers in the Northern Territory. I think they have put six in the Territory, one in each regional centre, and they agree it is not enough and they are planning to do more. There are schools where teachers are working with parents, where parents are told about what school is about and why kids should get there.

I have taught in the Territory, and I have taught out bush, and I can tell you that the reason kids do not come to school is not because they cannot hear. The kids who cannot hear usually come to school, despite their hearing defect. They need to come every day so we can do something about it and tie them into the health centre services and get them checked—get them to see the specialists they require and get their hearing improved. Usually, kids do not come to school because it was too noisy in the home the night before due to too much drinking, or they do not have breakfast or they do not have shoes or their clothes are not clean. They are really basic, very simple reasons. If you know Indigenous people, you know how proud they are as a culture; and, if one of those wheels falls off, they are too ashamed to go to school. This program works with social workers, school liaison officers and Aboriginal liaison officers to work with those parents.

So Senator Evans is right: we would prefer that at the end of the day the income management regime under SEAM were not implemented. But I sit down with people—and I am talking about senior people in communities—and talk to them under a tree, on the beach, at their council meetings outside the store or wherever and say to them: 'What do we do? At the end of the day, what should we do to get these kids coming to school?' Nine times out of 10 the old, senior men in the community say to me, 'Take their Centrelink off them; take their payments off them.' I say, 'That's a bit harsh—100 per cent of them?' They say, 'Yes, we've got to get these kids educated.'

This is not 100 per cent of income; in fact, people who will be affected by SEAM will not have all of their income taken off them. That is another of the myths being propagated. But you have to understand that this program has been put in place in consultation with senior Indigenous people. They are elders; they are grandparents; they are people who are looking after their grandkids predominantly because their families are dysfunctional. They want a very strong partnership between them and the two governments. I have seen the Northern Territory education department develop their model, and it is substantially better than it was three years ago. This is a good start. Let us put this in place, and let us see in five years time whether it has had any effect now that we have beefed up and strengthened this part of the legislation.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that schedule 2 stand as printed.