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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 663

Mr Abbott asked the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in writing, on 13 October 2008:

(1)   Has the Government yet established protocols with any State or Territory covering the transfer of school attendance data to Centrelink for the purpose of suspending welfare payments to parents whose children do not attend school.

(2)   Has the Government sought advice on whether the transfer of such data would breach privacy law.

(3)   What is the Government’s timeframe for the establishment of these protocols.

(4)   Will Centrelink be required to advise schools of pupils whose parents receive welfare payments so that their attendance records can be provided.

(5)   How will Centrelink approach determining whether school age children of existing welfare recipients are enrolled.

(6)   How many parents does the Government estimate could lose welfare payments as a result of the antitruancy initiative.

Ms Macklin (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   In preparation for implementation of the Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure, the Government is currently negotiating protocols with representatives from the Northern Territory and Western Australian trial jurisdictions for the provision of information to Centrelink in relation to those children who are failing to attend school and whose parents are failing to take reasonable steps to ensure their children are attending school.

(2)   The Social Security and Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (Schooling Requirements) Bill 2008 provides that a state or territory or a non-government school authority or any other person who is responsible for the operation of one or more schools may give the Commonwealth information about the enrolment/non-enrolment or attendance/non-attendance of children at school. Under the relevant section of the legislation, information about schooling can be provided despite any law (whether written or unwritten) in force in a state or territory.

(3)   Negotiations are currently underway with trial jurisdictions to establish bilateral agreements for implementation of the measure from the beginning of the 2009 school year.

(4)   Centrelink will not be providing wholesale data to schools about parents who are in receipt of income support. Where they perceive it to be appropriate, schools or education authorities will liaise with Centrelink on specific children who are not attending school to the satisfaction of the school or education authority and whose parent(s) are not taking reasonable steps to ensure their children attend school. Centrelink will advise whether the parent receives income support and is therefore subject to the measure.

(5)   Under the measure, parents receiving a variety of Commonwealth income support payments who live in a trial location and have children of compulsory school age will be contacted by Centrelink and required to provide enrolment information. This information can be provided by phone, in person or by completing a form. Those parents who fail to provide enrolment information to Centrelink without a reasonable excuse will be required to engage with Centrelink and will be offered social worker assistance.

(6)   The measure provides for the temporary withholding of a parent’s income support payment if the parent has failed to meet their requirements; despite repeated attempts by Centrelink and education authorities to assist the parent and in the absence of any reasonable excuse or special circumstance. Once parents meet their requirements within a 13 week period, their payments will be restored with full back pay. It is only after a minimum of 13 weeks of suspended payments that a parent may have their payments cancelled, and thus “lose payments”. The measure provides for multiple contacts by Centrelink staff and Centrelink social workers with parents to offer them support; with the aim of enabling parents to meet their requirements and thereby avoid any suspension of payments. It is expected that very few parents will have their payment cancelled.