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Transcript of doorstop interview: 25 August 2008: truancy in schools.



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Mon, 25th August 2008 ABBOTT AND SMITH DOORSTOP - TRUANCY IN SCHOOLS

The Hon Tony Abbott MHR Shadow Minister for Families, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs and the Voluntary Sector (to 22 September 2008)

The Hon Tony Smith MP Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training (to 22 September 2008)

Joint Doorstop.

E&OE

TONY ABBOTT:

..First about this latest announcement by the Government. The first point I’d make is that it’s not really all that new. They’ve already announced a trial - eight sites of quarantining of welfare. The second point I’d make is that the Coalition really owns the principles of mutual obligation and it was the Howard Government which put legislation in place last year to quarantine the welfare payments to people who didn’t send their kids to school. The third point I’d make is that I think that there are some significant logistical problems with this - they seem to be relying on the teachers to act as policeman in this respect, to dob in bad parents and I’m not sure that this is going to go down particularly well with the schools.

The final, and perhaps the most important point I’d make, is that the Government is being gravely inconsistent - on the one hand the instruction has gone out to Centrelink not to suspend the payments of jobseekers who have refused to turn up at work interviews or at work for the dole, on the other hand now they’re saying that if your kids don’t go to school your welfare payments will be suspended. So, on the one hand they’re punishing the kids for the mistakes of their parents, but they’re refusing to punish adults for their own acts of non-compliance. So, I think there really is a grotesque double standard at work here. The final point I want to make is that really the Rudd Government is all about perception, it’s not about action. It’s all about striking a pose, not about making difference and I think this latest announcement is very much in that position of being all spin and no substance. Tony?

TONY SMITH:

Yeah and look - everyone agrees that it’s important that every step possible is taken to ensure kids attend school, it’s a right of kids, and we were very strong on that in Government, I might say, very strong - without vocal support from the Labor Party. But it’s important that what’s put forward works and that it’s thought through. And the track record of the Rudd Government is these things are cobbled together in a hurry - we’ve seen that with FuelWatch and other things - and they’re all about announcement and not about follow-through. Now, as Tony said, we established the principal of mutual obligation and that’s very important. But, in terms of how this is administered we want to see all of the detail of it to ensure that it will actually work.

JOURNALIST:

Will you support it in the Senate?

ABBOTT:

Well we want to see the detail. I mean, obviously we think that it’s good to get kids to school, we think that bad behaviour should have consequences, but we’re certainly not going to commit to anything until we’ve seen the detail and I challenge the Government to come up with the detail because, to me, this announcement smacks of policy on the run.

JOURNALIST:

Well, how is it policy on the run when it’s a re-announcement?

ABBOTT:

Well…

JOURNALIST:

It’s not much running there, I mean they’ve done it before, they’ve said it for the last…

ABBOTT:

It’s window dressing on window dressing.

JOURNALIST:

Are you worried that tonight’s Four Corners programme is going to reignite these leadership tensions?

ABBOTT:

I’m not aware of any.

JOURNALIST:

What’s wrong with teachers ‘dobbing in’, as you put it, kids who are chronically leaving school?

ABBOTT:

Well, I don’t have a problem with that but I think it would make a lot more sense if the Government were to say ‘as far as we are concerned kids should go to school every day unless they have a reasonable excuse’ and the attendance records ought to be provided by the schools to Centrelink. And if kids don’t have, for arguments sake, a 95 per cent attendance rate, Centrelink will be ringing up the parents and wanting to know what’s going on. I think it would make a lot more sense if the schools were required to provide the attendance data to Centrelink and that it was in the hands of Centrelink. I think that would make more sense, I think that would be much easier to administer. As it is, I see big problems with schools having to make judgements about what constitutes appropriate attendance and I just don’t think teachers are going to like it one little bit.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned that there are children who are going to go hungry because their parents don’t send them to school and the welfare payment is suspended?

ABBOTT:

Well, what I’m concerned about is the inconsistency. The Howard Government put into place a system where if people were not adhering to their obligations as job seekers, after three offences their payments could be suspended for eight weeks. And that was happening. The incoming Government, the Rudd Government, said that this was very unfair because people were going hungry. Now they’re saying that they are going to suspend the welfare payments of people whose kids don’t go to school. So, it seems to me that on the one hand they’re refusing to punish delinquent adults, but they are risking punishing kids for the delinquencies of their parents. So, I think they’ve got a lot of explaining to do.

JOURNALIST:

There’s not real equivalency between not being in a job and not getting an education at all…

ABBOTT:

No, no, but people have to adhere to their responsibilities. People have to meet their responsibilities. Now, if you are on unemployment benefits your principal responsibility is to look for work - it’s to turn up at job interviews, it’s to accept job offers, it’s to be part of work-for-the-dole - these are very real responsibilities and if people don’t do it without good reason I think they should suffer consequences. Now, the Rudd Government is refusing to take action against people of very questionable work ethic, on the other hand it wants to throw the book at people whose kids don’t go to school. Now, we all know that it’s a lot harder, particularly with older kids, to get them to do things that it is to actually turn up at a job interview yourself.

JOURNALIST:

But do you think the book should be thrown at these parents too?

ABBOTT:

I think that governments should be consistent. I think the Government should be consistent, I think that bad behaviour should have consequences, but I don’t believer that this latest announcement by the Rudd Government has been carefully thought through and I don’t think it’s consistent with what they are already doing in respect of job seekers.

SMITH:

And look all of the evidence in the last eight months has been that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard don’t think through their announcements. So, we want to see the detail of what they’ve put forward, we want to be satisfied that this wasn’t dreamt up yesterday afternoon at the Lodge or it wasn’t a discarded script from The Hollowmen - we want to be absolutely sure that they’ve had discussions with all of the state

governments in a detailed way, because after all they own and operate so many of our schools. And of course, everyone believes that kids have the absolute right to an education and they should be at school. There are laws in place at the state level to that effect.

But in terms of the points that Tony outlined about their inconsistent approach that reeks of snap decision making with Parliament returning, we want to see all of the detail of it - of course, bad behaviour should have consequences, but the track record, unfortunately, of this Government has been all announcement and no follow-through. And in the education portfolio that’s all we’ve seen. We’ve seen fast announcements on computers in schools and no follow-through - no capacity to make them work. On trades training centres in schools we’ve seen chaos with schools having to clamber together to try and get the resources to work. So there hasn’t been an instance yet in the education portfolio where they’ve got this right or got the detail right, and as Tony said, their approach in a welfare sense has been quite inconsistent.

Thanks a lot.

ABBOTT:

Thank you.