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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the big stick approach « Previous | |Next »
August 26, 2008

I heard on Radio National Breakfast this morning that Gillard and Macklin are planning to continue the policy of mutual obligation. Centrelink will trial quarantining welfare payments for those parents whose kids don't go to school for up to 13 weeks in eight areas in the Northern Territory. Parents are required to give Centrelink evidence that their children are enrolled in school, and if not, they have to work with the school in lifting the child's attendance. If not their welfare payments are suspended.

The assumption, as Larissa Behrendt points out in an op-ed in The Age. In Rethinking indigenous policy she says that the assumption is that the root cause of the problems in the Aboriginal community can be found in the behaviour problems of Aboriginal people and that forcing change through a stick approach is the way to fix things. The failure of children to attend school is simply explained by bad parenting. She adds that:

The Halls Creek School trialled a voluntary program that linked welfare payments to school attendance in 2008 and the evaluation, undertaken by Professor Robyn Penman, found that school attendance of the children did not improve over the course of the trial. The quality of teaching and the culture at the school were as significant as parental attitudes, and overcrowding in houses makes it more difficult to provide an environment in which families can be "school ready" or a culture of learning can be created

She adds that placing a punitive measure on families to ensure their children come to school is hypocritical from any government that neglects the same children by failing to provide adequate funding for a teacher and a classroom.

This is one example of Australia lagging behind in investment in people and communities over the part decade across education, skills building and active labour market programs, despite the rhetoric about investing in human capital to ensure a fully engaged and productive workforce.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:58 AM | | Comments (9)


What has happened to evidenced-based policy then?

ah yes - another epic failure of the ability to imagine what it would be like being aboriginal. Both sides seem to be stuck in the idiotoc 'all people need is jobs and pecuniary incentives' mindset.

Like I have said before, this topic cries out to be looked at through Sen's capabilities approach.

Truancy as a problem in and of itself has little to do with being aboriginal.

The linking of welfare to school attendance makes unreasonable assumptions about welfare-dependent families as opposed to FTB-dependent families.

It assumes that parents are aware that their kids are skipping school. Truancy is a major problem that parents don't always know about in time to do anything meaningful about managing it. *raises hand*

Welfare quarantine punishes the whole family, not just the parents who presumably know about, and are responsible for, their kid's truancy.

School attendance is not always an unquestionable good. For example bullying can be a lot worse than name-calling.

There are a hell of a lot of kids not attending school regularly who come from middle and upper middle class families. In our experience that's where the notion of skipping school started.

This seems more about making Howardian distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor than anything else. The meaning of 'working families' is becoming clearer.

Since when is an Oreo carpetbagger and nutty Luvvie filled with Parissiene tosh - like Larissa Behrendt - a worthy source to cite?

the ideas and arguments are what is important in a liberal public culture, not the appeals to authority, as advocated by some conservatives.

Janet Albrechtson's 'Tough love is now bipartisan' op-ed in The Australian replays the old duality of rights versus individual responsibility. She says:

Yet genuine social inclusion must mean encouraging people to take responsibility for their own lives. Those who view individual responsibility with suspicion necessarily view human potential with equal suspicion. Their paternalism is based on an inherently defeatist view of human ability and aspiration. It entrenches social exclusion and human misery, and ensures the only outcome of their paternalism is the continued existence of their own handout-premised industries.

Albrechtson misses the point--there is little point in parents ensuring kids get to school if the school and education is bad and doesn't do much by way of educating the kids. How can they learn to read and write (acquire literary skills) if the school is badly resourced by the state?

Albrechtson's response shows that she misses the point when she replays the old duality of individual responsibility versus the state:

Sadly, so many on the Left remain cemented to past policies predicated on the role of the state rather than the power of individuals. Critics immediately labelled Rudd’s plan as a “blunt instrument”. They prefer to point the finger of blame at anyone except parents. Blame the system. Blame the schools, they say.

It's not a question of either individual or state. Increased vocational skills is a question of both individual responsibility and well resourced schools. That is what increased investment in human capital development means.

Janet only knows one song. This isn't about left/right or paternalism vs individual responsibility. When you get into questions about kids' attitudes towards school these days and the erosion of traditional authority that goes with truancy, nobody really knows.

A teacher at a school I work with recently complained about the child regularly wagging school and asked for some help with it. We pulled the kid's file, looked at the dates and realised they were all Wednesdays. What happens on Wednesday, or maybe what happens on Tuesday night, or Wednesday morning? The teacher didn't know. Perhaps it's time to talk to the child...

Same thing happened to us J-ster. Wednesday is sports day. You can't always assume that wagging is about something going on at home. It's often because of something intolerable going on at the school.