Parents’ pensions may be direct debited for rent, power and food (photo courtesy ABC)
Proposal from federal Family Services Minister Mal Brough:
Family Services Minister Mal Brough is proposing that some welfare-dependent families could be forced to direct debit part of their income to pay for rent, electricity and food in a bid to help children.
The Minister says there are examples, especially in remote Indigenous communities, of parents wasting their welfare payments on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol while their children are in need.
Minister Brough also recently canvassed the vexed question of removal of neglected and abused Aboriginal children. You could easily write the expected responses of Democrats and Greens: “racism”, paternalism” etc. But surprisingly that’s not how Democrat spokesperson and blogger Andrew Bartlett reacted at all:
There are a lot of difficulties with Mr Broughs proposal, including nothing to help the parents address any underlying problems, and I cant see how it could work fairly in its current form. But as well as criticising, we do need to acknowledge that many children are failing to be protected from serious neglect and abuse, Senator Bartlett said.The Minister has said he wants public debate on the idea, and I call on community groups to grab this rare opportunity to have a constructive debate on the interests and welfare of children.
Many children are currently being harmed due to parental and social failure. This not only damages the child, it hurts and costs our whole community for many years afterwards.”
So we need to do more than just criticise this proposal, we need to come up with solutions to child neglect.
This must not be seen as an issue of people wasting the taxpayer money they get in welfare payments. It is to do with child neglect, which can occur in all families not just welfare families. …
To date the federal government has been reluctant to take national leadership on childrens issues, despite the big failings in child protection services at State level.But if Mr Brough is serious about giving a greater national approach to child neglect, that should be welcomed by the community, even if the specific proposal he has put forward has problems.
I am tired of seeing children suffering unnecessarily from parents who are unable, for whatever reason, to take basic steps to care for their children and protect from them neglect or abuse.
Sadly, we didn’t see that sort of honest, constructive response from Labor spokesperson Senator Kim Carr. What we saw instead was the usual partisan point-scoring and blame-shifting:
Senator Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Housing, said today that Mal Brough, the Minister for Family and Community Services, has no credibility on children in crisis when the Howard Government continues to ignore the dual crises in housing affordability and homelessness.
Senator Carr said, “What the Howard Government fails to understand is that stable, secure, affordable housing is square one in enabling children to participate in education.
“The Howard Government has failed to act on homelessness, failed to act on housing affordability in both the ownership and rental markets and failed to act on Indigenous housing.
Carr is a left faction time-server and a waste of space. His kneejerk response partly negates the promising approach exhibited in a recent policy press release by Labor’s indigenous affairs spokesperson Chris Evans. If Beazley was a competent leader he’d muzzle Carr and leave the running on such issues to Chris Evans.
Carr is right that housing is a major problem in Aboriginal communities (one of many), and solving it will certainly require more federal government money. But it will also require more state and territory government money as well. Housing is predominantly a state responsibility and all the state and territory governments are Labor colleagues of Senator Carr. Moreover, it’s not only a question of money, it’s also a question of appropriate housing design, but even more so of engendering responsibility at an individual, extended family and community level. In many communities, houses are regularly trashed irrespective of their design. Nor is that just a question of overcrowding; it flows from drug and alcohol-fuelled extreme violence. As Andrew Bartlett observes:
It is a confronting problem with no easy answers, but there is no doubt we are falling short at the moment, and it is time for people to cast aside their ideologies and have an honest look at how we can do better.
As Bartlett also observed in a recent post on his blog:
The main hope I have is that the whole area gets much greater priority politically than it has to date, and doesn’t keep being all but ignored except where it can be used as an ideological nulla nulla to score a short-term political point.
If only there were more honest, sincere, constructive politicians like Andrew Bartlett and less cynical, ideological dickheads like Kim Carr (or Wilson Tuckey for that matter).