'Get indigenous kids into school'
- Natasha Robinson From: The Australian July 24, 2010
The criticism comes from the Northern Territory's remote services watchdog.
Territory Co-ordinator-General Bob Beadman labelled a federal government policy to cut off the welfare payments of parents whose children did not attend school a "hollow threat", saying Centrelink was reluctant to take tough action.
"Governments are not sending a strong enough signal to the people of remote areas that full school attendance is legally non-negotiable and that failure to comply with the law will result in a range of serious sanctions," Mr Beadman says in his latest six-monthly report, released this week.
"Governments are irresponsibly allowing the law to be flouted with impunity, and this seriously undermines the effectiveness of attendance programs."
Mr Beadman warned that despite the national focus on poor rates of school attendance among Aboriginal children, "there does not appear to be a wide enough appreciation this is a crisis".
"It may require shock therapy to get the point across," Mr Beadman said. "Who could forget the Grim Reaper campaign on alerting Australians to the AIDS epidemic? Perhaps we should be blunt and say, 'If you don't go to school you will be poor and die early'."
Up to 5000 children in the Northern Territory are estimated to attend school irregularly, with a further substantial number of children not enrolled in school at all.
Under the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure, which has operated in six communities in the territory since January last year, parents risk losing 12 weeks of welfare payments if they do not send their children to school. But only five families had their welfare payments suspended last year.
"This seems to be a very soft result in the face of the chronic absenteeism that is a fact of life right around the Northern Territory," Mr Beadman said.