A Rudd government plan to punish parents dependent on welfare with up to three months' loss of income if their children play truant has been condemned as "elitist and out of touch" by Tasmanian Aboriginal leader Michael Mansell.
Last week, the government unveiled plans to extend the compulsory welfare quarantining policy beyond the Northern Territory intervention, with a trial in eight communities including several in Western Australia, and one in the Perth suburb of Cannington.
Parents whose children do not attend school regularly may have their welfare entitlements suspended for up to 13 weeks.
In an August 26 statement, Mansell slammed the proposal and said it would target people already struggling to make ends meet.
He said: "The Rudd government plan conveys a false impression that the government really wants to help the poor and underprivileged.
"This plan reeks of elitism, and testifies to a government beginning to lose touch with how the battlers have to survive.
"There is ample evidence that absenteeism is greater among poor children than those of well-to-do parents.
"So long as the poor have to struggle every day to survive on low income and high living costs, they will never be in a position to plan and have visions about the futures of themselves or their children.
"For people in these circumstances it is impossible to give education the highest priority over surviving.
"The role of government for the millions in these circumstances is to support, not threaten."
Mansell said the Rudd government's failure to provide a buffer for the poor against rising heating, fuel and food costs was hidden by a "blatant attack on those [the government has] deserted".
"Mr Rudd's threat may achieve kudos in middle Australia but it will do nothing but harm to destitute families", Mansell said.
"The Rudd plan reflects an out of touch knowledge of the poor.
"Educating children is difficult where children are compelled to attend schools rather than attend because they want to learn.
"Coercive education has never been successful.
"Mr Rudd should be providing a social environment in which children of the poor are motivated to learn.
"And what exactly does the government believe will happen to families without any income for up to 3 months?"
Legislation enabling the suspension of welfare entitlements was tabled in parliament on August 27.
[Abridged and reprinted with permission from National Indigenous Times (http://www.nit.com.au), where this article was first published on August 26.]