News National PM warns of tough welfare sanctions

PM warns of tough welfare sanctions

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has flagged tough new sanctions for welfare recipients who don’t send their children to school.
And he will consider action against states and territories that fail to meet his truancy standards.

Speaking on Friday at the launch of a report by mining magnate Andrew Forrest into indigenous training and employment, Mr Abbott also refused to rule out expanding income quarantining.

“We have no plans to extend welfare quarantining as widely as Andrew is recommending,” Mr Abbott said from the workshop floor of a training centre in Blacktown in Sydney’s west.

“I certainly don’t rule out wider quarantining in the months and years ahead.”

The Forrest Review makes 27 recommendations, including that all welfare payments other than age and veterans’ pensions, be paid into an account which can be accessed with a new Healthy Welfare Card.

The card would only allow spending on goods and services deemed by the government to support a healthy lifestyle and would block the purchase of drugs, alcohol, or gambling.

The report also recommends financial penalties for parents whose children fall below a 90 per cent school attendance rate.

“I’m afraid over the last decade or so the truancy laws have effectively become a dead letter,” the prime minister said.

“I don’t say that welfare quarantining in these circumstances is necessarily the only answer. But I am absolutely determined to have some form of sanctions where the kids aren’t going to school.”

“There has to be consequences for sub-optimal behaviour.”

Mr Abbott suggested recalcitrant state and territory governments could also face some form of penalty if attendance rates are not improved.

“If the states and territories aren’t prepared to do this or aren’t prepared to do it in what I think is a reasonable time-frame – with enough decisiveness – I will look at what we can do at a federal level to make this a reality.”
Mr Forrest called for a bipartisan approach to his review and cautioned against cherry-picking the recommendations.

“I reach out now to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek, opposition spokespeople and government – lay aside the political cudgels, lay aside short-term thinking, lay aside that vain belief that you’ll achieve something totally different by just doing more of the same,” Mr Forrest said.

Mr Forrest is expected to meet with Mr Shorten in the coming days.

Mr Shorten has already warned that he does not support all of the Forrest Review’s recommendations, including on income management.

“Not everyone who receives a government pension of working age is incapable of managing their own finances,” he told reporters at Point Henry in Victoria.

“We need to make sure that we don’t apply the one-size-fits-all rule.”

A taskforce has been appointed to report back “swiftly” to the prime minister, following a six-week community consultation.