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September 19, 2009

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Australian parents on welfare under fire

Australia has a message for parents on welfare -- if their kids miss too much school, their payments may be stopped.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday that a trial program starting soon is aimed at getting more children into classrooms and not about punishing parents.

Critics say it could further hurt the children of neglectful parents by denying them food or other benefits from welfare payments along with education.

The program will start in the town of Logan in Queensland state next month and could be rolled out nationwide later, Macklin said. School attendance records will be cross-checked with those of recipients of unemployment and other benefits at the government's welfare office.

"Parents who fail to enroll their children in school or fail to take reasonable steps to get their children to school may have their income payments suspended until the problem is resolved," Macklin said.

Government plans involving welfare payments have come under fire in the past. A program aimed at combatting child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory that required parents to spend half their welfare on essentials like food, clothing and rent was criticized as discriminatory.

But Logan Mayor Pam Parker said the latest plan could do more harm than good. "How are you going to feed the family" if welfare is cut? Parker told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio. "The child is the victim here -- the child's not getting the education, then you're wanting to take the food away from the child as well."

Macklin said welfare payments would be suspended for a maximum of 13 weeks.


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