Amnesty on truth

Despite its pretensions, Amnesty has been a far-Leftist organization for a long time -- JR

Sara Hudson

I’m ashamed to admit I was a member of Amnesty International in high school. Back then I proudly wore an Amnesty badge on a black beret. Now I cringe at the memory of my naive self lapping up their hyperbole.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that Amnesty International is urging a parliamentary human rights watchdog to investigate the federal government’s plan to crack down on school truancy by linking welfare payments to school attendance. The article claimed that a recent evaluation of SEAM (Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure) found that suspending welfare payments did not improve school attendance.

However, that is not what the evaluation actually found. According to the report, attendance rates improved in the two communities where SEAM was trialled – from 74.4% to 79.9% in the Northern Territory and from 84.7% to 88.7% in Queensland.

Where an enrolment notice was sent, 82% of families in the Northern Territory and 84% in Queensland provided enrolment details without the need for a welfare suspension. Of the 4,688 parents in the SEAM communities, only 85 had their welfare payments suspended under the enrolment component and seven under the attendance component.

When critics complain about government’s actions to improve remote Indigenous school attendance, what is it that they expect government to do? Let parents get away with not sending their children to school?

Quarantining people’s welfare because their kids don’t attend school may seem heavy handed, but the consequences of not enforcing school attendance are worse. Already there are tens of thousands of young people in remote communities who are unable to read and write. Do we want this cohort to grow exponentially, or do we want to nip it in the bud?

A recent ad campaign by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) asked the question: ‘If 80% of kids in Sydney couldn’t read would you lend a hand?’ The same question could be asked about school attendance.

Granted, low school attendance is not the only reason for educational failure in remote Indigenous schools. Education departments across the country, with their separate curricula for Indigenous children, are also to blame.

In one Homeland School, an activity book based on a children’s picture book by Mem Fox is used for all the children aged 5 to 18 (or whatever age children decide that school is boring and stop going altogether).

Instead of complaining about government’s efforts to improve Indigenous school attendance, Amnesty should be complaining about what Indigenous children are being taught when they are at school!


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