Page 4249 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 21 September 2011

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would effectively target the underlying causes of truancy. The measure arbitrarily targets one type of activity that may be only one of a large number of motivating factors in some children leaving school premises without permission.

If the policy objective of the proposal is to address school truancy by garnering community support to keep kids in school, I submit that it is based on a false premise. Visiting retail outlets is a by-product of truant behaviour, not the instigating cause. Students are free to congregate at other locations, for example at shopping centres or at retail outlets willing to serve them.

Apart from these limiting factors, there are practical impediments to the effective operation of an exemption of this kind. Let us take the reasonable belief threshold. The exception seeks to apply a reasonable belief threshold to the factual determinations that, first, the person is a school student and, second, that the school is open for attendance. Simplistic factual assessments of this nature will invariably encourage an inconsistent and potentially capricious standard being applied across the spectrum of goods and service providers and facility operators.

Mr Seselja has clearly also not turned his mind to the fact that these criteria will detrimentally impact on students travelling to the ACT from other jurisdictions such as New South Wales and Victoria where school opening periods often differ from those in the ACT. As the exception broadly allows people to refuse children and young people access to unspecified services and facilities, it may also impede access by children and young people to necessary health services such as medical, dental or counselling services during school hours.

Furthermore, there are ample existing laws and policies designed to countermand unexcused absences from school. For example, under the Education Act truancy is already an offence against parents of children between the ages of six and 17, and compulsory school attendance is supported by the government’s “learn or earn” laws. The government has also introduced an enhanced attendance monitoring and SMS message servicing system for parents. Messages can be sent to parents and carers about students’ attendance or lack of it.

Leaving aside its indefensibility from a human rights or social outcome perspective, it must be said that the proposed measure is also somewhat of a toothless tiger. It merely allows a goods or service provider or facility operator to discriminate without fear of prosecution. It does not compel the refusal of service or sanction retailers who continue to provide it.

Let me reiterate: the government supports and will continue to support a proactive stance being taken against truancy. But there are other laws and proportionate responses which can be used. The ACT and the commonwealth are committed to working collaboratively to increase the educational engagement, attainment and successful transitions of young people. Through the national partnership on youth attainment and transitions the ACT has agreed to meet a range of targets to improve participation, lift qualifications and support successful transitions.

The ACT youth commitment launched by my colleague Minister Burch on 18 May this year is designed to establish a new set of expectations for ACT schools and the

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