Australian Democrats Deputy Leader, Andrew Bartlett, says the proposal by Family Services Minister, Mal Brough, to force some parents to direct debit part of their income to pay for rent, electricity and food for their children is a high risk approach.

However, he welcomes the opportunity for a public debate on how our community can do better for children who are subjected to serious neglect or abuse.

Any change would need to be based on measurable benchmarks of concrete improvements for children, rather than just doing something based on a gut instinct regardless of whether that instinct is based on good motivations or social prejudice.

Despite my serious doubts about how workable or fair such a policy would be, we do need to recognise that many children are being harmed through parental and social failure. This not only damages the child, it hurts and costs our whole community for many years afterwards, Senator Bartlett said.

However, we must recognise that children experience serious neglect and abuse in rich families as well as poor ones, in white households as well as indigenous communities, and in the city as well as the country.

Our child protection systems clearly fall short of where they should be, but if we are to make radical changes of the type suggested by the Minister, the same rules must apply to everybody.

If it is only indigenous Australians or welfare recipients who have their rights curtailed, it would be massively destructive and divisive, as well as being unlikely to help children.

It also has to be recognised that most people who cant get it together to buy food for their kids have bigger problems than just being incapable of setting aside the money each week. If we just control how they spend some of their money without treating the underlying issues that would also be there, the children will still be in a far from ideal environment.

The Ministers proposal contains elements of Big Brother and Nanny State rolled into one, so it would be a huge shift in our societys culture to go down this path. However, our society is currently failing children in many ways, so I would welcome a genuine debate on how we can improve on that.

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