Question: School Absenteeism


Mr BASHAM (Finniss) (14:56): My question is to the Minister for Education.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Finniss will be seated for one moment. If the member for West Torrens and the Minister for Primary Industries keep interjecting, they will be continuing their discussions outside the chamber. The member for Finniss.

Mr BASHAM: My question is to the Minister for Education. Can the minister inform the house about the progress towards meeting the government's commitments to address truancy?

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (14:57): I am very grateful to the member for Finniss for this question. The member for Finniss shares the concerns that I and all members on this side of the house have, and I hope all members of the house have, for our students who are truant. We are ensuring that we do everything we can to get them back to school.

Earlier in the week, I talked a little bit in the house about the importance of doing everything we can for this single reason: a student who is absent from school for five days a term is going to miss one year of their schooling. That's a year of their schooling that is impossible for them to make up. Some students are absent for much more than that. The deficit in their education as a result of this is extraordinary, and it is damaging to their future.

Mr Koutsantonis interjecting:

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: I think the member for West Torrens—

Mr Koutsantonis: Certainly, it is very important. I agree.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: Yes. The member for West Torrens says that it's important in an interjection. I hope that he is equally supportive of the government's commitments in this area. Member for West Torrens, I urge you to take this seriously because students who are absent from school are damaging their own future, unfortunately. There are often significant reasons behind that, and that is why this government is taking action to support them in their work.

Students who are absent from school will be supported in a number of ways. This government is taking action, even despite some of the commitments that were made by the former government but never delivered by the former government to address truancy, things like improving the legislation, which we hope to do under legislation that is now before the house and therefore I won't reflect further on it. Measures include increasing the number of workers in our attendance officers area, a commitment that the Liberal Party made to increase by 50 per cent—

Dr Close: We did.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: No, no.

The SPEAKER: The deputy leader is warned.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: The shadow minister interjects that she did.

Dr Close: Yes.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: In that case, I ask the shadow minister—

The SPEAKER: Please do not respond to interjections, minister. It leads to quarrels.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: —to reflect on the fact that for a number of years there have been 22 people who work in this area. This is, indeed, the next commitment that we made. When this government came to power, there were 22 people working in this area.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Members on my left will cease interjecting.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: There is a commitment that the Liberal Party made in 2016 to increase the number of officers—

Dr Close interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The deputy leader is called to order.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: —from 22 to 33. The Labor Party matched that commitment months before the election, but never actually employed a single one extra. There is still now a need for us to increase the number of officers by 11, and that work is being done and will be delivered by this government—but there is more. One of the other commitments the government made in the lead-up to the election was to have an audit of all schools' attendance policies to ensure that all public schools' attendance policies—

Mr KOUTSANTONIS: Point of order, sir: the minister is now quoting from publicly available documents.

The SPEAKER: Is the minister quoting from publicly available documents only?

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: As minister, I identified one promise made before the election and I now propose to identify how the government is acting on it.

The SPEAKER: I inform the minister that, while he can refer to public documents, he must also quote other material, as has been the past practice of the house.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: The Liberal election commitment was clear that we would be—

Mr KOUTSANTONIS: Point of order: I ask him to table the document he is quoting.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: The document that I'm quoting from is advice provided to me reminding me of the Liberal election commitments. To be clear—

Mr KOUTSANTONIS: Point of order.

The SPEAKER: Point of order. What is the point of order?

Mr KOUTSANTONIS: Point of order, sir: the point of order I made was that it was publicly available. He had—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order, members on my right!

Mr KOUTSANTONIS: He hasn't answered it. Ask him to table it, sir.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! I will listen carefully to the minister's answer. Minister, please continue your answer.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: I note that the shadow minister has been interjecting substantially, and I hope that there will be the opportunity for further time, especially as he is on two warnings. I would make the point that there are 500 public schools in South Australia. We believe it's very important that they have adequate attendance strategies and, indeed, the education department requires, and this is our expectation, that schools publish their school attendance data, analyse that data and have strategies outlining how they are ensuring high attendance. That is the commitment that the opposition made in the lead-up to the election to the Liberal Party. What did we find? Less than 80 per cent of schools were meeting that. That is the legacy of the former Labor government—

The SPEAKER: The minister's time has expired.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: —that had no interest in this issue—

The SPEAKER: Thank you, minister.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: —as demonstrated by—

The SPEAKER: Thank you, minister. The member for Frome.