Hidden away in most capital cities around Australia there are troubled suburbs which suffer the afflictions of social and economic breakdown.

The Education Revolution ensures opportunity is for everyone. Picture: Tim Carrafa.

These communities are often populated by a majority of good hearted battlers living alongside a minority of ratbags. These hidden communities are often absent from our national debate partly because the communities lack advocacy skills and partly because the problems seem so intractable.

Often the only time these troubled suburbs are noticed is when the harsh glare of the media descends upon them in response to some criminal incident or to catalogue their social dysfunction.

There’s no running away from the seriousness of the problems faced by these troubled suburbs – intergenerational unemployment, family breakdown, domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, anti social behaviour and lawlessness. These problems breed despair and hopelessness amongst residents, and they demoralise those who work to improve social and economic conditions.

The most demoralising thing for residents has been however the failure of bureaucracy to be accountable to the local community. All too often it appeared that a distant government has been making inconsistent rules that fail to punish bad behaviour and fail to reward good behaviour.

It has been a bewildering experience for many in these suburbs to watch the normal rules of society twisted in such a way. During the Howard years they watched aghast as parents who had been reported to child protection authorities received thousands of dollars in family assistance or baby bonus payments.

This combination of unconditional largesse by one level of government combined with the weak and often tragically flawed child protection policies of state child protection authorities corroded public confidence in government in the troubled suburbs. It seemed too many that the system ignored bad behaviour and in many ways rewarded it.

For those living in these troubled suburbs seeking work can often be an uphill battle. All too often they are locked out of the job market because of a lack of contacts, or skills, or transport or opportunity. Sometimes postcode injustice prevailed, as employers looked at a street address on a CV and decided to rely on prejudice and reject a job application out of hand.

The previous government made no effort to acknowledge those who tried to get work but failed, and simply left it to the market.  All too often the system appeared to be indifferent to those battlers expected to constantly face rejection in the job market and still keep trying despite their diminishing prospects.

The actions of government both good and bad have a disproportionate effect on troubled suburbs. The Rudd Government recently held a Centrelink Jobs Expo in the City of Playford in my electorate. I was amazed by the response- on a forty degree day thousands of people plied into the Civic Centre to stand five deep in front of a jobs board, to talk to employers, or to seek training.

It was a huge success in getting people work, getting them engaged and giving them hope. One wonders how many more might have found work if such job expos were held in the decade before the global financial crisis.

In the past decade the Howard Government presided over an increasingly larger gap between rich and poor, between those who benefited from a growing economy and those who were locked out, between accelerating social capital in some suburbs and decline in others.  The Howard Government policy of benign neglect was a disaster for the troubled suburbs.

The Rudd Government won’t accept that social and economic depravation is the natural state of any Australian community. The Government has launched two policy revolutions that will forever change the way in which government interacts with our poorest and neediest suburbs. These policies will benefit the whole nation in their application, but their effect will be disproportionately positive for those in the most desperate need.

The first revolution is a politically prominent one- the Education Revolution. Its benefits are national and shared by all school systems. The impacts will however be greatest impact in places where education can have its greatest transformational effects on a student’s life expectations, income and opportunities. In troubled suburbs schools are often the closest thing that some children have to a refuge, a safe oasis of normalcy in a sea of dysfunction.

In a world of faceless bureaucracy schools are often the only personal and friendly interaction some families have with government. Schools in troubled suburbs are an important gateway to government services, advice and help. There are schools in my electorate who perform these functions right now through a combination of their own resources, help from non government organisations, dedicated school leadership and teachers who go beyond the call of duty every day of the school term. Until the education revolution there was inadequate acknowledgement of the challenging environment these schools face.

The Education Revolution backs these schools in two ways. The first is to recognise and map the social disadvantage through the My School website. Many of the critics of this website worry about the effects of public exposure on school communities, particularly in relation to the role of the tabloid press. In my experience it’s the poor who suffer most of all when there’s a lack of accountability or when poverty isn’t measured or recognised.

It’s the troubled suburbs which most desire accountability the most because they know their kids don’t get a second chance in the real world. They can’t afford a second best effort from the education system.  The risk of public scrutiny is worth it to get better accountability, better funding and a greater understanding of the challenges they face. 

The second way the Education Revolution backs these schools is by implementing the Low SES School Communities National Partnership. There are schools in my electorate that would not have received extra funding save for the fact that their need was identified by the My School website and were deemed eligible for this partnership. This partnership will attract high quality teachers, give school leadership’s greater flexibility to manage their staff and budgets, tailor learning arrangements to students and improve and embrace external partnerships with the community and business.

Most importantly this partnership allocates the extra funding to complete the task. Most importantly no future Australian government will be able to ignore or under fund schools in disadvantaged areas.

A good school in a troubled suburb is always going to struggle if families and communities are unstable. The Rudd Government has launched a quiet but profound policy revolution on welfare reform. This quiet revolution unsullied by the reactionary politics that so often accompanies discussion on welfare will reach out and help to heal broken families in troubled suburbs.

While nobody expects perfect behaviour from any citizen, the community does have a right to expect that those receiving government assistance for children in their care run safe and functional households. All too often children are the innocent victims of intergenerational poverty and family breakdown. All too often government assistance provided for their care is wasted, lost or spent on substance abuse. All too often a family can descend into chaos affecting their neighbours, their community and their local school. In troubled suburbs it happens everyday, and until now the Australian Government did not do much to prevent it. 

Jenny Macklin’s reforms to welfare will change Australia’s approach to welfare for the better and introduce community values and expectations into the delivery of such assistance. When welfare payments to broken families are quarantined we know that it stabilises those families and helps them provide housing, food and the basics of life. We know that income management can be a potent policy tool in not just stopping undesirable behaviour but also in providing help to individuals in desperate circumstances.

When a broken family in a troubled suburb is stabilised, it can serve to stabilise the street, a school and a community. The Government’s reforms send a powerful message about our expectations of good values not just to the family in need but also to the community around them.

These twin revolutions will have a profound affect on our most troubled and disadvantaged suburbs around Australia. When combined with the social inclusion agenda and our commitments on homelessness they give real hope to all those who refuse to give up on these individuals, families and suburbs.

Most commented


Show oldest | newest first

    • Michael says:

      10:19pm | 18/03/10

      Must be an election year this year…

    • Kate says:

      04:08pm | 18/03/10

      Australians seem to prefer to have career public servants and Union hacks to run the country.  You wouldn’t let them near a company in a fit but you want them to be in charge of the biggest company of all - Australia.

      Never said better.

      KRudd - career bureaucrat.
      WSwan - in and out of ALP.
      JGillard - “Ambulance chasing” Lawyer, then ALP.
      LTanner - graphic design artist, then ALP staffer.
      Albanese - married to ALP in many ways.
      Garrett and McKew - high profile sideshows for left-leaning media love-in.

      NO Private sector experience. NONE.

      But hey, here is a Trillion Dollar Economy, go for it !!!! Spend away.

    • acker says:

      05:45pm | 18/03/10

      Should change your your AKA to full of crap…..
      Slater (stuffed if I know who he is) & Gordon (Peter who voluntarily as President helped save Footscray/Western Bulldogs from AFL oblivion) was the major partner in a Law Firm that was not widely known as ambulance chasing. I think you are confusing it with justifiable compensation, often in cases that proceded against slack, stingy and scungy sub standard business operators. Like my school is proving with teachers, with business owners there is also the excelent, the good, the satisfactory, the poor, the ugly and the absolute incoherent and incapable (often running down an inheritence)

    • acker says:

      02:17pm | 18/03/10

      @Politically incorrect Formersnag….One big problem when the Labor party is in political power is that they think everything in the bush is about the farmer and they loose sight that people and businesses other than farmers are also part of rural communities. These over-generous bording school subsidies are not only hurting the secondary schools in rural areas that have to scrounge for financial resources that this mis-spent funding could have been better used for, but the are also hurting the fabric of rural communities by when the parents using the subsidies pick up and drop off their subsidised boarding secondary student children, and buy a stockpile of groceries and other consumables while they are doing it. I’m not talking about the realy isolated kids, I’m talking about the kids who were going to the small town primary school, who when they reach secondary level the parents suddenly apply for the boarding school subsidy.

    • Politically incorrect Formersnag says:

      02:37pm | 18/03/10

      acker @ 3:17pm, yeah, i live in Brisbane now but went jackarooing when i first left school. I have seen some of the smaller towns in QLD not just shrink, but disappear completely. i would love to know how much of the peak hour, traffic i see in Brisbane is about mummy, driving “little precious” half way across town to some private school, they prefer over the local schools, private or public.

    • Angie says:

      01:18pm | 18/03/10

      Your government has done nothing except rack up Debt and a couple of token gestures like saying “sorry”.

      You promised the world - reform this, reform that, keep prices on petrol, groceries down, rollout broadband, improve helath, schools, frivilous spending on “pink batts”........................all not done or done poorly.

      Instead of writing articles, maybe you could get started delivering to the “working families” you went on and on and on about in 2007.

      This government has been a very expensive experiment.

    • Kate says:

      01:48pm | 18/03/10

      I think this is the concensus of the voter and I have a feeling the Government are going to, at the very least, get an almighty backlash at the election. However if we have one of two more “grand” announcements from KRudd and his band of non-achievers, that may finally tip the balance to the Coalition. As everyone knows, change 3/100 voters and the Government changes….......I would say 2 of that 3 have already changed…..the balance is TIGHT.

    • Michael K says:

      08:58am | 18/03/10

      I would hardly call implementing a national curriculum, providing Year 9 students with net-books and establishing a building fund for schools an ‘Education Revolution’. I won’t begin to opine on the claim about ‘welfare revolution’ except to say the Labor Party certainly isn’t short of hubris.

      A so-called ‘education revolution’ would require a complete re-imagining of Australia’s education system. What the Labor Party has done instead is to awkwardly place technology into educational settings that, for all intensive purposes, hasn’t changed since the beginning of the 20th Century. Nor is an National Curriculum going to change this picture of education-in-stasis. It is an old and very conservative idea that has been tested in the UK and the US to abysmal results. I don’t know how policy makers in the Labor Party can even begin to argue that returning to a 19th Century pedagogy of focusing almost entirely on writing and arithmetic will somehow become palatable for generations of young people by overlaying the whole rotten structure with technology. Put simply, the lives and the experiences of today’s youth simply cannot be reconciled with a return to the “three R’s”; no matter how many fancy PowerPoint presentations accompany the “learning”.

      The building programme for schools enjoys similar notoriety for failing to provide dynamic learning spaces for 21st Century schooling. If the Labor Party was serious about a true ‘Education Revolution’ in practice as well as rhetoric it would allow schools provisions for community learning programmes, shared learning spaces, and dedicated learning areas for any variety of specialised subjects and learning needs to truly cater for ALL students. Instead schools have a choice of four different structures, nearly all of which are designed with cost-effectiveness in mind rather than promoting a positive learning ecology. The building programme is purely a vote-buying exercise rather than a positive investment in the future of education in this country.

      The Labor Party is looking to the past to provide answers to the problems of the future. This isn’t a revolution; it is a return to the education that the politicians of this country received and that their parents also received. Rote learning of functional literacy and times tables did them well, didn’t it? The question that isn’t being asked though is “can we build a better education system for our children, an education system which is modelled around their needs and will serve to ignite a passion for life-long learning?” Instead Labor politicians are stuck in a cycle of trying to lift “falling standards” in education without asking themselves how we can inject enthusiasm and relevance back into schooling. After all standards become irrelevant if the majority of students find school uninteresting and completely derived of connectedness to the world outside the school-gate.

    • Emma hamilton says:

      09:56am | 18/03/10

      From someone who grew up in a single parent, good family in one of these icky “suberbs”, I have to say just give the kids school books. Just your basic math book to take to school. I am not talking about primary school I am talking secondary.
      The amount of kids at my school who’s parents could not buy their children the basics of books, pens and paper.  There were times we shared our resorces and other times we were not able to. There were kids too embarresed to show up to class without their books again. There were kids like me who tried to muddle through anyway and others who played up in class to make it look like they didn’t want to learn. My IQ tested at 142 in the same year I got an enter score of 39 due to lack of resorces. It is not a lack of passion for learning it is a lack of resorces. Please if you want to fix things for poor people go to any of the multitude of charities that assist children with buying school books and donate. Or if you have kids at secondary school and are able donate those books when you are finished with them that would help too.

    • acker says:

      07:49am | 18/03/10

      11 times you mentioned troubled suburb/suburb’s + 1 time you mentioned troubled and disadvantaged suburb. Not one single mention of town, rural area or anything resembling regional Australia ! ..Do you or your labor collegues think about places outside the cities ?

    • acker says:

      03:09pm | 18/03/10

      @James says…I dont agree, in larger rural centers with less farmer voters you tend to see more balanced labor/liberal voting patterns at the polling booth level. Not fantastic for labor but in seats such as even city/country Wakefield where Nick Champion the author is from, very handy labor votes. Also there has been a lot of smaller properties being swallowed up by bigger properties in the bush, so there are a lot less squatter gentry types on the deck out here in rural Australia now.
      But there is a huge inequality between a town kid going to the local public secondary school and a friend they probably went to primary school with that has been sent with the aid of a generous boarding subsidy to a private school away from the town.
      Plus the subsidy just sucks something else out of these struggling rural communities.
      Get Julia to ditch it Nick….please

    • James1 says:

      02:23pm | 18/03/10

      Simple demographics dictates this is the case.  The Coalition knows that regardless of how badly they run things, or how much they neglect rural Australians, they will never vote for the ALP.  The ALP knows the same, and can comfortably form majorities on the basis of city votes.

    • Politically incorrect Formersnag. says:

      01:41pm | 18/03/10

      I here what you are saying acker, its the same with hospitals in rural & regional Australia. All the worst examples of problems with our QLD public hospitals occurred outside Brisbane & nary a bolognese bolshevik in sight.

      Get all staff stooges or “Galahs” off the net.

    • acker says:

      10:53am | 18/03/10

      Thanks for the response Nick. If your original article while continuing to assert your point about poorer suburbs mentioned perhaps once rural and country areas I probably would’nt have fired in my responses about lack of rural empathy. Rural and Regional schools are also suffering much the same, and at a secondary level probably due to the far to over generous government boarding school subsidies handed to kids who attend primary school in their home town but get a boarding subsidy to go to a private secondary school (hardly bloody isolated). If you want to be a rural champion Nick see if you can change that unjust left over of squatter boss cocky days.

    • Nick Champion says:

      10:32am | 18/03/10

      I’m glad you mentioned Clare and Kapunda Acker, because they are both schools that were in Round 1 and 2 of the computers in schools program. Clare High School recieved 110 computers, and in my old High School at Kapunda 93 computers.
      In relation to your earlier comments - Balaklava High and primary schools both recieved extra funding as a result of the transparency provided by My School website.

    • acker says:

      09:50am | 18/03/10

      @Adam.. non metro ALP seats ! as well as about 85% of Nick Champions electorate Wakefeild including the towns of Clare and Kapunda, how about Dawson Qld, Bass Tas, Corangamite Vic, Macquarie NSW, Tweed Heads NSW, Hunter NSW, Bendigo Vic, Eden-Monaro NSW, Ballarat Vic, Capricornia Qld, Page NSW, Burnie Tas, Lingiari NT, Flynn Qld and Leichardt Qld.

    • Adam says:

      08:53am | 18/03/10

      Sadly neither Labor nor Libs think outside the metro areas Acker. Thats left to the Nats and the odd independant. Both groups of big boys only give lip service in the immediate lead up to an election, this leads to a small amount of infrastructure investment for maximum press coverage. The outcome? swift disintrest from the major parties once media flies out and an influx of the worst pest in Ox, bloody tree changers. Bugger off you mob we like our towns without latte sipping Toorak/Mosman refugees

    • acker says:

      05:19am | 18/03/10

      Why stop at suburbs how about country towns and regional centers ? And why not add Macklins inability to get houses built in Indigenous communities outside cities…You paint your party as city only, that is bloody sad if your labor colleagues think the same.



Facebook Recommendations

Read all about it

Punch live

Up to the minute Twitter chatter

Recent posts

The latest and greatest

The Punch is moving house

The Punch is moving house

Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…

Gentle jabs to the ribs

Superman needs saving

Superman needs saving

Can somebody please save Superman? He seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. Eighteen months ago,… Read more



Read all about it

Sign up to the free News.com.au newsletter