PM wants 'truancy officers' for indigenous kids

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has suggested using ''truancy officers'' to ensure that all indigenous children go to school. He has also said his paid parental leave scheme will be extended to cover all state public sector workers.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) met in Canberra on Friday, just days after Holden announced plans to end its Australian operations in 2017.

The mood was far more collegial than when state and territory treasurers met a few weeks ago to discuss the government's surprise changes to the Gonski school funding reforms.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, the government's paid parental leave scheme, indigenous Australians, environmental regulation and the future of the country's automotive industry were discussed at the meeting.

Mr Abbott said it was a ''very constructive'' conversation, particularly on indigenous issues.

He said the leaders agreed to several measures to improve the school attendance of indigenous children including setting minimum attendance ''benchmarks,'' publishing twice-yearly data on school attendance, and conducting on-the-spot audits of schools.

Mr Abbott also suggested using ''truancy officers'' to ensure attendance benchmarks were met.

''We all know that for far too long, too many excuses have been made for indigenous kids in particular not being at school. This must stop,'' Mr Abbott said.

''In some places, truancy officers might be the best way forward. In other places, maybe a community-based scheme might be the best way forward.

''We've already got forms of income management in place where families don't consistently send their children to school.''

The states and territories also agreed to start the process towards creating ''one-stop shops'' for environmental approvals, in a move that was immediately condemned by the Greens.

Despite federal Labor criticisms of the Coalition's approach to ''one-stop shops'', Labor-led Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT signed memoranda of understanding with the Commonwealth, along with the Coalition-led Western Australia, Victoria and Northern Territory.

Speaking after his first COAG meeting as Prime Minister, Mr Abbott said the memoranda would move the jurisdictions ''towards a one-stop shop process for environmental approvals''.

NSW and Queensland, which had already agreed to the plan the government says will reduce ''green tape'', have signed what the Prime Minister termed ''assessment bilaterals''.

These agreements will allow states to carry out the environmental assessments for major projects and pave the way for states to also carry out the approvals.

Mr Abbott says the ''same high standards of environmental approval'' will apply but with a ''much swifter outcome''.

The meeting also touched on the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Mr Abbott said that all jurisdictions supported it, but noted that the launch sites were now being referred to as ''trial'' sites, in a move that suggests the make-up of the scheme could change.

He said support to people with disabilities had to be provided on a ''sustainable'' basis.

School funding, which has dominated the political landscape in recent weeks, will be the subject of the next COAG meeting early in the new year. Mr Abbott said there had been only a ''limited'' discussion of schools funding on Friday.

smh.com.au

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