Time ripe for welfare reform: MP

A VOUCHER system to replace the baby bonus is one suggestion Dubbo MP Troy Grant will put forward in an effort to make parents more accountable for their offspring.

Mr Grant's comments came in response to an article in yesterday's Daily Liberal that told how Leavers Street residents locked themselves away at night, fearful of children who wandered the street day and night, invaded yards, threw rocks, swore at residents, stole things and tried to light fires.

Carole Kilsby and her husband Dave spoke to the Daily Liberal shortly after three children had hurled a string of verbal abuse at the two Leavers Street residents before smashing their car window with a rock in broad daylight.

Several Leavers Street residents told the Daily Liberal about parents who had been quite happy to receive the federal government's baby bonus yet did little to control their children, with some as young as three left unattended at night, some in possession of slingshots.

Their outrage was echoed by a string of comments on the Daily Liberal website, calling for the baby bonus to be scrapped.

In the words of one contributor, "their kids run riot because they don't care about them after their $5000 baby bonus".

Mr Grant said, in his experience as a police officer, then as a member of Parliament in a regional community, the intent of the baby bonus had been at odds with its "perverse outcome".

"I'm not against providing support in the form of a baby bonus but rather than a cash splash that people aren't accountable for, let's be smart and provide those funds only when people can provide receipts for purchases for their babies," he said.

"Let's readjust the framework of the system, and have in place a list of specifically-approved items such as prams, cots and bottles so people can't just go out and buy a big LCD TV."

Some Leavers Street residents were frustrated that unruly public housing tenants weren't being kicked out.

Efforts to address social housing issues in Dubbo received a shot in the arm last year when Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward convened a forum to address issues at the Apollo Estate and set up the East Dubbo Estate Action Group to be the minister's eyes and ears, Mr Grant said.

He said while it undoubtedly focused on ongoing issues in the Apollo Estate, social housing in general formed a big part of the discussions, and that included Leavers Street and other streets with social housing.

Like the residents of Leavers Street, Mr Grant had "had a gutful" of a minority spoiling things for the law-abiding residents of Dubbo. He said he had "genuine compassion" for the Kilsbys and others who found themselves in their situation, and it was high time for an honest discussion about welfare reform in Australia.

One of the biggest problems Mr Grant said, was a growing "sense of entitlement".

"There needs to be more accountability from those who receive government support but who end up costing the government additional money by having to respond to their antisocial and criminal conduct, because of inadequate deterrents," Mr Grant said.

"Removing their welfare benefits could form part of the broader conversation but we need a mechanism to hold to account those recidivists who have disdain for the community.

"Social services and provision of housing are not an entitlement, they are a privilege you have because you live in a lucky country.

"I'm all for supporting those who fall on hard times but I also want people held to account if they ignore their responsibilities and don't respect the greater community."

Mr Grant said the last thing needed to address the situation was "another program", and agreed the community was sick of seeing programs come and go with little visible benefit, especially since an extraordinary proportion of the cost of government service delivery went towards dealing with the outcomes of some policies - "more so at the federal level".

"Our community needs to decide once and for all what behaviour we will tolerate and government policy needs to line up with that," Mr Grant said.

"Unfortunately, our society has become more and more tolerant of anti-social behaviour, and in turn so has our court system. That in turn has compounded the problem every time we try to address these issues.

"It's costing society a fortune."

When told of a recent incident in which a Dubbo man on a walking frame was pinned against his verandah by a group of children who proceeded to spit on him while his bedridden wife lay inside, Mr Grant said that kind of story was sadly "a clear demonstration of how society's increasing tolerance level had created an environment for that sort of morally wrong behaviour to fester and grow."

Despite the Leavers Street residents' claims of inaction by Housing NSW, Mr Grant said it and other agencies had their hands tied.

"Police, the department of housing and all those other service providers aren't always going to get it right, but the problems here are because of constraints they are forced to operate within," he said.

Mr Grant said many of the recommendations to Minister Goward were about removing those constraints.

"The agencies want to help and sometimes that's made harder because of a combination of resources, legislation and policy," he said.

For instance, there was a big gap between what the community expected to happen to unruly tenants and what agencies were able to achieve before the tenancy tribunal, Mr Grant said.

"Housing NSW regularly takes public housing tenants to the tribunal for eviction and they do have varying levels of success in achieving it," he said.

"To make someone effectively homeless is not a light decision, but there is no consistency in a lot of the decisions that come out of the tribunal.

"It's an issue we've raised in our recommendations based on discussions."

Mr Grant reassured residents that he was well aware of the issues they faced and he was doing what he could.

"But there are limitations, as a state member, to what we can do," he said.

"A lot of these issues are driven because of federal policy and some are factors out of the hands of any government.

"We need the community to say, 'enough is enough', and to keep standing up against misbehaviour.

"For instance, police are sometimes restricted in what they can do if people see something (criminal) happen but won't provide a statement.

"It's a whole-of-community and whole-of-country approach that needs to be taken."

Mr Grant said with Australia Day just around the corner many people would be reflecting on how lucky they were to have been born in Australia.

"While that's important, Australians need to take a good honest and hard look at where, from a social fabric point of view, we want our nation to head."

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