Geographically isolated families deep in the grip of Queensland’s ongoing drought are still awaiting a clear indication from the state government of whether they can continue to access the drought subsidy component of the education-based Living Away From Home Allowance.
Last week’s 47th state Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association conference, held in Winton, made it clear that member families wanted to see it remain as a part of the state government’s drought assistance measures.
Delegates supported a motion from the Tambo branch asking for extra support to be kept up for two years after drought declarations had been revoked, acknowledging the time it took for incomes to regenerate once a drought broke.
Over the past three financial years, students who receive LAFHAS funding have received additional annual supplementary payments of $1250 each year, thanks to funding made available through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Drought Relief Assistance Scheme.
More than $3.7 million was paid out to students in rural and remote areas in the three years it operated between 2015-16 and 2017-18.
Incoming Queensland ICPA president, Tammie Irons, said on Tuesday night after a day of meetings in Brisbane with Education Minister, Grace Gray, she was confident the education lobby group had the government’s ear, but she was still not sure what the outcome would be.
“I don’t think we’ve been forgotten but they’re working with two departments to manage this, which is what’s been making it messy for families,” she said.
Ms Grace told the Queensland Country Life that in the 2018-19 state Budget, the government had reinforced funding support for regional and remote families, and up to $34.6m was available under the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries from the whole-of-government Drought Assistance Package, which included $20 million under the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme.
“We know families in regional and remote Queensland are doing it tough in the midst of a devastating period of drought,” she said. “We remain committed to providing all students who live in rural and remote locations with access to a world-class education.”
Ms Irons said this was the impression she had gained from Tuesday’s conversations with the minister, that they were waiting on confirmation from the Agriculture Department on what funding was available and the best ways to distribute it.
She said that as well as making it available to LAFHAS recipients, assistance needed to go to families with children attending state boarding schools, such as Spinifex College at Mount Isa.
Ms Grace said the government remained committed to the LAFHAS scheme, which had paid more than $6.9 million to eligible families in 2016-17.
“This financial year, as at the end of May 2018, the scheme has paid out more than $7.6 million,” she said.
“Our very youngest Queensland students are able to access our Remote Kindy Pilot program in 38 remote communities across the state.
“We have also committed $1.9 million in this year’s budget for our eKindy program, which is providing access to kindergarten through distance education for almost 200 Queensland children this year.”