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Sunday, July 31, 2005


The Oz Feds have announced the provision of four family relationship centres in Victoria. From the description of these centres, it sounds like the Oz Feds are replicating a familiar model - could we say reinventing the wheel? - provided by many non-government organisations. The centres will offer free or low-cost help to broker disputes between separated parents and resolve marriage problems. They will also provide pre-marriage education and tips to improve relationships. The Oz Feds have some helpful websites on families and family law. Replicating old models of talk therapy and providing snazzy websites does not keep marriages together. While economic issues such as loss or lowering of income, work matters, and working conditions do not appear as headliners - like infidelity and abuse do - there is every reason to continue research on the contribution economics within marriage makes to marriage breakdown. Infidelity starts somewhere, abuse starts somewhere.

Dealing with the economic factors leading to marriage breakdown brings the public sphere into the private sphere. If we say the major factors in marriage breakdown are infidelity and abuse, then the causes of the breakdown of marriage can be left in the hands of individuals, leave it in the private sphere. When we talk about the economic impact on marriage, then we have to go beyond the private sphere into the public arena. There has to be examination of social conditions, educational factors, industrial relations policies, tax policies, access to jobs, education, geographical disability, health implications and more.

The Oz Feds want to do something about marriage breakdown - but more after the event than before. They also want to encourage women to have more children. Aussie women, perhaps, are like kangaroos. When there is insecurity of provision - drought in the case of kangaroos, job or income insecurity in the case of women - they postpone breeding.

In short, if the Oz Feds want to do more for families, if they want to be more constructive in the prevention of marriage breakdown, they have to do more and they have to look at the effects of policy on families. While I have had some cynical attitudes about the election of a Family First Senator in Victoria, I was impressed to hear Steve Fielding condemning aspects of the proposed changes to industrial relations laws. If you care about families, this is a great start. Insecurity of employment and many changes that have taken place in industrial awards and workplace agreements and AWAs in recent years militate against family life.

Putting families first is always a good policy - in this way we put the safety and well-being of children first; ensure sound economic units; and contribute to the well-being of the nation.