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Government's mean policies will have reverse effect on family stability

Date

Jenna Price

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews.

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews. Photo: Glenn Hunt

This bumbling government has no sense of priority; and no understanding of its constituency, the citizens of Australia.

Nowhere is that more in evidence than in the work of Kevin Andrews, the Minister for Straight White Families, who this week revealed that marriage was good for children. In the Andrews world, marriage is good, partners are bad.

Penny Aargaard is a bit puzzled. She’s been partner for 25 years to Lance and can’t understand the fuss.

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Illustration: Pat Campbell

Aargaard, 53, of Mount Tambourine, says: “It doesn't make any difference."

Her relationship with Lance is robust.

“We’ve hung together, there is nothing in any marriage vow which would make us hang together any more than we have.”

She describes Andrews’ views as “complete rubbish . . . I don't see that the marriage vow has any bearing on the commitment from one person to another. I would see the marriage vows as being much more superficial than proper commitment.”

It’s not, as Aargaard says, about the piece of paper. It’s about the peace of mind in your family. Your ability to get together and keep together.

Now, if I wanted Kevin Andrews to be giving me relationship advice, I’d pay him for it. I would, however, probably prefer the advice of experienced counsellors with real training in a secular environment, not some hocus pocus based on religion with the kinds of values that say ceremonies are important. Just the idea that Andrews, co-founder of the Catholic counselling service Marriage Education Programme in 1980, is sharing his ideology as fact is embarrassing.

Andrews doesn’t actually cite any specific research in the interviews he’s given so far – but if he did, he would have to go no further than the work produced by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2011.

While it is perfectly true that the numbers in that research showed that the outcomes for kids of married families were better, the researcher herself admitted that the relationship status was unlikely to be the cause of that result. Because, Kevin, correlation is not causation.

In widely reported research at the time, the researcher Lixia Qu said it was the typical characteristics of a wedded family that led to better outcomes for their children, rather than the marriage certificate itself.

“It's largely due to the characteristics of the families, like financial and parenting resources,” the researcher said. 

Guess what the most important factor was? Yep, the mother’s education and employment. In Qu’s study, 31 per cent of the married mothers had a university degree or higher level of education, compared with 15 per cent of single mothers.

So, the research says that what matters is education and employment (because that produces income) and the government, through its minister, says it’s whether we are married or not.

And while Andrews is busy evangelising on behalf of marriage, his government is overseeing a budget which will create a bigger financial and educational gap between rich and poor.

Low-income earners would have $844 less a year to spend. The Treasurer Joe Hockey says this is an incorrect calculation. Would you believe independent researchers or the federal government at this point in time? I hardly have to ask that question, do I?

As Peter Martin pointed out in his analysis of the budget, the $844 doesn’t even count the impact of the proposed $7 Medicare co-payment; nor does it account for inflation. So, Kevin, if you want to make sure people stay together, perhaps you could sort out the class warriors in your own party room whose main aim appears to be the replication of the upper class. Get your mate Joe to sit down with the folks in Treasury who produced these figures.

I am honestly tired of the Hockey narrative which talks about the sacrifices his family made to send him to a private school. This kind of casual elitism doesn’t even recognise that you have to be making the money to make the sacrifice.

This government is taking money away from families who already have burdens, who already feel stress. This budget, with the ideology of class warfare behind it, targets the disadvantaged.

It would be no surprise if there was an actual spike in divorce if these changes get through – the opposite effect of the one intended, I’m sure. Because nothing creates stress in a relationship like the lack of money. And nothing creates divorce like stress.

Don’t get me started on the Abbott government’s planned impact on education – everything from childcare to universities. By the time, Pyne and co have finished with us, we will be a nation of the uneducated. Except for people like Pyne, who’ve always had privilege. Always had access.

Reduced income and reduced opportunities for education. Did you vote for that?

Follow Jenna Price on Twitter @jennaprice or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au

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