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FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2002: Second Reading

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (11.38 a.m.) —I want to deal with the broader issue of families, which is part of the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 before the House today.

I also want to make the House aware of lifestyle changes and some of the flaws that I believe are in the thinking behind many of the policies that have existed for many years in our support systems for families. I refer in particular to a study done by Dr Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics. She looked at competing family models and competing social policies and how they impacted on families. In particular, Dr Hakim, who was in the parliament this week, chose to look at the development in recent decades of choice for women with families. She concluded that women choose three different lifestyles—home-centred, work-centred or what she called `adaptive', which is a combination of both with different proportions of work or home as circumstances of family or their preference dictated.

The adaptive women, as she called them, who combined employment and family work did not give a priority, preferring to have both. They wanted to enjoy the best of both worlds. They gained fulfilment and a sense of worth out of working and out of their families as well. This research was done in Britain, but it would be very interesting for us to replicate it here because, from my knowledge of the community I represent, I think many of the same attitudes would be present here in Australia. Dr Hakim found the work centred women are in a minority. They are the women who want to be totally focused on a work lifestyle. Despite the massive influx of women into higher education and into professional and managerial occupations, she felt that in her survey this group, whilst starting out with the intention of long-term permanent work, changed their minds during their lives, and most women adopt the adaptive system, which is the combination of employment and family. Only a few women have a totally home centred lifestyle.

Catherine Hakim then examined the circumstances within those families to establish how they were looked after for child care, how they were being taxed and how they managed the lifestyle and demands on their families. She found, for instance, that there was not a great educational difference between those who had the adaptive lifestyle and those who were work based. I have the figures here. She found that work centred women were slightly more likely to have a higher education—26 per cent compared with 18 per cent in the other groups. So there is not a big difference in educational level; the factors are ones of choice.

We have competing social policies in these areas and they deserve to be looked at. What we seem to be doing in Australia—and it is borne out by the experience internationally, both in Europe and in Great Britain—is channelling most of our family support to the work oriented families instead of taking account of the broader group which prefers an adaptive lifestyle. The majority of women choose a lifestyle where they work and have a family and gain fulfilment from both. One of the recommendations that Dr Hakim is making is that we ought to be looking at the equity of this situation, where we seem to be giving more government child-care support and tax concessions to those women who are fully in the work force rather than taking into account, for instance, the value of the caring for children done by those who prefer an adaptive lifestyle. We do not assign child care any value if people stay at home and look after the kids, yet somebody who goes off to work gets not only a salary but also assistance with child care. Dr Hakim is arguing that there is an equity problem for women here and we are not really treating the broad group of women fairly. Intuitively, I believe this may be the case in Australia, but I would like to find out whether it is or not.

In a paper that Dr Hakim presented, she makes this statement:

It is often argued that maternity leave (paid or unpaid) helps women to combine paid work with having children. However a preference theory perspective clarifies that it is mainly work-centred women (and to a lesser extent adaptive women who lean towards careers) who benefit from maternity leave and related job rights—that is, women who have the lowest fertility and are least likely to increase it.

So maternity leave is generally taken up by that group which has the smallest family and is the most work oriented, whereas those who are dealing with families miss out to a fair degree on the advantages of maternity benefits, whether they are paid or unpaid. She goes on to say:

Childcare services provide another example of policies that are presented as being beneficial to women generally but in fact favour one particular group. Like maternity leave, public childcare services (free or subsidised) are primarily of benefit to work-centred women who choose to return to work shortly after birth.

That is probably right. I think that most mums who have an adaptive lifestyle tend to want to use occasional care services. Some prefer long day care for periods. They tend to use a variety of child-care services rather than the single long day care.

Catherine Hakim gives examples of work done in Finland, Norway and France on a home care allowance introduced to provide more equity in the family situation. In that instance, it appears from the emerging information that raising the social status of motherhood as compared with paid jobs redresses the bias against motherhood as an activity and can also impact on fertility rates. Women feel more valued and more comfortable to mix work and home and are more likely to enjoy having children.

That is the finding from Britain. I do not know whether it applies here, but it is worth pursuing. If the way in which we are providing services to women is inequitable, we ought to change that. We ought to look at whether the mothers of Australia are being fairly treated. They deserve for us to look at this seriously and make changes if changes are necessary. We have listened to the line of fully employed, highly professional work-orientated women and social advisers advocating payments to certain areas. In many instances, this seems to be special pleading for their own case rather than looking at the needs of women across the board.

The whole area of family relationships and how we manage them was brought to my attention in a recent article in December. Bettina Arndt, who has had a somewhat colourful career, wrote a paper or an article that is headed, `The US recognises the peril of absent fathers. Why can't we?' She refers to a study in the United States carried out fairly recently and promoted by James Q. Wilson, who is a social scientist. Wilson's idea is called the `broken window theory'. If you are in a suburb where the broken windows do not get fixed, that encourages an attitude of disregard for law and order which leads to graffiti, bad social behaviour and ultimately the development of serious crime.

The social theory that James Q. Wilson developed was adopted as a guideline by Mayor Giuliani in New York. He said, `We're going to fix that broken window syndrome, and where things start to look crook we're going to move in with remedial programs and redress the juvenile and minor crime that is building and that will create an environment of serious crime.' That process has produced some really interesting changes in New York City.

In his latest book, entitled The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families, Wilson makes some very interesting points. He has strongly documented in the American culture some issues about children living with single mothers. This is not a go at single mums. Things happen and, man, life is tough. People do crook things to each other. I am arguing that we should look at some of these statistics and see if we can put some remediation in place to assist families where there is tension and hurt to manage their difficulties and stay together.

These statistics from the US are interesting. From sections of surveys done in Australia, it appears that similar situations apply here. The US statistics show that children living with single mothers are five times more likely to be poor than those in two-parent families. When you look at the Australian scene, you find that 80 per cent of single mums are on welfare. Amanda Vanstone was badly misquoted by the previous speaker. Amanda Vanstone is building the case for looking after single mums. Why would you want to put up with a situation where 80 per cent of mothers in single-parent families are living on welfare?

Another finding was:

Growing up in a single-parent family also roughly doubles the risk that a child will drop out of school, have difficulty finding a job, or become a teen parent. About half these effects appear due to poverty, but the other half is due to non-economic factors such as poorer supervision. Children living with cohabiting partners and in stepfamilies generally do less well than those living with two married biological parents.

We can say that we do not believe the statistics, but these are the findings of James Q. Wilson in his recent publication in the United States. He has a track record of success as a good social scientist. He is partly responsible for the theories that have turned New York crime around. So are we going to take notice of him? I certainly will. I think he is worth looking at and I think that these things are worth examining.

Bettina Arndt says:

Now, 40 years later, most politicians and social analysts agree that tackling fatherlessness must be a national priority.

That is the case in the United States. It came about when Bill Clinton drew attention to the fact that 80 per cent of African-American children spent part of their childhood living apart from their families. In the United States, this year's new welfare reform act includes the goal of encouraging `the formation and maintenance of healthy two-parent married families and responsible fatherhood'. If there is any group that needs to have remediation and needs to have their heads put straight, it is the men of our community. Instead of turning their backs on their responsibilities, they should recognise that they have a special, very significant role in this process.

The US has pledged $300 million in federal funding to support marriage promotion programs. That might be a difficult start but in this country, as Bettina Arndt says, the M word is too hard for us to handle. We do not use it here in the House. The M word—`marriage'—is too hard to talk about here. It is not socially popular. But the fact is that kids do better when they are looked after by two parents who are biologically related to them. We are not doing well enough with our single mums, either. Dr Catherine Hakim says that we are not providing family related programs of a suitable type.

We are not providing programs that are suitable for women to be able to feel valued and have a lifestyle which the majority wish to have, an adaptive lifestyle which allows a proper mix of family and work responsibilities, enjoying both and not feeling damaged or criticised or feeling themselves to be second-class citizens for doing that. There are many within that adaptive group who feel, `Because I am not working full-time, I can't be a worthwhile citizen. I am not doing my job for society or my family because I do not feel stressed. I am not doing a proper job for society because I really value my kids, my husband and family environment.'

That balance needs to be achieved and attention to appropriate family policies is demanded. The value that society places on the raising of kids can have long-term impact. Welfare bodies have long claimed that welfare support merely provides a brief two- to three-year stepping stone for lone parents. However, startling new facts have emerged from an inquiry by Bob Gregory, a great Australian economist, completed in the middle of last year. His startling new finding is that lone parents will stay on welfare payments for an average of 12 years. They might be on the sole parent benefit for two or three years, but they will shift through the system on different types of benefit and stay on welfare of one sort or another for an average of 12 years. That is a very compelling argument for why we need to intervene to address some of the problems that I have spoken about.

Does this mean that we need to know what we are talking about as far as the stats are concerned? Yes, we need to do the inquiries to see whether the situation in Australian families is the same as those that have been demonstrated by Dr Catherine Hakim in the UK and in Europe. Does it mean we ought to be examining whether Wilson's work in the US on single parent families applies in Australia? Yes, it does, but I believe we already have that information but have not been prepared to tackle these hard issues. It is socially and politically unpopular to say there are better ways of doing things. People are not second rate because their marriages have failed or because they are on their own or because they are a single mum. It is not a blame game; it is a lifting-up process and a changing of outlook so we get better results. Because, at the end of the day, the problem really comes home to the kids. They are the ones that continue to engage in antisocial behaviour, to perform poorly and to live in poverty. We should be striving to change that.

I will really be pressing the government hard, and I know that a number of my colleagues also share the view that we can be doing it better as a nation. The minister's own paper, which she has recently released, draws our attention to these facts. She herself, I know, feels strongly about some of these issues and she has talked about them many times. I am pleased that this government has started to pick it up. We need to drive it home for the sake of our families—for the sake of our parents, our mothers in particular, and for our children, their lifestyle and ultimate success.

Author: ALan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 13th February 2003
Release Date: 13 Feb 2003

 
 




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