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Monday, 22 September 1997
Page: 8036

Mr ANDREWS(4.51 p.m.) —I too join with other speakers in commending the honourable member for Hunter (Mr Fitzgibbon) for bringing this motion before the House today. In a speech delivered today in Melbourne on her behalf, the Minister for Family Services (Mrs Moylan) said:

Families weave the fabric of our children's lives. We must ensure therefore that the place of children within families is central.

The broad notion of what is happening in terms of the demographics of our nation and its families, and the children which grow up within them, is an important consideration in this matter before the House.

It is possible to describe a series of trends affecting families throughout the industrialised world. There are at least 10 in number which I would like to recount. First, we are aware of the fact that people are marrying less today than they did in the past. In Australia in 1947, 44 out of every 1,000 women had been married compared to just 29 in every 1,000 by 1991. The crude marriage rate fell to 6.2 per cent in 1994, almost as low as it was during the Great Depression and half the rate it was during World War II. The number of people aged 15 and over who were married fell from 65.4 per cent in 1976 to 57.4 per cent in 1994.

Secondly, those couples who do marry do so at an older age. Going back to 1947 again, the median age of marriage was 25.3 years for grooms and 22.5 years for brides. These ages dropped to 23 and 21 in the early 1970s, but by 1994 the median age had risen markedly to 29 years for grooms and 26.6 years for brides. In 1972, one-third of women had married by the time they turned 20 and eight in 10 reaching 25 had married. By 1991 just one in 20 had married by age 20 and less than half by age 25.

Thirdly, tragically there has been, as we all know, a dramatic increase in divorce. In Australia in 1950 there were five divorces per thousand married women, a figure that fell during the 1950s to just 2.8 in 1961. It rose following the introduction of the Family Law Act to 18.8 in 1976 before falling to 10.6 a decade later. The rate has gradually crept up again to 12 in 1994, quadruple what it was three decades before.

Fourthly, as a consequence, the number of children involved in divorce has continued to grow since the 1970s. To quote from Kate Funder and Simon Kinsella from the Institute of Family Studies:

Parental divorce disrupts the lives of nearly one in five young Australians under the age of 20, a disruption related to long-term social and economic disadvantages.

Fifthly, the rates of remarriage have fallen also over the past 20 years. According to the sociologist Peter McDonald, the Australian remarriage rate has more than halved in two decades, falling for males from 246 per thousand divorced persons in 1971 to just 120 two decades later and, for females, from 215 per thousand to just 101 in 1991.

We all know the sixth trend: families are having fewer children. The well-known population pyramid that we grew up with is rapidly being reversed in most industrialised countries.

Mr Kerr —It can't be reversed; it can be reshaped.

Mr ANDREWS —It has been reshaped, as the honourable member points out. Seventhly, the proportion of children born out of wedlock has increased from one in 25 in 1947 to more than one in four today. Eighthly, there has been a marked increase in single parent families. Ninthly, families are increasingly having both parents in the paid work force. Tenthly, the population is ageing.

All these trends are having a marked impact on families in our society. If they were associated with a better way of life and increased wellbeing for our children, then it would be something to be applauded, but the reality is that youth suicide has risen, millions of youth are homeless, reports of child abuse rise each year, alcohol and drug abuse is on the increase and the children growing up in single parent families are the poorest group in our community. This motion is an important motion for the parliament to debate. I commend the honourable member for bringing it before the House.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for private members' business has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.