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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16439


Mr MOSSFIELD (4:53 PM) —In this grievance debate I would like to highlight the importance of the family and marriage and children's mental and physical health, in learning and achievement at school, and in community stability and peace. I grieve that, in spite of this importance, not one university in Australia has a department of marriage studies or even family studies. I was prompted to speak on this issue on reading a paper prepared by an Australian Catholic University sociologist, Dr Moira Eastman who believes that Australia needs to look critically at how federal government economic and employment policies are impacting on birth rates and family survival. Further, she said that the casualisation of employment was undermining young couples wanting to marry and have children as they were unable to borrow money for housing. She also believes that Australian tax policies have penalised families for decades, with parents raising children often paying above the average level of tax. Dr Eastman said:

Government economic policies are having a very powerful effect on the survival of Australian families.

There are more than one million workers in the retail industry and most of them are now employed as casuals.

These casual statistics mean they are unable to borrow money to finance a mortgage. This further undermines public confidence in marriage and puts added strain on family life.

There are now clear signs of the changing demographics of family life. Figures in a recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Household and family projections Australia 1996-2021 showed that single parent families would have increased from 742,000 in 1996 to as high as 1.2 million, with one-third of children aged under four living with just one parent. An analysis of the latest Centrelink data shows that 44 per cent of children aged nought to five live in poor families.

While the number of low income single families is high in the metropolitan areas, the situation is far worse in non-metropolitan areas. This problem is particularly so in New South Wales coastal towns. An article by Bettina Arndt in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted figures from a Monash University research paper which stated that low income families are moving to coastal areas to seek cheaper rents. According to the Monash report, 68 per cent of children on the North Coast, 62 per cent on the South Coast and 48 per cent on the Central Coast of New South Wales live in families receiving welfare support.

But it is not only single income families that are on the increase. This change in demographics is also apparent in the general run of young families, according to ABS figures. Families without children are expected to increase from 1.7 million in 1996 to about 2.9 million in 2021. The ABS predicts that 42 per cent of men and 44 per cent of women will never marry. Many young couples are delaying having children until their careers and relationships are established. This reflects insecurity in the economic, employment and emotional senses. Many young people have lost the confidence to make decisions about personal life. Dr Eastman makes the point in the introduction to her paper that, while families are one of the smallest social groups, research has increasingly found that:

The impact of families can at times outweigh that of even the largest organisations and institutions. Families have a powerful impact on every area of human growth and development including intellectual development and learning in schools, social competencies and skills, mental and physical health, economic well-being, both personal and national happiness, and satisfaction with life.

Yet the impact of families has not been fully acknowledged by major institutions and disciplines especially within the sectors of the economy, education and health.

One issue addressed in Dr Eastman's paper is the failure of society to recognise the value of work of parenting and general household duties. The paper notes that in 1992 Australians worked 271.6 million hours per week in all market industries, such as retail, wholesale and manufacturing, but they worked an additional 108 million hours, or 40 percent more, in unpaid work in the household. In Australia, as in most OECD countries for which reliable data exists, the total volume of work performed each week is at least twice the work covered by the official employment statistics. The type of extra work being referred to is in the preparation of food and meals, laundering, house cleaning, child care, household repairs and maintenance, homework supervision, talking and reading to children, taking an interest in school activities and sport.

Dr Eastman referred to reports that showed that in 1950 couples paid more in taxes and received less in benefits than in the 1920s, while couples rearing children in the 1980s were half a million dollars worse off in terms of what they paid in taxes and received in benefits compared with those rearing children in the 1950s. The point is made in Dr Eastman's paper:

Perhaps one reason that the former tax system that protected the income of families rearing children has been dismantled is that the economic system has forgotten the value of the work of parents rearing children and the whole area of productive work in the household.

The issue of ratio of work in the family home compared to work for an employer is changing rapidly for many working people in the current industrial climate. In an excellent article in the AustralianFinancial Review of 5 January Ron McCallum, Professor of Industrial Law at the University of Sydney, makes the point that the regular work hours of the fifties and sixties are but a memory. One-third of employees, according to McCallum, work for more than 40 hours, with many being employed for at least 50 hours a week—and I would add that much of this extra time worked is unpaid. We also have women undertaking part-time or full-time employment while still carrying the responsibilities of looking after the children and doing the housework.

This government is intending to free up the industrial relations system and reduce the power of trade unions at a time when changing technology and work patterns demand, in the interests of quality family life, tighter control and regulation. McCallum in his article contended:

In the professional and staff employment which are the product of our service oriented economy my contention is that the balance is tipped too far in favour of working life and has left insufficient room for home life.

McCallum quoted a number of reasons for this, such as:

Firstly, professional and staff employees are employed to perform tasks rather than set working hours, so that work now intrudes into evenings and weekend.

May I add that the federal government is continuing to push for these types of employment policies. Computer driven technology is also eroding the boundaries between work space and home space because in many cases the personal computer and email have taken away the distinction between the office and the home. The issue of regulated hours of work and legal entitlements to public holidays and annual leave are issues that the government should consider in framing its industrial relations laws to ensure that the quality of family life is preserved.

McCallum contended that, in addition to work, families should be able to develop pursuits such as engaging in hobbies, recreational and sporting activities and spiritual activities, and being able to join clubs, church groups and, may I add, community organisations such as Scouts and Guides, support groups and environmental organisations. All of these outside of work activities, many of them shared by all family members, add to the development and strengthening of family ties and education and broaden the horizons of children in the family. Families play an important role in educating their children. Eastman refers to studies that show that families not only have a powerful impact on the way children learn at school but that that influence outweighs that of school. The paper expresses the view that what the family does is more important for the education of children than the income of the family or the type of school they go to. Therefore, putting more emphasis on the quality of family life needs to be addressed by our economic, education and health institutions.