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Address to the YMCA National Conference, Tasmania



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AUSTRALIA

PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA THE SENATE

SENATOR JOCELYN NEWMAN SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE FAMILY AND HEALTH

Speech by Senator Jocelyn Newman

Shadow Minister for the Family

to the YMCA National Conference

Friday April 1, 1994

Blue Lagoon Camp, Dodges Ferry, Tasmania

Embargoed Until Delivery

COMMONWEALTH , PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

11 ELPHIN ROAD, LAUNCESTON, TAS. 7250 TELEPHONE (003) 341755 FACSIMILE (003) 341624

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, ACT. 2600 TELEPHONE (06) 2773660 FACSIMILE (06) 2773449

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ADDRESS TO YMCA CONFERENCE,

[Friday, 01 April, 1994]

We are already a quarter of the way through the International Year of the Family and

so far the national debate has mainly focussed on that dry and barren subject - the

definition of the family.

Millions of words have been written on what constitutes a family while time is passing

without adequate focus on what are the needs of families in our society in 1994.

We all know who our family members are, and the strength of their support is what

counts to us all.

The confidence which comes to an individual when they know they are loved and

accepted by their family, when they are praised for their success, and when they

receive sympathy and understanding in their failures - this confidence is the basis on

which an individual can grow, can thrive and can reach their full potential.

On the other hand, those who grow up in an unloving home where there is violence,

either physical or sexual - or where there is no warmth and no ability to show love,

have an enormous disability to conquer before they can fulfil their full potential.

It is important to grasp this point, because we carry this baggage with us through life -into the relationships we make as we mature. It helps to determine how we will

behave in marriage and how we will perform as parents. Lessons learnt in childhood

are carried forward into parenthood.

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Just like the constituents we represent, Members of Parliament themselves come from

very varied family backgrounds. We in the Liberal Party are sometimes portrayed as

only being sympathetic to the needs of the "so-called" traditional family.

While we certainly support these families, and indeed most families go through this

stage at some point in their life cycle, we recognise that they are but one part of the

family cycle.

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Most families, for example, will start off as two parent, two income families; will become

two parent one income families; then two parent 1.5 incomes; and eventually 2 parent,

2 incomes.

All too many these days will go through a period of being a one parent one income

family before again becoming a two parent family, this time with the added complexity

of blended offspring.

I was musing about these life-cycle variations in preparing this speech and it caused

me to think about the varied personal circumstances of the Federal Liberal leadership.

John Hewson and Michael Wooldridge have both been married before. John has

maintained a good relationship with his first wife and has good access to his 3

teenage children. Michael is the father of a 3 year old and shares the household

chores 50/50 with his wife. She is a highly qualified professional who took 18 months

off work after the birth of their child.

Our Senate leaders, Robert Hill and Richard Alston, have both been married only once

and each have several children (in Roberts case, one child was adopted from

overseas). Their wives have both pursued their careers through most of their married

lives.

Of our former leaders, Andrew Peacock has been married twice and has raised his

3 daughters as a lone parent, and John Howard has been married once and has 3

children and a wife who has made homemaking her career.

As for me, I was fortunate to be able to stay home while my children were small. I had

a year of being a lone parent while my children were babies and my husband was in

Vietnam, and from their late primary school years I was in the paid workforce with the

usual worry about reliable and lasting out of school hours and vacation care.

I now rejoice in the proud title of grandmother.

Other members of our parliamentary party are rearing blended families or supporting

elderly relatives with dementia.

I mention our backgrounds because I think it does demonstrate the diversity of

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perspectives which we inevitably bring to bear when we look at policy development

on family issues.

WHAT ARE THOSE ISSUES?

First of all we must look at the facts.

In 1992 over 85% of dependent children lived with both parents and over 14 % with

a lone parent.

In June 1992 for every 2 1/2 weddings there was one new divorce and nearly 46,000

children under 18 were involved in those new divorces.

Our youth suicide rate has now been described by the World Health Organisation as

the highest in the industrialised world, at 20.7 in every 100,000 and it is particularly

alarming in rural areas.

The Burdekin Report on Mental Health has pointed out the severe mental health

problems which result from the breakdown of marriages and families.

Day after day we learn of ghastly examples of domestic violence between spouses or

against children. The situation is so serious that we have a National Strategy for the

Prevention of Violence against Women which has received bi-partisan support.

In 1990/91 there were 50,000 cases of child abuse and neglect reported and of those

45% were substantiated.

Last year there were 24,500 adolescents receiving a homelessness allowance, either

through Abstudy, Austudy or the Department of Social Security.

While I have serious concerns about whether some of the youngsters who receive this

allowance are truly homeless, we should not forget that welfare organisations find

many youngsters who truly need help are not receiving it.

While income support and shelter are needed for homeless youth, so too are efforts

needed to try to restore the viability of their family unit.

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This has not been happening and the allowances have been handed over with no

attempt to remedy the causes of the homelessness.

I therefore welcome the decision announced just over a week ago that the

Commonwealth and States are to put such measures into place for those aged under

14.

Homelessness can have many causes, including the normal turbulent hormones of

teenage years, and the wish for independence. But it can also be caused by abuse

or by the poverty of the family. In November last year the Government's own figures

showed that there were 560,000 children living in poverty - and that means families

where neither parent has a job, but one or both parents are looking for work.

There can be no getting away from the fact that economic stress is a very important

component in family breakdown - both as a cause, and as an effect.

in December last year there were nearly 350,000 people who had been out of work

for longer than a year, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare told us

recently that in 1990 almost half of all lone parent families were living in poverty.

The financial cost of marriage breakdown has been estimated at approximately $3

billion - made up of the cost of the Family Court, Legal Aid, Family Services, Sole

Parents pensions and allowances, lost production and wages, and solicitors fees.

At the same time we only spend approximately $19 million on trying to prevent family

breakdown on marriage counselling, pre-marriage education, family mediation, family

therapy and adolescent mediation, family skills training.

Only about 5% of those planning to marry attend pre-marriage education classes and

of those, about 5% decide not to go ahead with the marriage.

GRASPING THE NETTLE

That sad litany of problems is not intended to depress you. It is intended to galvanise

you. Because as individuals, organisations, communities and governments, we must

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grasp the nettle. We cannot allow those issues to be ignored.

There is need for action on all fronts if we are really committed to strengthening the

family.

Obviously the big picture is vitally important - and that means getting the economy on

the rails again after such a long and agonising recession. That is a role for

government and for business and could be the subject of an entire speech to itself.

But I've been asked to focus today on what the YMCA and other community groups

can do to help Australia's families.

The YMCA and YWCA have had a long and proud record of community service,

particularly to our youth, but there are so many things that need doing - and as they

say "many hands make light work!"

Some measures are being taken already, but the need is great and more

organisations together with adequate government funding is needed. Let me give you

some examples

If we could aim to encourage all those planning to marry to go through a pre-marriage

education course first, we might have a better chance of ensuring that the marriage

will work. People need to learn about commitment, about sacrifice, about ways of

coping with different attitudes on important issues, about better communication.

But learning how to make a good marriage should first be taught at school - in

teaching children to cope with disagreements. Too many little boys grow up thinking

that they can solve their problems with their fists. Little girls don't always grow up

understanding that women don't have to be patronised, ignored, abused or beaten.

These are important matters we should all be teaching Australia's children.

These days many parents have grown up in very small families and know little about

the developmental stages of children and about parenting skills. Nor have parents

grown up with the values of their grandparents, for example, putting self last, making

do with what they had, the concept of duty to ones parents and authorities.

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For every Australian family with children the Federal Government currently provides

merely $1.66 a year to help organisations provide family or adolescent mediation,

family therapy or parenting skills programs - a miserable amount.

This is clearly not enough and must be increased if we are really committed to the

concept that prevention is better than picking up the pieces.

In my view community organisations are best placed to provide these programs,

preferably using trained volunteers. This is already working well with pre-marriage

education and is the key to making sure that services are provided as widely as

possible around the nation, and are readily accessible.

An important role for community organisations is in the area of after-school hours care

and vacation care.

Most families need two incomes to survive and together with the changing role of

women it means that more and more mothers are in the workforce.

Childcare is always a difficult matter - the need for certainty, reliability, safety. Holidays

are often the most difficult time to make satisfactory arrangements.

School buildings and other community facilities can be turned to good use in school

holidays by organisations prepared to take on this responsibility and to fill this need.

A very difficult problem to deal with is that of the access by a non-custodial parent to

his or her children after a divorce. Court orders are often flouted and contact between

the two parents can be tension charged. Most access takes place on weekends when

government agencies are usually closed and therefore not available as safe havens

for the exchange of the children. We could do with places manned on weekends by

community groups where children could be taken by one parent and collected and

returned by the accessing parent, free of the hassles that can take place when a third

party is not present.

Another need which in my view is unmet is that of the provision of appropriate shelter

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and care for homeless adolescents.

Some shelters are decidedly "laissez-faire", the focus being on the need by the

adolescent for independence. Yet many of those same young people are under the

age of consent, vulnerable to the drug pushers and in need of adult support and

guidance.

Some shelters provide this, others don't.

But no matter how good a shelter may be, for many reasons it is not an appropriate

place for a long-term stay.

For those who cannot return home, I believe there should be a greater focus on the

need for cottage-style accommodation with caring adults in loco parentis to help these

young people through years which are often very difficult. The trouble is that fewer

adults are prepared to provide this care these days and those who do need back up

support in the way of counselling and respite care for the foster parents.

Legacy is an organisation which has built a wonderful reputation for the help it has

given veterans widows and children over many years.

In my view it is a model of what could be achieved for other lone parents and their

children or indeed for foster children, even after leaving their foster home.

The help that Legacy gives is varied. It may be advice on education, careers,

discipline. It may be simply the regular presence of a caring role model of the

opposite sex. It is often a helping hand in the claiming of government entitlements or

in dealing with bureaucracies.

Although there are organisations which give mutual support to lone parents, I haven't

heard of any organisation which has actually modelled itself on Legacy, and yet clearly

the need is there.

With the mobility of our society, and also with the breakdown of marriages, it is harder

for families to turn to the extended family members when help is needed.

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In former times respite care could be provided by aunties, uncles, grandparents when

a young mother was suffering from depression, or if an elderly family member was

suffering from dementia, or if a young

adult with intellectual disabilities was proving exhausting to his elderly parents.

There is an almost invisible, but crying need for better availability of respite care for

families. It cannot go on being ignored for much longer.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recently set up a working party to

produce a draft strategy for suicide prevention. I'm sure with the YMCA's long

involvement with youth that you would have a meaningful contribution to make to this

strategy.

These are all nettles which need to be grasped - some by individuals, some by

organisations. Many of them need government financial support. But they do need

urgent attention.

One other nettle to grasp is the need for all adults, and especially sporting heroes, to

recognise that all children look to them as role models in life.

Too many Australian children grow up without a good father figure in their lives, and

they more than most children must surely learn what it is to be a man from the way

their heroes behave.

What lessons did they learn from Dermot Brereton when he stood on his opponent's

head? or when Shane Warne and Mery Hughes behaved so badly recently? I hope

that the Institute of Sport is taking a strong position on this issue as they train the

sports heroes of the future.

Our children are watching. Let us all, as adults, remember that we are each

responsible for the development of the next generation.

So what are the nettles which the YMCA and similar organisations might grasp? Let

me go over them again. There's pre-marriage education, relationship education,

parenting skills, out of school hours or vacation care, facilitation of access handover,

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care for homeless adolescents, support for foster parents and for former foster

children, respite care and suicide prevention.

If that isn't a long enough list, what about providing a Legacy like support service to

lone mothers or fathers?

In conclusion, as we sit here today on Good Friday, Christians are remembering the

death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's not forget that in addition to being the Lord

Jesus Christ, he was also an only son raised by his mother who was a lone parent.

At that stage of her life she was probably going through the menopause and she was

also enduring the agony of the premature death of her only child.

Hers was not the only biblical family to have its share of tragedy. Sara and Abraham

spent many childless years longing for a baby; Cain murdered his brother Abel; the

brother of the prodigal son was consumed with jealousy at the treatment meted out

by their father to his brother; Martha bitterly resented the attention which her sister

Mary was given by Jesus, even though it had been Martha who had attended to his

physical needs.

Human nature and the relationships in families have never been easy. It is up to all

of us as individuals, as organisations, as communities, and as governments, to do

whatever is in our power to support families and to keep them strong.

We are all the poorer when family life breaks down. Individuals pay a heavy price for

family break down, but so does society.

In this International Year of the Family let us all pledge ourselves to carry some of the

responsibility for strengthening family life in our country.