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John Hewson MP Address to the Coalition's National Family Conference



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Leader o f the O pposition

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15 May 1994

JOHN HEWSON MP

ADDRESS TO

THE COALITION’S NATIONAL

FAMILY CONFERENCE

Parliament House Canberra

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 2774022

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I am very pleased to welcome you here to this Coalition-sponsored conference to mark the International Day of the Family.

I also wish to thank you in advance because it is your interest and your participation which will make this conference the productive and meaningful process that I know it will be.

We in the Coalition are particularly grateful to our distinguished speakers who have generously given of their time and energy, on a Sunday as Jocelyn says, in addressing our conference.

When Jocelyn Newman announced this conference to the media, she said and I quote "any one of our speakers today could have been the keynote speaker at a major conference".

I fully agree with Jocelyn and we are therefore very fortunate to have such a range of speakers with such expertise and experience.

The Coalition Parties have organised and sponsored this conference because we recognise that the family is the mainstay of the lives of Australians.

The role of the family in our national life, and the challenges and difficulties they face, are issues that deserve the careful attention of all political parties, governments, bureaucracies and society as a whole.

The Liberal and National Parties place a great importance on the family. A commitment to the family remains central to our philosophy and to our whole approach to public policy.

At the last election we advocated that all Cabinet submissions should include a consideration of the impact of any Cabinet decision on Australian families. This was to ensure that the interests of the family would not be inadvertently undermined by government policy.

We also advocated the creation of an Office of the Family for the purpose of ensuring both a government focus on the family and a commitment to the family within the official processes of making and implementing government policy.

We believe that families can contribute the most rewarding and important environments in which to foster love, respect, trust and security.

These are sentiments which are universal. And it is therefore entirely appropriate that the United Nations has declared 1994 the International Year of the Family in recognition of the central role and importance of the family in modern society.

The agenda for our conference today has been deliberately designed to provide a wide scope for thought and discussion.

Our first session examines different perspectives on today's family.

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Many social commentators and theorists have raised the implications of the rapid pace of change in our society - perhaps Alvin Toffler is the most internationally well known but we also have many respected Australian contributors to this debate, and one notable example is of course Hugh Mackay.

We know that people are increasingly challenged by the pace and nature of change.

Toffler wrote with considerable foresight in 1970 that:

"Change is the process by which the future invades our lives, and it is important to look at it closely, not merely from the grand perspectives of history, but also from the vantage point of the living, breathing individuals who experience it."

Hugh Mackay describes Australians in the last quarter of the twentieth century as having become:

"a nation of pioneers; some heroically, some reluctantly, some painfully. We have been plunged into a period of unprecedented social, cultural, political, economic and technological change in which the Australian way of life is being radically

redefined."

There have been fundamental changes affecting social and economic life in Australia over recent decades :

. the re-emergence of mass employment has been a dominant source of change;

. the role of women in our society has been revolutionised and the scope of the contribution they are making is continuing to broaden;

. the rate of marriage breakdown and divorce has escalated dramatically;

. the number of children raised by single parents has increased significantly;

. the accessibility and use of child care facilities has grown enormously; and

. wage structures in relation to family needs has undergone radical change.

And there are many similar changes which have altered nature of social and economic life in Australia. These changes have created there own pressures on Australian families. The "living, breathing individuals" described by Toffler are members of families.

The fact is that the pressures experienced by Australians as individuals are reflected in the pressures experienced by Australian families.

We should recognise the consequences of these pressures, both large and small, and their potential to undermine the family.

However, we should also recognise that a loving and tolerant family provides a haven of sanity in what can be a jungle of uncertainty.

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We will also be examining today the importance and nature of Ethnicity and Aboriginal!ty with regard to the family.

The role and needs of the family in the lives of Aboriginal Australians and Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds is of particular importance to members of those communities and needs to be better understood by all of us. So I am particularly looking

forward to hearing from Professor Thomas and Mr Charles Perkins on these issues.

The taxation and welfare systems, and the balance between work and family responsibilities, are also matters for which we have appropriately devoted space and time today.

These areas are important because they represent the most direct influence government can have on the opportunities, the health and the well-being of Australia's families.

Finally, we will address ourselves in this Conference to the important and tragic area of family breakdown and the impact it has on peoples lives.

As a society we must face up to the enormous costs of family breakdown - not only in financial terms, but also in human terms. In terms of the pain and the suffering of the people involved.

It is also appropriate that we examine the prevention of family breakdown and the benefits this will undoubtedly bring to us all.

Families of all kinds are experiencing unprecedented stress.

For example, there are 750,000 children growing up in a family where neither parent has a job.

560,000 Australian children are living in poverty and 40,000 children and adults have no homes at all.

The failure of more than one in three marriages is tragically, now all too commonly accepted as inevitable.

Australia's youth suicide rate is the highest in the industrialised world.

Domestic violence and youth homelessness are increasingly prevalent, and drug and alcohol abuse is growing.

The Human Rights Commissioner, Brian Burdekin, has drawn our attention to the correlation between family breakdown and the mental health of our community.

The Salvation Army estimates that at it needs $180 million to finance its welfare services over the next twelve months alone.

These facts represent a very real threat to the social cohesion of Australia. They demonstrate the enormous impact which chronic unemployment and divorce is having on Australian families.

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There is a great deal of focus these days placed on the conservation and preservation of our natural and man-made heritage - this of course is a very good thing.

But sadly, little attention is given to the value of conserving and preserving Australian families.

This is unfortunate, because we know that the health and strength of our society is directly related to the collective health and strength of Australia's families.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have been cherished and nurtured in loving families are well aware of the value of that experience from an individual perspective and as well as more broadly.

The Coalition Parties have placed great importance on consulting widely within and outside our Party on family issues.

Our grassroots members have responded well to a questionnaire that was sponsored by our Federal Secretariat. And we have also written to local government throughout the country for their input into the policy development process.

We don't expect that everything we hear today will be adopted as our policy, nor do we expect to agree with all the propositions that are put forward.

However, we do believe that political parties benefit by exposure to ideas from people outside their formal structure as well as ideas and input from their membership.

This belief is demonstrated by our open invitation to the co'mmunity to join us today and by the importance we have placed on inviting a wide variety of distinguished speakers.

I know that the impressive turnout here today is evidence that Australians of all backgrounds and of all political persuasions place great importance on the family and its role in our society.

This is of course a source of great strength to all of us.

I know that by working together Australians can achieve great things. I think that basically we can achieve just about anything we want to.

The family is experiencing stress and as a consequence, our society is experiencing stress.

We should not be overwhelmed by the challenge this represents. The good of society is synonymous with the good of the family, and the challenge is therefore too important to shirk.

Finally, I want to congratulate and thank Jocelyn Newman and my other colleagues for their great work in organising this conference, and for the outstanding contribution which she is making to the community debate on family issues.

On behalf of the Coalition Parties let me once again welcome you all here today.

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I know that Sunday is a day you would normally choose to spend with your own families; I hope that the support you are giving this conference today by your presence here will be of value to all families in times to come.

We in the Coalition are committed to enhancing the standing of, and the support for, the families of our nation.

This conference is but one step along the road to restoring the strength of Australia's families.

And so I have great pleasure in declaring this conference open.