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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 571

Senator HAINES(5.06) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

Some considerable concern has been expressed in the community with regard to the cuts in funding for the Institute of Family Studies that have been announced recently. The Institute is a statutory body, established under the Family Law Act whose functions, as the annual report states, are basically to promote:

. . . by the conduct, encouragement and co-ordination of research and other appropriate means, the identification of, and development of understanding of, the factors affecting marital and family stability in Australia, with the object to promoting the protection of the family as the natural and fundamental group unit in society.

I would have thought that just about every Australian would support that function and that it would have caused this Government and previous governments to fund the Institute with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. It will be almost impossible for the Institute of Family Studies to carry out effectively the functions which I have just stated and which are laid out in the report without sufficient staff, without funds to employ staff and without funds implement the research necessary to collate material that it has access to and to update the computer facilities on which it relies to a large extent.

As marital breakdown costs society so much in economic, emotional and social terms, I am puzzled that we always seem to approach the problem from the wrong end of the animal, so to speak. We allocate money for counselling at the time of divorce-this is a matter which has been raised repeatedly in this place-yet we refuse to provide enough funds for pre-marital or general marriage counselling. It seems to me that we are leaving it until the damage has been done before we, as a country and as a parliament, provide the necessary funds to help people sort out whatever problems they have. Furthermore, we complain repeatedly in this place about the cost of paying supporting parent benefits, but we do nothing to encourage, much less force, the generally male maintenance payer to produce the maintenance that a court says he must provide to enable his ex-wife and children to survive.

This Government and past governments have provided no incentives by way of child care facilities or access to part time work to allow the supporting parent-the parent at home with children-to get out into the work force and bring up those children according to a reasonable standard of living; indeed, we do not even allow such people to earn a reasonable amount of money before their pension entitlement and fringe benefits are cut. Not only have we not done any of those things, which I would have thought would be perfectly reasonable if we wished to protect the family as a natural unit and basis for society's development, but also we have actually cut funds to the only organisation which has a statutory requirement to investigate issues of importance to stable family life, the only organisation which can provide statistics on which changes to government policy could be reliably based. What looks like being one of the last reports put out by the Institute of Family Studies is a little blue book entitled `The Economic consequences of Marriage Breakdown in Australia'. This book has a great deal to say about income security post-divorce and the problems facing many women and children after marital breakdown. On page 33 of the summary of the Institute of Family Studies it is stated that the research that has been done, whilst not telling anybody what to do, does at least indicate certain directions for law reform from the data that it has obtained in its study. Yet we are prepared, as a parliament, to sit back and watch the valuable work done by this organisation, such as its annual report for 1984-85, virtually be denied us for the rest of the decade.