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Our government is not family-friendly

  • 24 July 2018


In election campaigns of an earlier time politicians competed to be the most family-friendly. Family values were seen as central in Western Civilisation. They were handsomely praised and scantily honoured in election promises.

Australians generally saw population growth as central to economic prosperity and to national security, and child bearing as the natural and privileged engine of growth. They also regarded the nuclear family as the natural and privileged place in which to bear and raise children. To be family-friendly combined generally accepted social and economic values.

Today's politicians still claim to be family-friendly, but the social and economic context has changed greatly. Once if you asked people to define the family, they would describe a husband, wife and their own children. Now they might refer to a range of relationships including single parents, children from previous couplings, same-sex parents and children born through artificial insemination.

Both the priority of the nuclear family and the social value of child bearing are also questioned. Many people see population growth as a problem rather than a benefit, and most would regard child bearing as a matter of individual choice, and not as a social responsibility.

The economic context has also changed. The major political parties share the assumption that economic growth is driven by competitive individuals, as far as possible unrestricted by government regulation. People's value is measured by their contribution to economic activity.

Because this conventional wisdom puts little value on social groups, altruism or unpaid work, it also devalues families. It sees workers as costs, and lowers costs by unsocial shift work, making full time jobs casual, and structuring conditions in ways that give little consideration to family and other social commitments.

Governments which subscribe to conventional economic wisdom collude in these arrangements by limiting the power of unions, privileging private profit over public benefit, and neutering regulatory bodies. In their family policies they befriend families with wealth and families in which both parents work in full time jobs and contribute to the economy.


"A more categorical statement of the standards of civilised tradition and a more measured condemnation of Australian practice can hardly be imagined."


Families without wealth, with a single parent, with non-working parents, unemployed parents, parents seeking asylum, mentally ill parents or a parent in prison struggle to feed and to find accommodation for their children. Government policies divide families into winners and losers: those who have are given more, and from those who do