Little to Celebrate in Budget

Opinion Piece from the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Lyn Allison,, and printed in the ‘Canberra Times’ today, 23rd May 2005.

Not all kids are equal in the eyes of Government

Unless you are a two-parent, intact, married couple family, there was little to celebrate last week as part of National Family Week (May 15-21).

This month’s Budget has made it patently clear what sort of family the Howard Government values. As of next year, if you are a widowed, divorced, separated or a single parent and have a child as young as 6 you will be compelled to find a job in the workforce. It doesn’t matter how many children you have, where you live or if your child has special needs. Your family income support will be reduced by at least $40 a fortnight, as you are shifted to newstart allowance. If you put your child’s health or welfare ahead of searching for a job the income support for yourself and your children may be stopped altogether. And good luck finding a secure job that fits in with school hours as it is unlikely that the promised 80,000 after school childcare places will barely meet existing shortages.

Yet, if you are married and wealthy, you receive up to $4,000 a year non-means tested to encourage you to stay at home to parent your children until they are 18. In fact the Government through this budget are giving you a $300 bonus for doing so.

It’s an interesting message to women who live in violent domestic situations. Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. Flee your violent partner for a safer environment for your young family and you will be compelled to pound the pavements looking for jobs that aren’t there, or, stay in an abusive relationship.

If a widowed, separated or single mum is raising a child, does it advantage anyone if she is refused income and family support because she is single? If a same-sex couple is raising children, what’s the benefit of denying that couple family rates for Medicare or tax offsets?

This issue isn’t just symbolic. It’s not a gay rights issue or a culture war. It’s about recognising that children are equally worthy citizens regardless of their family structures and responding with appropriate government help and services.

The reality is that whenever a government policy removes social support and financial advantages to children on the basis of their parents’ relationship status, then it’s the kids who suffer.

The Howard Government with its majority in the Senate after 1 July will, in the full knowledge that children will be disadvantaged and neglected, impose this inflexible, unrealistic and ideologically-based definition of family on millions of Australians who cannot or will not fit into this straight jacket.

Many single parents want to be in the workforce to lift them out of the poverty that being on welfare means but they cannot do it without appropriate support such as childcare and flexible workplaces. Single parents have a responsibility to their children and they should be free to make the choices that suit them and their family.

This is social engineering at its worst.