I wish I was excited that the new Premier of New South Wales (NSW), Dominic Perrottet, said in his acceptance speech that “I’ll also be a family Premier, focusing on how we can make life better for working families.” Families are so important and there is so much that can be done to support them, so I should be happy that the Premier is committed to supporting families. But too often when a politician supports family values or has a focus on families, it involves a narrow definition of family and excludes many families from their vision, it is fails to address issues like poverty and discrimination facing families, and assumes certain gendered roles for men and women within a family.
“Families” can mean different things to different people and Perrottet appears to have a fairly narrow definition of what a family should look like. In the lead up to the 2017 postal vote on same-sex marriage, the Liberals and Nationals for Marriage, thanked Perrottet for defending families and quoting him as saying:
Marriage is about every child’s fundamental right to grow up with their own mum and dad. If you change marriage you weaken that family bond and you change the very foundation of society
It is possible that he recognises same sex couples with children as a family and and that he just opposed same-sex marriage, but it is still based on a belief that some families are “better” than other families. To be honest, I actually agree that some families are “better” than other families. But this is based on what happens within the families, not who makes up the family. I would agree that families where there is no violence and abuse are “better” than families where there is domestic violence and child abuse.
But Perrottet believes that families with a mum and dad are better than other forms of families. Heterosexual couples, however, do not necessarily lead to better families than same-sex couples. The Australian Institute of Family Studies, however, found that:
Overall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.
In a 2015 speech to the Centre for Independent Studies, Perrottet suggested that single parent payments and other welfare programs contributed to divorce and family breakdown.
In essence, the welfare state was acting as a substitute for the family, crowding out its formation, and increasing rates of divorce. This was having a flow on effect of ensnaring lower income families in a poverty trap, from which very few escape.
Quoting “a little known bureaucrat named Daniel Patrick Moynihan” from 1965, Perrottet went on to use the USA as an example of the negative impacts of welfare payments on families and then suggested that welfare programs contribute to the decline of marriage.
“The steady expansion of welfare programs”, wrote Moynihan, was directly tied to the “steady disintegration of [black] family structure.” Moynihan was unequivocal in citing the collapse of the nuclear family as the primary reason for black inequality. And he was equally direct at laying the blame on government policies where “marriage was penalised and single parenthood subsidized”…. The War on Poverty and other welfare programs essentially created a destructive feedback loop: Welfare promoted the decline of marriage, which in turn, generated the need for even more welfare.
(I know this is off-topic, but reading the speech I despair that the now Premier of NSW also said “Another example of gratuitous waste is the almost religious devotion of the political Left to climate change” and claimed that “In practice, the ABC is simply a mouthpiece for left of centre views and becoming more disconnected from the values of mainstream Australia.”)
I believe the purpose of this Parliament is not to be a platform for the privileged but a voice for the voiceless vulnerable who cannot speak up for themselves. On this issue the supporters of the bill are ignoring that obligation. They are also on the wrong side of history…. Every day there are women out there who fall pregnant in difficult and sometimes impossible conditions of poverty, abuse, neglect and violence. I can understand why many of them in that situation would want to consider ending their pregnancies. But our first response as a community should be to help, not to harm, and to comfort, value and support both mother and child…. The real question for us is not are you pro-choice or pro-life. The real question is: What kind of society do we want to be? Hopefully it is one in which new life is cherished, cared for and celebrated; one in which we recognise the importance of mothers, the challenges they face and the difficulties they endure; and one in which we recognise that unborn children also have rights.
He would argue that it is a very pro family position, and in some ways it is. But it is at the expense of women who are forced to carry the burden of unwanted pregnancies and takes away their right to choice.
Perrottet emphasises “opportunity.” In his maiden speech in parliament he suggested:
Whilst Labor believes in equality of outcomes, we as Liberals believe in equality of opportunity. Milton Friedman says that “equality of opportunity is an essential component of liberty”.
Privilege makes it easy for some people to believe that they got to where they did because of hard work and making the most of opportunity. They often fail to recognise the way in which things like discrimination, trauma, oppression, violence and poverty mean that other people who work just as hard or harder and make the most of their opportunities do not achieve similar outcomes.
If Perrottet values families, I hope that he will be a strong advocate in addressing the widening income gap and other inequalities, that he will address domestic and family violence as a priority, and that he will value and support families in all their diversity. I don’t hold high hopes.
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- Some definitions of family
- Childhood trauma and brain development
- Domestic violence, family, friends and neighbours
- Why I voted YES in the same-sex marriage postal vote
- “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks
- Parenting for a better world
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