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Gary John's pragmatism belies more sinister ideologies

By Clara Geoghegan - posted Friday, 2 January 2015

Many have been left speechless by the "no contraception, no dole" suggestion of former ALP Minister Gary Johns.

"There should be no taxpayer inducement to have children", writes Johns. He might be referring to the poor and unemployed but this is a sentiment that has already gained much ground. In many ways this assertion merely echoes recent changes in social policy expounded by both the government and the opposition and the Fair Work Commission.

There is a growing sentiment that taxpayers should not support other people's children. How often when the discussion turns to welfare do we hear comments in the media to the effect that childless taxpayers should not support those who choose to have children?


This is an extraordinarily myopic social policy.

Once upon a time, like way back in the 1970s, society believed that children served a common purpose as they were our 'future'. Government policies reflected this through generous tax deductions for dependent children and later a universal Family Allowance policy. This was known as horizontal tax equity that ensured families could provide adequately for their dependents.

In the 1980s, renowned sociologists Peter and Brigitte Berger wrote of the family as a 'mediating structure' in western society and as the best means for providing childcare, invalid care and aged care.

Since then all these functions have been appropriated by the state and are often in the news for not receiving adequate resources.

Johns suggests that, in the past, larger families were necessary to provide for parents in old age, but that is no longer the case as the provision of aged care services have developed. Excuse me, Mr Johns, but do not taxpayers contribute to these services? And, who are the taxpayers of tomorrow?

Universal family allowances have been means tested and eroded. Eligibility for family allowance is no longer based on the simple fact that raising children costs money and, that children will grow up to be the citizens of tomorrow. Increasingly family benefits became a welfare payment rather than a matter of equity.


The 2014 Federal budget saw the abolishing of Family Tax benefit B when a child turns six.

In June 2014, in a poorly publicized decision, the Fair Work Commission, departed from the principle of a family wage that had been enshrined in Australian political thought since Justice Higgins' Harvester judgment in 1907. The FWC now considers an individual – without dependents – as the basis for determining the minimum wage. Who will support the dependents of those on minimum wage? Johns' views by extrapolation should be extended to mandate those on the minimum wage to take compulsory contraception as they too cannot 'afford' to have children.

The idea seems to be that children are no longer a social good and to be supported by the community, but a private indulgence for those who can 'afford' them. Indeed, society is more and more encouraging the idea that the wealthy and better educated should have more children and the poor less. This is the idea behind Prime Minister Tony Abbott's generous maternity leave policy – to encourage women on higher incomes to have more babies.

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About the Author

Clara Geoghegan is an educator. She works with a range of organisations. He opinions are her own. The rule of thumb she gives her teenage children is: if you can’t tell them to their face you should not publish it on Facebook and if the language is not suitable for your grandparents it is not suitable for anyone.

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