The Howard Government’s recently announced intention to introduce Family Relationship Centres as the salve for separating couples is a poor alternative to real reform of the laws and social policies that have for the past 30 years caused untold disruption and contributed to the destabilisation of the cornerstone of Australian society - the family.
Last July the Prime Minister committed to investigate whether separated fathers should be “allowed” equal time with their children and if the system for levying child support payment was fair to all parties.
In answer, the Parliamentary Committee, chaired by Kay Hull, produced a timid report rejecting 50/50 joint custody, but recommending unnecessary amendments to the Family Law Act in favour of “equal shared parental responsibility”, a requirement already included in legislation, together with their ultimate weapon of mass distraction - the establishment of a third level of quasi-judicial intervention - Family Tribunals.
Unfortunately, the issues of joint custody and creating a fair child support scheme were lost amidst the plethora of comments about the legality, operational difficulties and implementation costs of setting up a new network of Family Tribunals.
Failure to endorse the principle of joint custody, sometimes expressed more effectively as shared and equal parenting, clearly relegates the importance of one parent, usually the father, to second place on the ladder. When legislators, government bureaucracies and courts, work under an impression that one parent is not as important as the other, the role of that parent will be considerably diminished, sadly to the detriment of both the child(ren) and the parent.
The outcome of the Report surprised most fathers, grandparents and their advocates because the attitude of the Committee during its hastily convened hearings seemed to be supportive of the proposals that both parents should be regarded as equally essential and important in their child(ren)’s lives and that extended family, particularly grandparents, added great value to the upbringing of these children. Fathers and their representatives reported that for the first time they felt as if they had been heard and the wish of fathers to be regarded as something more than faceless money providers was being accepted.
Women’s advocates on the other hand may have been shocked by the demands of the Committee to produce verifiable figures to support their claims alleging rampant domestic violence and child abuse, which, according to their agenda, required the urgent removal of perfectly good fathers from their children’s lives.
Committee member MP Peter Dutton pursued the issue of false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse throughout the inquiry. He asked Dr Elspeth McInnes, co-chair of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children how many cases are there “of sexual abuse which are perpetrated by the father, as opposed to introduced male partners”. McInnes admitted for the first time that “Stepfathers are more often offenders against children they live with than biological fathers”.
International research shows that less than 1 per cent of children are sexually abused by their fathers, yet a survey commissioned by the Department of Family and Community Services showed 35 per cent of female health, education and welfare professionals believe up to 24 per cent of fathers abuse their children.
Over 122 international and Australian studies demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners, yet the Committee failed to directly acknowledge the level of false allegations used as a tool to denigrate fathers, instead preferring to follow the current dogma espoused by the domestic violence industry.
In fact the Committee seems to have placed more importance on violence issues than ensuring both parents continue to share the care of their children. It goes without saying that parents and children must be protected from violence, but our laws and policy discussions are being framed under the false impression that violence occurs in a significant number of families rather than the reality that that it only happens in a small minority. The vast majority of parents do not present any danger to their children, yet women’s advocate over the years have attempted to paint a picture that all fathers take on a Jekyll and Hyde personality after separation and participate in all manner of child abuse and family violence.
Not satisfied with the state criminal laws that were available to deal with offenders who commit physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence advocates pushed for the introduction in the 1980s of special laws to cover all manner of family disputes, whether they be physical assault or a cross word. Just a complaint of fear, symptoms of paranoia, present or not, is enough to remove a person, without trial, from their home and children. A more appropriate solution to deal with allegations of non-physical abuse would be through counselling, leaving the police and courts free to provide adequate sanctions to protect those really in need. Domestic violence legislation removes the basic right of people to be regarded as innocent before being found guilty or not. One might expect such repressive legislation to be found in tyrannical regimes, but surely not in a country claiming to value the democratic rights and freedoms of its populace.