September 11th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Battle lines drawn for October 9 Federal poll

EDITORIAL: Issues for the Federal Election

FAMILY: Better deal demanded for families

NOT SO DRY CONTINENT: Australia has water options

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Taiwan faces continuing threats from Beijing

POPULATION: Falling birth-rates stir action in Taiwan, Singapore

INDIA: The economic test for India's new government

PEACE-KEEPING: Sudan and the progressive mind

OPINION: The case for new states in Australia

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Howard versus New Class Labor / Tap Tap. Who's there?

CINEMA: Bus 174 - A jolting, two-hour masterpiece

CLIMATE: Global warming - the sceptics have won

DEMOCRACY: Lay your hammer down

Labor's foot-soldiers (letter)

Mondragon: a rejoinder (letter)

The West and Islam (letter)

BOOKS: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam

BOOKS: 7 Myths of Working Mothers, by Suzanne Venker

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Better deal demanded for families

by John Ballantyne

News Weekly, September 11, 2004
Australia's falling birth-rate, the need to protect children from Internet pornography, family law and divorced fathers' custody rights, and the media's antagonism to family values were some of the issues discussed at the recent National Conference of the Australian Family Association.

The conference, which was held at Melbourne's Bayview Conference Centre on August 28, featured special guest speakers from England, barrister James Bogle and his journalist-wife Joanna Bogle, and Australian media identities, Angela Shanahan of the Canberra Times and Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun.

National president of the AFA, David Perrin, warned that fertility was the most critical issue facing Australia today. According to the 2001 census, Australia's birth-rate has fallen to an average of 1.73 children per woman - well below the minimum level a population needs to replace itself.

The consequences, said Mr Perrin, will be an ageing population, with an increased social welfare burden falling on taxpayers of working age. With fewer young people, Australia will find it increasingly difficult to defend its borders credibly.

Effect compounded

According to Mr Perrin, the major reason for the decline in Australia's fertility is medical abortions. He quoted Melbourne economist Richard Grant's estimate that every year 100,000 abortions are performed in Australia.

Said Mr Perrin: "Some of these children themselves would be having their own children by now, so the effect is compounded."

Another cause of declining fertility is the social trend towards later marriage. Said Mr Perrin: "For females this later marriage is critical as their biological clock determines their potential for children."

A major cause of later marriages - or no marriage at all - is economic. Mr Perrin quoted the landmark study commissioned by the AFA, Men and Women Apart: Partnering in Australia, by Monash University's Dr Bob Birrell and his colleagues. The Birrell Report found that 30 per cent of men of marriageable age lack full-time work and therefore are unable to marry and form families.

Special guest speaker from England, journalist and author Joanna Bogle, said that from her observations the majority of people want to meet a person of the opposite sex, settle down and raise a happy family.

Despite this, she said, Europe was suffering a serious decline in fertility, similar to the one affecting Australia.

She said, "Europe is dying", and added that the Germans even have a phrase for the phenomenon: "More coffins than cradles."

The only places in Europe with a birth-rate at or above replacement level are Malta and southern Ireland.

National vice-president of the AFA, Bill Muehlenberg, warned:

"Perhaps at no time since Federation have our young people come under so much pressure, been exposed to so many threats, and been undervalued as today. The assault on our young people seems to be coming from all sides, and there appears to be no let up in the ferocity of the attack."

He described his own family's experience, in an outer Melbourne suburb, of finding used syringes left around in a children's playground and even in his own front yard.

Mr Muehlenberg said that half of Australian children have been exposed to inappropriate material on the Internet.

He said that parental supervision of children's Internet use is made all the more difficult by the refusal of public libraries to use filters to screen out Internet pornography. The reason given is that such restrictions would supposedly constitute an infringement of free speech.

Adding greatly to such problems, said Mr Muehlenberg, is the push for same-sex marriage and adoption rights and the war against the unborn.

Canberra Times columnist, Angela Shanahan, recounted how she commenced a career in journalism at the age of 39, after her ninth baby was born.

She said that, on her arrival at The Australian, "there was quite a deal of resentment about someone from outside the feminist club, a foot-soldier pushing her way into the scarce space on the Australian's opinion pages."

She quoted Catherine Hakim's view that one of the most common mistakes feminists make is to regard all jobs as 'careers'.

Said Mrs Shanahan: "The feminist obsession with 'career', not motherhood, as the central element of women's self-definition made fertility the enemy. Babies can wreck your career. They consume your life and your heart - unlike the carefully planned career path."

Australian mothers, she said, "have shown a marked reluctance, when their children are small, to participate in full-time work - even when they can't really afford not to. They already have a full-time job and they know it."

Mrs Shanahan, however, said that she has observed "a shift in our attitude towards parenthood.

"In the last 11 years, parenthood has become a very respectable media topic. No longer is motherhood a preoccupation of the pre-feminist dinosaurs."

Australian-born James Bogle practises as a barrister in England and is prominent as a pro-life and pro-family activist in Europe.

He told the AFA conference: "Over the last 35 years, we have witnessed an entirely new phenomenon virtually unknown in the previous history of mankind in which fathers have been systematically estranged from their own children by due process of law."

He said that the operation of Britain's divorce laws - like that of Australia's 1975 Family Law Act - has greatly exacerbated the trauma of marital separation.

He said: "Given the fact that the parent who gets the children will also get the lion's share of the family property, it is almost inevitable that the parents will be at war as a result and that they will find themselves using the children as the weapons in that war. . .

"If the children are young, there is little likelihood of (the father) being awarded residence of them, so the mother will get the lion's share of the assets, including, of course, the house...

"There will be endless battles over his contact with the children and, unless he is determined and strong, he will gradually be shut out of the children's lives by a wife who no longer wants him to be part of her or their life."

Mr Bogle concluded: "All of this adds up to a considerable financial incentive to women to divorce their husbands.

"Is it any wonder that men are reluctant to marry? Is it any wonder that there is a shortage of eligible men for girls to marry? Is it any wonder that 75 per cent of divorce petitions are filed by women?

National disaster

"Do they do so chiefly because they are the victims of domestic violence or abuse? No. Not usually. They often do so because it's a financially rewarding way of getting rid of a husband with whom one is now bored.

"The situation is little short of a national social disaster."

National president of the National Civic Council, Peter Westmore, spoke about the Federal Parliament's recently-passed Marriage Amendment Act, which defines marriage as "the union of one man and one woman" and precludes same-sex marriages.

He said: "Undoubtedly, it is the first pro-marriage reform in Australia since Lionel Murphy's disastrous Family Law Act of 1975."

Mr Westmore warned, however: "Encouraging as this is, the family in today's society is under greater pressure than ever before.

"A national agenda for the family must therefore begin with a strengthening of the legal foundations on which marriage and stable families are based."

He said: "There is now an avalanche of statistical evidence, in Australia and overseas, which shows that people living in stable families are better adjusted, have a higher standard of living, suffer less domestic violence, are disinclined to use mind-altering drugs, are more law-abiding, and live longer than those who live outside such an environment."

(Copies of the AFA National Conference papers will be published in the Journal of the Australian Family Association)

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