June 21st 2008

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: 'Peak oil': Apocalypse now?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Whither the Nationals?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: What happens after cheap credit, oil and food?

SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS: Rudd grants special rights to same-sex couples

FAMILY POLICY: Home truths about working families

EUTHANASIA: Assisted suicide: safeguards or naivety?

NATIONAL SECURITY: Soviet bloc espionage: setting the record straight

DEFENCE: Should Australia have nuclear defence capability?

CHINA: Beijing muzzles protests over Sichuan earthquake

UNITED STATES: Is Obama equipped to lead the free world?

CULTURE: How political correctness threatens Australian culture

ART: The downward spiral of modern art

Barack Obama's oratory (letter)

Why cutting Australian emissions won't work (letter)

Baby imports? (letter)

Short-term stupidity (letter)

CINEMA: New Narnian epic Prince Caspian surpasses expectations

BOOKS: INKLINGS OF HEAVEN: C.S. Lewis And Eschatology, by Sean Connolly

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Home truths about working families

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, June 21, 2008
The Rudd Government speaks incessantly about working families. The recent federal Budget was all about working families. Government policy is aimed at working families. So just who and what exactly are these working families? Bill Muehlenberg reports.

Certain terms are simply government code-words, or euphemisms, for politically correct ideologies. That is certainly the case with the term "working families". It means only one thing to federal Labor: paid working mothers, especially with young children.

That is why the phrase is so often bandied about with another PC icon: "day care". The two go together. You see, for decades now, feminists have pushed one very consistent message, that the only good woman is a woman in paid employment. For years now, motherhood and homemaking have been bagged by the feminists.

These ideologues may talk much about choice, but when it comes to home versus career, there is no choice: only the paid workforce is where women should be. And day care is the only place young children should be.

Many people have bought this line. Thus, for the first time in human history, perhaps the majority of young children are being raised by paid strangers in the day-care farms, instead of by their own parents, especially their own mothers.

Long-term day-care

I have written elsewhere about the many real negative effects of long-term day-care for young children. The social science data are quite clear about the harm toddlers experience when deprived of the maternal presence for large hunks of time. Indeed, the research shows that the more time spent in day care, and the younger the age in which babies and toddlers are put there, the more detrimental the consequences will be.

But the abandonment of babies is simply part of the price being paid when the feminist ideology takes hold, and masses of women are convinced that being a mother and a homemaker is a second-class occupation - or worse - and fulfilment and joy can only be found in the paid workforce.

So when the Rudd Labor Government drones on and on about working families, it only means one thing: mothers who are in the paid workforce.

The government does not mean families where one parent is in the paid workforce, while the other parent stays at home to mind the children. Thus, single-income families are the new pariahs in the eyes of federal Labor. They do not even appear on the radar screen.

All the attention - and all the money - is being devoted to the two-income families.

Thus, stay-at home mothers are the big losers here, and doubly so. Not only are they not getting government assistance to the same tune that paid working mothers are; they are foregoing a family second income so that their children can come first.

Even though these mothers are caring for their children every day, day-care subsidies go only to mothers who put their children into formal day care. Two-income families are getting all the financial breaks, while the single-income families are effectively being penalised for their choices.

Now there is certainly nothing wrong with mothers who want to have paid careers. That is their choice, and many of them want to get back to work as soon as possible after the birth of their child. But, the truth is, most do not. That is, most working mums with young kids are in the workforce by necessity, not by choice.

Economic pressure

Economic constraints - mortgages, paying off the bills, etc. - are the main reasons why so many young mothers are in the paid workforce.

Most would rather not be there, if a real choice were available to them. Survey after survey and poll after poll have made this clear. And the findings have been consistent.

Consider the newest data concerning this question. A survey of 15,000 Australian women found that the majority returned to paid work within 12 months of childbirth in order to pay the bills, not because they wanted to be there.

Indeed, a full 75 per cent said paying bills was the driving force behind returning to the paid workforce within a year.

Thus it seems that if the Labor Government were really concerned about working families, they would take note of what they want.

Most mothers do not want more government subsidies for institutionalised childcare to enable them to be in the paid workforce even more, and at ever earlier times after giving birth to children.

Most want to stay home with the youngsters for the first year or two, and would like the financial freedom to be able to choose that option.

So, instead of simply making things easier for just one group - two-income families - why not create a level playing-field in which real choice is available to all mothers, not just some?

Why not, for example, simply offer a child-care tax rebate or assistance package or voucher system to all mothers, and let them decide what they want to do with it?

Pay all mothers, and let them choose how that money will be used.

Some will use it for formal day care, and head straight back to paid work. Fine.

But many will use it as a supplementary income, so they can stay at home and provide the very best care that is available to their children: themselves.

Real choice would be fair, equitable and compassionate.

Lack of choice

But, at the moment, such choice is just not there for most mothers.

They are being forced back too early into the paid workforce simply because the government is beholden to the feminist agenda, and their understanding of what working families mean.

There are numerous other possible government initiatives that would be of genuine help to all families.

These would include various fiscal and tax policies, ranging from income-splitting to family unit taxation to a homemakers' allowance, and so on.

If the government is serious about helping families - and all families, not just some - then it should consider the cries of the majority of young mums who are a new stolen generation - stolen away from their own children because they are forced back into the paid workforce against their own wishes.

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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