January 12th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Eyewitness in East Timor

Editorial: Population - time for a new approach

Canberra Observed: Howard understands ALP better than it knows itself

Straws in the Wind: Cries for help / Political terrorism / Opium of the children

Public policy and the family

Books: Demons and Democrats - Re-evaluating Labor's disastrous 'Splits'

Media - Selective indignation / Ideological consistency

US welfare cuts coming home to roost?

Trade: Debt will return to haunt us

The search for meaning

Books: Don't despair: 'The Skeptical Environmentalist', by Bjorn Lomborg

'Queen Victoria: A Personal History', by Christopher Hibbert

Books promotion page

Public policy and the family

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, January 12, 2002

In a society that has almost given up on families, it is both surprising and refreshing to see a new volume dedicated to the defence of the institutions of marriage and family. Even though it began as a free-market think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) has grown to incorporate the "Taking Children Seriously" research program, which has produced several fine studies, including this one.

Barry Maley’s new book Family and Marriage charts the family’s deterioration, looks at reasons for the decline, examines many of the myths involved, and makes proposals for turning things around. It has meaty chapters on such topics as the 1960s cultural revolution, feminism and its impact, the child-care debate, families and taxation policy, divorce and its consequences, and reform of public policy in regards to the family.

For those who have been involved in pro-family activities over the years, there is not too much new material to be found here. And for those who have read with interest several of Maley’s earlier works, again one will find little new material. Some of the same proposals made in earlier books can be found here. Several of them can be examined in more detail.

For example, in his 1992 volume, Marriage, Divorce and Family Justice, Maley explored the idea of a child tax rebate/credit. He proposed that all family support schemes be replaced with a child tax credit. This would allow parents to choose how they spend such funds, instead of governments mandating where it goes to (e.g. formal day-care).

In this volume he continues this theme, although he proposes the yearly amount per child be raised from the $2,000 he suggested in 1992 to $4,000. He argues that if the figure were $3,000 per annum per child, the total cost to government would be about $15 billion. He says that this is about what the current child support and day-care programs now cost the Government. But he believes the $3,000 figure may not be enough, so he opts instead for the $4,000 figure.

In the previous volume he also argued for a new understanding of divorce and fault. He said then that fault should not enter into discussions about whether a divorce takes place, but only in discussions of settlement. He said then that divorce should be readily available, but there should be a cost associated with the broken promises (breach of contract, if you will).

In this volume he raises this matter again, arguing much the same line: "I am not moving towards a recommendation to reintroduce misconduct or ‘fault’ in these respects as a necessary ground for allowing a divorce to take place; but there are good reasons … for allowing fault to figure in determining the terms of a divorce settlement" (p. 171). He does go on to say, however, that divorce on demand should not be allowed, arguing for the social and ethical importance of the marriage vows.

Several new recommendations are offered. In particular, he argues that "there is a strong case for privileging the married state in the law and public policy and for ending or recasting policies that remove disincentives for divorce, separation and single parenting with their huge financial costs and contra-indications for children" (p. 194). So far, so good. But he then proceeds down an avenue which seems to mitigate against all this.

He argues that "whenever an unmarried, cohabiting couple have a child they could perhaps be treated immediately upon the birth of the child as a ‘common law’ couple for the purposes of family law, and be the subjects of all the privileges and responsibilities of family law, as well as the taxation privileges I am recommending in respect of children" (p. 195).

It is hard to understand how marriage can be seen as distinct from, and superior to, cohabitation, when Maley in effect equates the two with this recommendation. He addresses this issue later, but fails to properly answer his own question: "Does this mean that, rather than raising the status and dignity of marriage, I am diminishing it? I don’t think so" (p. 203). He goes on to justify his response, but it does not seem to work.

This is all especially curious, as he earlier bewails the conflation of the two: "The consequence [of changed government policies] has been to bring de facto relationships closer to marriage at the same time as the status of marriage is brought closer to an informal relationship" (p. 166). But by granting de facto couples with children all the privileges and bonuses of married couples, he seems to be doing just that. He seems to be adding to the problem, not taking away from it.

Nonetheless, it is pleasing to see the CIS persist with its children’s project, coming out with some very helpful materials. Along with Maley’s work, helpful studies have also been produced by Lucy Sullivan and Jennifer Buckingham. Thus the CIS is moving more into a pro-family direction for which we can all be grateful.

And the truth is, very little pro-family work is being done around the country lately. Except for some older work by Alan Tapper, and of course the on-going work of the AFA, there is not much good pro-family research being undertaken. Thus we all can be grateful to the CIS and Barry Maley for this helpful new work. May it result in many more.

  • Bill Muehlenberg

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