August 12th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: In Vitro Fertilisation on demand?

Editorial: Will GST cut the black economy?

Canberra Observed: What’s behind the Carr for Canberra push?

Law: UN ruling used by local critics to hammer Howard Government

Economics: “Washington Consensus” risks derailment by grassroots opponents

The $7 Billion Minerals Grab: The fight for control of Australian mining

Family: Family-free family conference

Health: Health crisis obscured by ideology

Britain: Blair’s Britain: where discrimination is anything his wife says it is

Straws in the Wind

Bioethics: Gene therapy business: the tragic case of Jesse Gelsinger

Books promotion page

Family: Family-free family conference

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, August 12, 2000
Bill Muehlenberg, National Secretary of the Australian Family Association, attended the recent conference of the Australian Institute of Family Studies. This is what he saw.

The seventh biennial national conference of the Australian Institute of Family Studies was held in Sydney in late July. The AIFS, which was established as part of the Family Law Act 1975, began operations in 1980, roughly at the same time the Australian Family Association was formed.

The AIFS has been a mixed bag over the years. On many occasions it seems that it could more accurately be described as the “Institute of Feminist Studies”. For example, the Institute has issued a steady stream of literature questioning claims that divorce and extended child care can be damaging to children. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest just the opposite conclusions regarding both of these subjects, yet it is evidence that seems to be ignored by the AIFS.

Keynote speaker

As such, the conference proved to be more of the same. One of the keynote speakers was Carol Smart, a feminist legal theorist from the UK. She presented a paper extolling the benefits of divorce, arguing that for many people, children included, life after divorce was rewarding and exciting. People forged successful new relationships, and new ways of exploring family life were created.

This attempt to put a gloss on divorce not only reflected perfectly the long-standing line put forward by the Institute, but was readily received by most at the conference. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald (predictably) made it a page-one story the next morning.

The family conference, which was attended by about 300 people, was notable for its lack of real families. It appeared that the majority or those in attendance were social workers, bureaucrats, public servants or academics.

This may explain why the conference seemed to have so little family-friendliness about it. The other reason is the ideological bent of the AIFS, already referred to. Indeed, given its hostility to more traditional views of the family, it is somewhat surprising that a paper by the AFA was accepted for presentation.

The paper (on the historicity and universality of the family) was presented on the first day of the conference. I remarked to several people that day that it might be the most controversial paper presented (along with papers from a few other pro-family organisations). Most ironic, of course, since it was being presented at a “family” conference.

This proved to be the case. The questioners at the end of the presentation were mainly upset feminists, who objected to what they regarded as my judgmental and exclusivist remarks. Given that the paper simply surveyed the evidence of how normal and prevalent the natural family is, the response was surprising. Even the chair of the session concluded by saying, “Well, that was controversial to say the least”.

Such a reaction shows how far the intelligentsia has drifted from common sense in regard to the issues of marriage and family.

The handful of other presenters (from Endeavour Forum, the Festival of Light, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) found the going equally rough. For example, the Festival of Light paper (on the evidence for higher rates of child abuse occurring outside of intact two-parent families) received a very hostile reception, complete with boos and jeers.

The very angry reaction to those who sought to defend the traditional views about marriage and family highlights how far modern societies have drifted from rationality. Indeed, the conference even included a concurrent session on same-sex “marriages”. Delivered by Reg Graycar of the NSW Law Reform Commission, the paper argued for complete equality for homosexual relationships with normal heterosexual marriages.

This again should not be too surprising, since the most recent issue of Family Matters (the AIFS journal) carried a three-page opinion piece by Jenni Millibank of the University of Sydney Law Faculty on “Legal recognition of gay and lesbian families”.

In the article (which AIFS Director David Stanton called “interesting”) Ms Millibank argued that the natural family was based on “outdated moral codes” and that we need to broaden our definition of families. She said that people “are not simply born into families — they choose them”.

Given that the original charter of the AIFS was, among other things, to “promote marital and family stability”, one has to ask why the article appeared in the first place. Not only is this clearly not the kind of marriage envisaged by those drafting the original charter of the AIFS, it is clearly at odds with it. In fact, the charter of the Family Law Act and the AIFS recognises the “family as the natural and fundamental unit in society”.

The erosion of the institutions of marriage and family is well under way. Some might consider this a sign of progress. More likely, it indicates — as G.K. Chesterton once put it — “when common sense ceases to be common, a society is in terminal decay.”

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