Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Healing our fractured families

14 February 2014

peter-kurti Earlier this week, the UK's Daily Mirror reported that an eleven month old girl was mauled to death by a killer dog as she slept. The girl's 20 year old mother and her 26 year old boyfriend (the owner of the dog), were downstairs at the time of the attack, and have since been arrested for manslaughter.

The 24 year old father, who had split with the mother, was devastated. He said the girl's mother 'always told me that she would check with me before [the child] spent time round other men.'

Dangerous dogs are not the only threat to children. Sometimes the harm is meted out by those 'other' men themselves.

Studies of the incidence of child abuse show that children are at greater risk of harm when they do not live with both biological parents.

But as non-traditional family arrangements win broader social acceptance, there is an increasing reluctance to speak out about the dangers posed to children.

Patrick Parkinson, professor of law at the University of Sydney, reports that the ex-nuptial birth rate in Australia currently stands at an alarming 35% (up from around 6% in 1960). The figure for the UK is already 45%.

Approximately 27% of Australian children do not currently live with both natural parents (up from just 10% in 1960).

If that number continues to rise, faith in the traditional family structure will decline even more sharply.

Jeremy Sammut, research fellow at the CIS, cites US studies showing that children living with only one biological parent and a non-biological partner or boyfriend are many times more likely to experience sexual abuse.

But few pay attention to this issue. Broadening social acceptance of the non-traditional family means that the culture gradually embraces it.

According to Bettina Arndt, one problem is that so many people now influential in institutions like the ABC have themselves grown up in, or now live in, such arrangements.

Many of these influential people reject the traditions of family life and structure in the name of diversity. But they also refuse to face the devastating consequences of this moral disintegration.

Sammut calls it the 'new silence' which stems from the lasting influence on mainstream culture of the 1960s social revolution which fundamentally altered the social conventions governing marriage and the raising of children.

The social costs of refusing to break this new silence will continue to mount and children will continue to suffer.

We can do – and must do – much more to support children who are at risk.

It's time to heal our fractured families. We owe it to our kids.

Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Solutions are the problems for FGM

14 February 2014

jeremy-sammutFemale Genital Mutilation (FGM) is perhaps the most 'wicked' problem facing governments in multicultural Western societies because potential solutions raise more problems than answers.

The NSW government has decided to triple the penalties for those found guilty of mutilating young girls. Others suggest that the answer also lies with 'education campaigns for culturally diverse communities to enhance awareness of the increased penalties and the long-term health impacts on victims.'

Those who allow their daughters to be subjected to this barbaric practice believe their actions are sanctioned by their religious faith. Educating these people to forgo their faith, put the purity of their daughters at risk, and accept the secular norms of Australian society is a difficult sell.

People with traditional, faith-based cultural backgrounds are likely to resist the push to assimilate with the secular culture that prevails here and throughout other Western countries. In fact, our hyper-sexualised popular culture (think Miley Cyrus) may encourage them to insulate their families by sticking with their traditional cultural-religious beliefs and practices.

If punishment is an effective deterrent in proportion to the risk of detection, then we immediately strike another problem. Not only will the crime be detected too late to protect girls from mutilation, but we are unlikely to generate sufficient deterrent effect short of instituting compulsory genital inspections for girls of certain faiths and backgrounds.

Profiling of this kind would almost certainly be too difficult to reconcile with commitments to multiculturalism and non-discrimination. The reaction of radical Imams and the Muslim street to such an initiative would be 'interesting,' with potential ramifications both domestically and for Australia's overseas assets, particularly in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia.

Another option is a harm minimisation approach. Allowing doctors to perform a 'ritual nick' would be safer for the victims of FGM and preserve female sexual function. Medicalising the procedure might see it eradicated over time as communities adjusted to different notions of female sexuality. But it also risks institutionalising the practice and perpetuating cultural attitudes that are fundamentally incompatible with the mainstream notions of sex, feminism, personal integrity, and the rule of law. I doubt we are willing to end our own cultural and legal traditions to accommodate FGM under any circumstances.

We seem to be dealing with an irreconcilable cultural clash. If we can neither accommodate nor eradicate practices like FGM, this has implications for who we should accept as migrants and refugees. However, a non-discriminatory immigration policy is an article of bi-partisan national faith which would be extremely difficult to revise.

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

The truth about poverty - from a certain point of view

14 February 2014

matthew-taylor Adam Creighton, economics correspondent at The Australian, recently wrote of Australia's 'addiction to welfare' aided and abetted by a 'welfare lobby whose existence depends on maintaining the "poverty" charade.'

This drew a quick response from Dr Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of the Australian Council for Social Services (ACOSS), who published an opinion editorial reiterating statistics from an ACOSS report suggesting that Creighton was ignoring the 'real poverty faced by 2.2 million' Australians.

These poverty wars are happening against a political back-drop of a commission of audit into Commonwealth expenditure and a review into the Disability Support Pension and Newstart Allowance. The findings of these inquiries are yet to be handed down but it is likely that one or both will recommend reforms to income support policy.

According to David Hetherington, executive director of the progressive think-tank Per Capita, Creighton and others are involved in a 'creeping barrage … to distort the meaning of terms such as poverty … to allow them to be 'claimed' by the Abbott Government as it advances its agenda.' But whether one is distorting the meaning of poverty depends greatly upon your perspective as to what poverty is.  

Creighton argues that a household with an annual income of $28,600, made up of two-unemployed adults and two children, is not living in poverty because they would receive $37,190 in cash transfers from Centrelink. In Dr Goldie's view, this household would require at least $39,104 to escape poverty.

Creighton arrives at his poverty line by assessing whether this family could afford a 1973 basket of goods in today's prices. ACOSS arrives at theirs by comparing the income of this household to half of median household income after adjusting for household size. The former is often referred to as absolute poverty and the latter as relative poverty.

There has been a long running debate in Australian social policy – in which the CIS has been an important participant – as to the extent to which each should be a priority.

Critics of the absolute definition of poverty argue that the choice of a minimum basket of goods and services is inherently relative to the standard of living of the society at a particular point in time. This is true and in this sense the term absolute poverty is unfortunate. Nonetheless this approach involves a qualitatively different value judgement about what relative standard of living is required to escape poverty.

Creighton's specific choice of poverty line doesn't leave much room for a personal computer, an internet connection and other goods and services many would wish were within reach of all Australians in 2014. An absolute poverty line needs to be updated over time rather than frozen in 1973.

That said, it is disingenuous to accuse those who support the absolute view of poverty of distorting the meaning of poverty. To do so is to assert one's ideological perspective as fact and deny that there can – or should be – any debate.

Matthew Taylor is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.