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Muriel Newman's Column: Anti-Family Zealots

Dr Muriel Newman, MP - The Column
Anti-Family Zealots
4th December 2003

This week….

Did the Labour Party really campaign on destroying the family, marginalising fathers, trivialising winning, and crushing ambition?

Recent claims by the Minister of Social Welfare that “I know of no social science that says a nuclear family is more successful than other kinds” flies in the face of a plethora of evidence. That evidence includes two research papers published last year by the government’s own social policy agency, which conclude that sole parenthood is a risk factor for children.

While many sole parents undoubtedly do a wonderful job of raising their children under difficult circumstances, on the balance of probability such families face greater challenges than two parent families.

Back in 1987, Professor David Fergusson of the Christchurch School of Medicine - founder of the Christchurch Development Study which has followed a cohort of 1265 children since 1977 - warned policy makers “to be cautious about accepting enthusiastic claims about the desirability of alternative family structure until the validity or otherwise of these structures has been assessed on the basis of carefully collected empirical evidence”. He went on to explain that “the dismal statistics emerging from this longitudinal study tend to suggest that this enthusiasm may have been premature or misplaced…While the traditional nuclear family may have limitations as a child-rearing institution, it is open to very serious debate as to whether the alternative of short-term family structures which involve successive transitions between single parent and two parent families will prove to be as effective as a child-rearing institution”.

The study identified cohabitation as the foremost risk factor for the breakdown of a child’s family: 44 percent of de-facto couples separated within five years compared to 11 per cent of married couples.

As early as 1977 - just after Labour had introduced its incentive to break up the family, the domestic purposes benefit - the Domestic Purposes Benefit Review Committee warned that “illegitimate children who were neither adopted nor legitimised were more likely to appear before a court for misconduct and … because of parental inadequacy … are vastly over-represented in the population of state wards”.

In its post-election briefing papers in 1996, the Department of Social Welfare acknowledged that risk factors in children’s development had been at statistically high levels for two decades, with unemployment, benefit dependence, and instability in family structure being identified as key. Sole parenthood has been recognised as the strongest predictor of infant mortality, childhood injury and hospitalisation. Children from backgrounds of family disruption are the major victims of physical, emotional and sexual child abuse, as well as neglect, their school performance is often poor, and they are more than twice as likely to be expelled or suspended.

A 1999 study of some 500 youth files held by the Christchurch Police showed that by far the majority of offences were committed by youngsters who lived in disrupted homes without adequate supervision, effective discipline or emotional support. New Zealand’s unacceptably high rates of youth suicide and teenage pregnancy have also been associated with family instability.

In comparison, marriage brings stability, order and security into people’s lives. With two parents to love, guide and supervise them, children are less likely to drop out of school, get involved in substance abuse, fall pregnant, contemplate suicide, or become involved in crime. They are also protected against poverty since two parents sharing incomes, costs and resources are usually better off than single parents.

Marriage plays a vital role in engaging men in fatherhood, connecting them with their children, and encouraging them to take a hands-on role in socialising their sons. With a growing amount of local research showing just how important it is for boys to have a strong relationship with their father, the Government’s anti-family agenda – which by its very nature attacks, undermines and discourages fatherhood – is now striking a blow at the very heart of our society.

New Zealand has always been a nation of strong achievers, a ‘can-do’ country where people are not afraid to have a go. As a result of that go-getting pioneering spirit, we now have a stunning record of world-class accomplishments in the arts, science, business, sport and many other walks of life.

But things are now changing. Our society is being dominated by a politically correct culture of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘participation’, where winning is regarded almost as evil and success as greed. We appear to have been ambushed by a group of women rulers whose obsession with their radical feminist ideology is threatening the very nature of our once proud society.

Under their influence, men are treated as superfluous and marginalised. As a result, we may as well kiss goodbye to future iconic achievements – like our performance in the Rugby World Cup and the America’s Cup, winning will be relegated to New Zealand’s wastebasket of history.

I don’t believe New Zealanders voted for this government’s damaging agenda and I certainly don’t recall the Labour Party campaigning on destroying the family, marginalising fathers, trivialising winning, or crushing ambition. Nor do I think it’s a path that Kiwi voters really want to go down.

Do you or your friends think this Labour Government is on the right path – why not let me know?

- Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

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