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Marc My Words: The NZ Family R.I.P.

Marc My Words… 4 August 2006
Political comment
Marc Alexander

The NZ Family 1999-2006 R.I.P.

The last seven years have not been good for the Kiwi family. Despite huge budget surpluses, increasing employment opportunities and the creation of yet another bureaucracy supposedly aimed at helping families, the prognosis for our bedrock institution is far from rosy. The sad reality is that there has been an unprecedented attack on the family to the detriment of our shared future. Unfortunately the full consequences won't be obvious until much later as the intergenerational impact is unfolds. It is no accident for example, that the rise in social indicators of crime and violence, welfare dependency, falls in educational outcomes, breakdown of community cohesiveness, increasing youth and senior citizen suicides coincided with policies back in the seventies which undermined the traditional modus operandi of families. While many of the policies were brought in for the best of reasons the same excuse cannot be said for the last seven years.

Much of the recent assault has been through a subterfuge calculated to undermine the status and value of marriage by affording every other form of relationship as of equal worth. Supporting such diversity without discernment however, is no more than an elevation of unequal and contrary alternatives without consideration of worthiness. What we have seen is the devaluing of the nature and purpose of family by a government that is inexorably supporting all relationships irrespective of their merits in sustaining our historical traditions and culture. It is one thing to give help to those who need a feasible way out of damaging relationships - particularly when children may be involved - but it is something else again to dock the economically viable family structure simply to subsidies less resilient relationships, presenting them as similarly valid. For a start, there will be no end for the need to further subsidise them, in part because their economic consequences will be hidden by a process that will, in itself, undermine the economic viability of the traditional family.

The real reason why the present Labour government loathes the institution of marriage is because it competes with it. Traditional families always were the primary socializing agency whereupon the lifelong welfare (in its truest meaning) of each individual relied. Family incorporated parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even close friends. Who didn't have an unrelated but much loved family friend referred to as Auntie?

Family was the foundation of community. Prior to the advent of government contrived social security agencies, the family took care of itself. And those which couldn't relied upon their community.

During times of particular hardships, some families benefited from non-government charitable organizations which acted from a sense of civic duty and social obligation. It is an indictment upon our present times that such an ethical responsibility to society has been all but forgotten under the so-called progressive welfarism of successive governments. It's last dying gasps are still with us in the many wonderful community organizations still trying to do what governments cannot: give community its sense of spirit and cohesion. The trade-off however has been an unmitigated disaster: the rising tide of government intrusions into our lives has accompanied a corresponding decrease in our collective ethical considerations towards our social obligations.

Not long ago we had every incentive to look after our families. Our emotional as well as financial well-being depended on it. We cared well for our children and our parents knowing that in due course we ourselves would be cared by them. Abusing either implied consequences that directly affected us. So too we did our bit to help neighbors and our wider community seeing our obligations as a fair exchange for the benefits which outweighed them. Having good values meant reciprocity of compassion and kindness in discharging our civic duties. Quite simply you took care of those who in turn would take care of you. We had a direct vested interest in being good citizens.

Government stepped in and changed all that. In return for voter loyalty it no longer mattered how you treated your family or your community - you were looked after regardless. Gratitude for individual compassion slowly gave way to a sense of entitlement and with it, the ethical nature of responsibility ebbed. Parents no longer needed to do their best for children because no longer did their future depend on it. Neither did they have need of the cohesion of their community. Government soon entrenched itself into the very fabric of individual, family and community relations providing perverse incentives to look upon it as the main arbiter of how life would run its course. No longer were we dependant on our families and communities but now the government. Through its welfare agencies dependence eroded the strength of families and in so doing destroyed the culture of social responsibility just as it has the ethic of work for reward.

I suppose it’s a fair question to ask why this Labour government should shoulder much of the responsibility. After all, it came to the Treasury benches in 1999 inheriting much of the welfare policies cumulatively responsible for the processes outlined above. While much of the damage to our social foundation was well underway before 1999, the years since have seen an unprecedented onslaught embedding and extending policies that have redefined the nature of family and entombing its traditional purpose into oblivion.

We rid the notion of culpability in a marriage failure as though it doesn't matter. It does. While we shouldn't drag every personal failing into the light of public scrutiny, the conduct of individuals actually does have bearing on who is awarded custody of the children or how the material worth of the union is to be divided. How can it not? The alternative is to absolve responsibility for our own actions, and no interaction should ever escape that.

Families provide stability and to argue, as some have, that form and function can somehow be pried apart - that they can be mutually exclusive concepts - is to argue that kiwis can fly at least in principle. It is a nonsense worthy of the likes of the Labour frontbench academics. Not all mothers or fathers are born equal, and some shouldn't be, but one thing is clear: no government can ever hope to replace their roles. Parenting should never be left up to the legislative discretion of a Labour Party elite that eschews having children themselves. Committees can never replace the flesh and blood realities of childrearing.

In the last seven years more families than ever before accept handouts from the government. Calling Working for Families a targeted tax break is disingenuous precisely because it does not relate to work effort but governments largesse to reward certain families above others. In at least one way it pays those families with the most future voters in that income bracket. It is a cynical deceit whereby a decreasing population is proportionately required to contribute to an increasing proportion of dependant Labour voters. Small wonder so many are flying across the Tasman.

The stratagem of denying the material consequences of marriage, and the obfuscation of its form by advancing unsustainable alternatives places the indulgent desires of reckless adults ahead of the contribution of family; an institution which has protected society against the worst excesses of governments. We now have one in four children born out of wedlock as a result. Can we really be surprised at the social costs? Kids with little appreciation of what a family is? The rising deficiencies in social integration, cohesiveness, and purposefulness? This Labour government has exceeded all its previous incarnations in subsidizing family breakdown (the abuses of the Independent Youth Benefit for example). Or what about Minister of Courts Rick Barker who announced a plan to spend $6 million on a new initiative called 'How to Help Your Kids When You Separate'? It is all an admission of failure.

The family has always been a target of Labour socialists specifically because it promotes resilience, self-reliance and shuns the encroaching power of the state. The family has throughout history been a repository and incubator of individual freedom - and that is something the present government is ideologically opposed to. After all, how could any government compete in imparting its vision on those who have the strength and capability of forging their own?

And that's what it's really all about.


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