Howard ignores the children

The federal cuts

Carmel Tebbutt

Recently the prime minister made one of his rare forays into child and family policy to urge "parents to take more responsibility for their children rather than expecting governments to provide all the answers". His comments were particularly in the context of young people who were troublesome or difficult.

On the face of it, a view hard to disagree with. In many ways a classic Howard approach - to make seemingly inoffensive comments that actually are all about presenting a view of the world that is totally at odds with the reality of many peoples lives. At the same time, shifting blame back on to the victim and seeking to absolve the government of any responsibility to actually provide the services and facilitate the type of communities that make it easier for parents to take responsibility.

It's particularly galling when considered in light of the fact that the federal government underspent its families tax benefit and child care benefit budget by $1billion last financial year. But then again this federal government has never worried too much about the gap between rhetoric and reality as long as fits with their goal of dividing the community in this case between the "good" parents and the "bad" parents.

Don't get me wrong, as the person responsible for Community Services, I fervently believe in importance of effective parenting and the difference it makes to a child's life. It is just that I also see on a daily basis the adversity in some people's lives and their lack of capacity to provide the time, attention and patience that children need to thrive. Lecturing a teenage mother living on the outskirts of Sydney with poor community support, a background of living in care herself, and often a violent partner on the need to take responsibility, is likely to do little to improve her capacity to raise her child.

And yet there is so much that the federal government could practically do to better support families particularly those vulnerable and living on the edge. And this brings to me the real point of my comments tonight.