Family First Gives PM a Wake-Up Call On Family Law Reform

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The Australian government, having secured control of both houses of parliament at the last election, has a unique opportunity to support a family law amendment tabled by the Family First party that will for the first time in this country's history guarantee a child's right to an equal relationship with both its parents. But if the government bows to the highly organised vested interest groups opposed to the change, children will not only be the losers. The government in Australia will also lose one of its strongest support bases - fathers.

presumption of equal parenting time

Only a matter of two and a half years ago, Prime Minister John Howard was considered by many as the patron saint in waiting for long suffering non-custodial fathers and children of separated families, having promised Australia 'genuine' change to the universally condemned "one size fits all" Family Law system.

But all the promise and all the hopes have since disappeared with the realisation that the proposed Family Law Amendment Bill (to be debated in the Senate this week), a Bill that had been sold to fathers as the law that would finally make Shared Residence the 'norm' in Australia, was simply re-packaged legislation that has an international track record of failing fathers, failing children, and failing separated families.(1)

Despite taking control of both houses of parliament at the last election in no small part due to the unprecedented levels of support from traditional blue-collar, Labor voting fathers, fathers have continued to rally behind Howard despite controversial anti-family workplace policies, because Howard was perceived as the only political leader who showed any interest in righting the wrongs in family law.

Until last Friday that is.

On Friday, 24th March, 2006, Steve Fielding, Senator for Family First, indicated that he would table a desperately needed amendment to the current Family Law Bill to include a 'presumption of equal parenting time', as a starting point for child custody arrangements.(2)

With the government controlling both houses of parliament, an Australian public overwhelmingly in support of Equal Parenting Time after separation,(3) and a majority of Senators and MPs confirming that given the option, they would vote for an amendment to the Family Law Amendment Bill for a "presumption of equal parenting time",(4) fathers are now openly stating that if the Family First amendment fails in the Senate, they will be holding one man personally responsible for it. The Prime Minister!

With new punitive workplace reforms starting this week placing further pressure on fathers in particular to work longer hours and spend less time with their families, and with the passing of an flawedinsufficient Family Law Bill that would continue to allow the Family Court to punish fathers who work longer hours by robbing them of their children, the Prime Minister's legacy will not be one of a patron saint for families, but that of a home-wrecker!

And at the next federal election, fathers will finally have a legitimate option at the ballot. The Prime Minister will no longer be able to take father's votes for granted.

Whether it succeeds or fails, the Family First amendment to the Family Law Bill will have a resounding impact, and not simply on the families going through separation, but in the minds of every parent and grand-parent come election time.

If hundreds of phone-calls and over 170,000 emails from desperate fathers, mothers and grandparents is not enough to convince the Howard government to support the Family First amendment for a presumption of equal parenting time as a starting point (not necessarily an outcome) to child custody arrangements, not only will children lose an opportunity to be raised and nurtured by both a mother and a father, but the Coalition government in Australia will also lose one of its strongest support bases - fathers.

References:

(1) Proposed child custody bill raises passions

http://www.wcfcourier.com/articles/2006/03/20/news/top_story/b0eb97f7fa83bec28625713600176355.txt

(2) Family First to table amendment for Presumption of Equal Parenting Time

http://www.fathers4equality-australia.org/equalparenting%5Cfathers4equality.nsf/pages/FamilyFirstDissentingReport
http://www.familyfirst.org.au

(3) Australians Overwhelmingly Support Equal Parenting

http://www.fathers4equality-australia.org/equalparenting/fathers4equality.nsf/pages/publicopinion

(4) Fathers4Equality - voting intentions in the event of an amendment for a presumption of equal parenting time (2005).

http://www.fathers4equality-australia.org/equalparenting/fathers4equality.nsf/pages/F4EEPTSurvey

(5) Family First Amendment to the Family Law Bill (2005)

http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/view_document.aspx?ID=2201&TABLE=AMEND

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Ash Patil
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