ABC 774 Drive Program with Patricia Karvelas – 07 July, 2014

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mr Andrews welcome to the program.

MINISTER ANDREWS: Thank you Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Last week I heard a speech by Treasurer Joe Hockey in Melbourne and he said in that speech that people don’t want the Government in their lives, and the Abbott Government would get out. Now doesn’t your idea of relationship vouchers and intervening to stop divorce early run counter to the Government’s pledge to actually get out of people’s lives?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well the Government’s involved when divorce occurs whether we like it or not. We’re involved through the Family Court, we’re involved through providing significant amounts of welfare, particularly to parents where the relationship has broken down, they’re still caring for children. So the Government’s involved and my argument here is that if we’re going to be involved we should be involved at the end of trying to prevent this and involved in early intervention rather than just effectively helping to pick up the pieces.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is there a tension though of that blurred line between government involvement and you know letting people look after their own affairs?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well this allows people to look after their own affairs, this is entirely voluntary. We’re just saying that as a Government we believe relationships are important, the trauma of relationship breakdown is very significant for the individuals, it’s also an extremely costly process for the Government and for society generally, so yes you know there are tensions between where Government should draw the line but where this is entirely voluntary for individuals to be able to have some assistance, to do some marriage counselling or marriage education or parenting or the like. I think this is a useful thing.

PARTICIA KARVELAS: It’s Patricia Karvelas you’re listening to ABC Drive on 774 with the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews. Now Mr Andrews you’ve had 250 people, is that right, sign up for the counselling scheme so far?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I think it’s about 400 so far, according to the latest figures….

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Oh it’s gone up?

MINISTER ANDREWS: So we’re getting about up to 100 a day, each week day.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is that much, I mean we’ve got a pretty large population, does that really you know, it doesn’t really scratch the surface does it?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well this has been limited to 100,000 couples, so if we get you know a bit under 2000 a week that would use the 100,000 up within the year. So at the moment given it’s only been operational for a week, I think this is a very good start.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now the relationship counselling is not mean tested, how can you be sure it’s actually getting to the couples that are most at risk?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well the agencies that provide counselling and education generally have their own ways of advertising into different communities, but this is something we’re doing more broadly and it’s demand driven. So any couple who wants to avail themselves of this can simply go onto the website, register for it and then go off to a program of their choice. This is the big thing about this pilot and that is that for the first time it’s going to be demand driven, rather than one driven simply by the agencies themselves, and that in itself is an important part of this pilot.

PARTICIA KARVELAS: But Minister isn’t it sort of higher income couples, people who are really really savvy and understand the system who can game it say they know that this stuff is around they read the papers and are right across it and ultimately (inaudible) the system and get themselves some free counselling?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well they have to make a co-contribution but even on the early numbers of people who’ve registered there is a significant number of people who have less than year 12 or equivalent qualification, and then about an equivalent number would only have Year 12 qualifications. So at the moment it’s very early days and we’ll evaluate all of this and one of the things will be whether or not these sorts of programs tend to be used by sort of middle class couples rather than others. But at this stage very early days, but what figures we’ve got in indicate that people who have lower levels of education are taking up the programs.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: That’s interesting, so the figures actually reveal that this early on. We’re taking your calls on this issue too, do you think the government should be bankrolling early intervention and stopping divorce, family breakup through marriage counselling, 1300 222 774.

I’m talking now to the Social Services Minister. You’ve also announced over the weekend that you want to establish an expert panel on early intervention and you want it to examine strategies to lower the divorce rate. Why do we need a lower divorce rate?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well again because of the personal trauma to individuals concerned. We also know that children of divorce according to all the social science research, as a cohort, and I’m not talking about individual children now but as a cohort tend to do not as well in terms of their education, their employment outcomes even their health outcomes in many instances. So if we can help people, who may be able to reconcile their differences and keep their relationship together, particularly for children, then I believe that’s a good thing…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you have a sort of level in your own head or does the Department have some modelling about how much you’d like to reduce the divorce rate by? I mean what level are we at now and where do you want to land at?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I don’t Patricia, and the reality is that not much policy work has been done anywhere, including in Australia on this issue. Indeed there was very little social science research about the degree to which couples would like to reconcile their differences prior to the no-fault regimes being introduced about 40 years ago. There’s been some recent work done indicating that up to four in ten people in a divorce would like to reconcile their relationship and where both are concerned, the couple, maybe up to one in ten but generally that opportunity has not been available for them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you think that we need to reduce it, is there a certain level of divorce that you think is important or necessary to help couples that are in genuine trouble?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look I don’t have a figure in my head. I do know that, again, the Social Science Research people like Paul Amato who started his career at the Institute of Family Studies in Melbourne and is now at one of the major, Penn State University in America, he said and has shown and other studies around the world that a lot of divorces occur in low conflict marital situations and they tend to be worse for the children than where children are used to their parents, or accustomed to their parents being in high conflict and therefore kind of understand that a divorce might be an outcome of that. So there’s been a lot of social science research, I don’t have a figure, but I do know that you know there are many people who would like to be able to reconcile their relationship if it’s possible. There will always be divorce, there will always be certain levels of it, but if we could reduce it a bit I think it would be a good thing.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now on another issue, your plan to deny people under 30 the dole for six months is unlikely to pass the Senate in its current form given the sort of comments from Clive Palmer and Senators and other cross benchers. Would you negotiate to decrease the number of months young people are denied the dole perhaps one month as they do in New Zealand?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well, we’ll put this to the Senate Patricia, and we’ll see then what the other parties and the Independents in the Senate have to say about it obviously…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are you open minded though about the time frame cause perhaps it may be negotiable, reducing the time because six months is a long time.

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well we will see what they say. As you say in New Zealand everybody faces a one month delay before they can go on benefits, that’s a different system to what operates in Australia. But I mean my door is open if the independents or the minor parties want to come and talk about it then obviously we’ll talk about it but at the moment we’ve got a proposition which we’re putting to the Senate.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now Minister I know it’s not your portfolio, but the Minister for Immigration has revealed Australia has handed 41 asylum seekers back to Sri Lankan authorities during a transfer at sea. Is it time now that the government reveal the fates of the other refugee boats identified in recent weeks?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well that’s a matter for the Immigration Minister as you allude to and for…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think transparency on this given the public right to know is growing?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well there is transparency in terms of the 41 that have been transferred and I’m sure the Government and the Minister will report if there are any other such transfers occur in the future. So the public are being brought up to date but Operation Sovereign Borders is operated on the basis of operational knowledge, which doesn’t necessarily need to be fed out to the Australian public day by day. It’s important for our security; it’s important in terms of stopping the boats that we do this effectively and not telegraph to the people smugglers what we’re doing on an hourly basis.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister thanks so much for joining us on 774 Drive.

MINISTER ANDREWS: My pleasure Patricia.