Address at the Launch of National Families Week – 15 May, 2014

Thank you Brian for that kind introduction.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was delighted to be invited today to tour this facility; a facility that’s so aptly named.

“Only About Children” really says it all.

Families exist at the very core of our society – at the heart of our communities – and they serve to nurture our next generations and to instil in our children the values we hold so dear.

It’s within family that we find the stability that allows us to grow as human beings; to learn about responsibility and to understand the importance of community.

And it’s within family that we find a respite from a world that can be challenging and confronting.

Importantly, stable and happy relationships are vital for individual and family wellbeing.

Happy families are also the essential components of strong and healthy communities.

That’s why the theme of this year’s Families Week: “Stronger Families Stronger Communities” is particularly pertinent.

Academic research on this issue has reached conclusions that are unequivocal.

Yet families can also be fragile.

Relationship breakdown can have a devastating impact on individuals that may be transmitted from generation to generation.

The financial cost of family breakdown to the Australian economy is considerable, estimated by a Parliamentary Committee at more than $3 billion each year.

When indirect costs are added to the calculation, the total is doubled to an estimated $6 billion per year.

The Howard Government’s Family Relationship Centres were an initiative designed to help couples and families solve their problems in an informal and supportive way. Initiatives such as these helped many families stay together where otherwise, without the right support, they wouldn’t have.

The emotional distress inflicted by divorce and separation breakdown can be destructive.

Therefore, doing what we can to support healthy and enduring relationships makes great social and economic sense.

This is why the Australian Government is committed to strengthening families through strengthening relationships.

Relationship education and counselling have been shown to help people improve their communication and conflict resolution skills.

These services don’t just help couples to work through problems that have already developed; they also equip couples with the skills needed to de-escalate issues and problems at the early stages.

This is the rationale that underpins the Government’s decision to implement the Stronger Relationships trial from 1 July this year.

This 12-month trial will provide up to 100,000 couples with vouchers redeemable for a range of relationship-education related services.

In weighing the potential benefits of this programme one need only reconsider the Parliamentary Committee estimate of an annual $3 billion cost from family breakdown in Australia.

This sum includes very expensive Family Court Proceedings, child support, welfare payments and other social services. Importantly, avoiding conflict, or helping couples resolve problems avoids entry to the adversarial legal system, where the practitioners is not as much

Now let’s divide that sum by the roughly 50,000 family breakdowns that occur each year in Australia.

That back-of-the-envelope calculation tells us that each family breakdown costs some $60,000 – and more if indirect costs are taken into account.

And on that basis, it quickly becomes clear that if our trial relationship voucher programme is to earn its keep, it would only have to prevent 334 relationship breakdowns or lead a similar number of couples to conclude before marriage that they aren’t really suited.

334 out of 100,000 equates to about one third of one per cent. So if this trial manages to be successful at least 0.334 per cent of the time, it will pay for itself.

A recent study commissioned by the British Department of Education showed that, taxpayers reap eleven million pounds in savings on services for each one million pounds spent on marriage education and counselling.

That’s why I’m optimistic our Stronger Relationships voucher trial can reap similar benefits here in Australia.

The Government is also working to strengthening families through the Family Support sector.

In this week’s Budget we announced the extension of grant programmes that deliver important support to Australian families.

The Government has delivered on its commitment to cut red tape and make life easier for civil society. Our new approach to grants includes new five-year agreements for Family and Relationship Services, Family Law Services and Communities for Children Facilitating Partners.

Importantly, the Government’s underpinning objective is to help Australian families build healthy relationships that benefit both the individuals involved and the community at large.

Our changes to administrative and reporting requirements will also mean service providers will be able to spend less time on paper work and more time delivering outcomes.

One of the main themes of these reshaped programmes is their emphasis on early intervention.

This proactive focus complements our Stronger Relationships trial in aiming to provide assistance at the earliest possible point after problems begin to appear.

We are also increasing the use of evidence-based practice in our services, providing the flexibility for services to work collaboratively in a manner that encourages and promotes innovation.

The Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme will commence on 1 July 2015 and will mark a watershed moment for Australian families, Australian working mums and Australian women.

Our scheme focuses on helping women to care for their new child and to spend time with their new baby before returning to the workforce. Importantly, we want to ensure parents aren’t disadvantaged for spending time with their new baby.

That’s why Paid Parental Leave should be treated in the same way as Annual Leave, or Sick Leave – it should be paid as a workplace entitlement, linked to a women’s salary.

Our scheme, with a capped salary, will ensure working women are paid whilst on paid parental leave at their actual wage, because things like mortgages and household expenses don’t change just because a woman has had a baby and is not at work.

The World Health Organization has identified 26 weeks as the minimum period of exclusive care for optimal maternal and child health outcomes.

As the Productivity Commission noted, the health gains from paid parental leave do not only benefit families.

Critically, keeping mothers engaged in the workforce will have economic benefits for our entire nation.

This is an exciting time for family policy in Australia.

The new Stronger Relationships trial and our Paid Parental Leave scheme are important initiatives that the Government is committed to delivering.

National Families Week has assisted in enhancing the capacities of hundreds of local community organisations by encouraging them to engage in community events.

These events are shining a light the core unit within modern society – the family.

It is a great pleasure to officially launch National Families Week.