It’s time we all listen to Indi

With the seat of Indi still too close to call it may well be that the role of children in same-sex relationships may have had some small bearing on the outcome. Sophie Mirabella, a Liberal Party frontbencher who headed into the election with a comfortable 9 point lead, has found herself in the fight of her life. Her competition, Cathy McGowan, is a popular local independent enjoying significant support in an election that generally saw a considerable swing to the Liberal Party. Now I am not a political pundit, and I am sure there are many factors at play that have led to this surprising result, but I can not look past the role that same-sex families may have played in the final days of the campaign.

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Photo from: http://www.cathymcgowan.com.au/

On the Wednesday before the election The Age reported on the distribution of offensive pamphlets in the seat of Indi. Let me make it clear at the outset, there is no evidence that these pamphlets were either the responsibility of, or supported by, the Liberal Party. The pamphlets portrayed young children with quotes such as, “I need my mum and dad.” They went on to urge voters to distribute their vote such that Cathy McGowan, among others, be preferenced last. The reason given in the pamphlet was that Ms McGowan is in favour of marriage equality. Sophie Mirabella has consistently and repeatedly emphasised her position that marriage should only be between a man and a woman and, as reported in The Age, she believes that marriage was “developed for the creation and raising of children.”

It is reassuring to think that perhaps our research is starting to gain significant traction in the community. Where previously these scare tactics might have boosted the conservative vote it seems that we might be moving into an era where the population as a whole understand that there are many valid and healthy ways to raise children. This evolution in public opinion is so important. As our research evolves we are seeing the negative impact that opinions such as those expressed in the unwelcome pamphlets can have on children with same-sex attracted parents. And while these children are in general developing well, a message that may finally be cutting through, the final remnants of negative outcomes could be taking their last gasps as local Australians embrace same-sex parent families, even if some politicians are slow to reflect this.

The coming days will bring a final result in Indi, but whoever triumphs one thing is certain. At least in this small corner of our country attempts to discriminate against, and vilify, same-sex attracted parents seem to have failed. It gives me hope that with the aid of our ongoing work same-sex parent families have a bright future. Perhaps Mr Abbott will realise this and allow a conscience vote the next time marriage equality comes up in parliament.

Come on Prime Minister, listen to Indi.

By Dr Simon R Crouch
Lead Investigator, The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families
http://www.achess.org.au

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Is marriage equality really that important this election? Just ask Russia.

Although the majority of Australians are in favour of marriage equality many would agree that it is not a high priority issue and that other aspects of policy should take centre stage. But when I vote tomorrow I will be certain that any candidates I mark with the number 1 are on the record as supporting same-sex marriage. OK, so I am perhaps more personally engaged in the debate than most, but it is important that we all contribute to the continued progress of social issues in our country.

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Just take a look at Russia. Recently this European country took a step backwards in terms of human rights when it passed legislation earlier this year that essentially banned any positive discussion of homosexuality in public. There has been a small but significant reaction to this step with some calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year, and high profile celebrities deciding to ‘come out’ and voice their dissent.

 But today reports are emerging that Russian lawmakers have drafted a bill that would see children being removed from parents based on a “nontraditional sexual orientation.” This outdated view, which suggests children need to be protected from exposure to homosexuality, has been lifted right out of the 1970s. Almost forty years ago some researchers tried to suggest that children with homosexual parents will themselves grow up with the same deviant sexuality and that this would be a very dangerous outcome. In fact, what forty years of research has shown is that kids with same-sex attracted parents are doing just fine, thank you very much. And the only thing that has any significant impact on their health and wellbeing is just the type of discrimination that Russian politicians are subjecting same-sex parent families to.

 Australia is at a crossroads. Our research is strengthening previous findings that kids with same-sex attracted parents are doing really well, but that they are adversely impacted by the perceived discrimination they feel when hearing the negative rhetoric that surrounds issues such as marriage equality. This is what drives my work. The ability to provide the all important, balanced evidence that policy makers can draw upon to inform essential debates in our society. Our work on child health in same-sex parent families is still in its infancy but already it has received attention around the globe as more and more countries seek to move on marriage equality. But equally we, the voters, need to understand the evidence as we go to the polls and decide who will lead our country in the coming years.

 This is why we need to move forward as a nation. This is not an issue that wears particular political colours – there are advocates and opponents on all sides. But for the sake of our children pay attention to where your first preference sits on the issue tomorrow. There are children in Russia with an uncertain future – let’s make sure we secure ours.

How voting for equity will make life better now and in the future

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This article was originally published on The Conversation.

With the upcoming election, we wanted to provide our perspective to the ongoing debate. This article outlines some of our key thoughts regarding pressing election issues.

The impending federal election provides a good opportunity to pause and ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in. The decision we make will impact both our lives and that of our children as they develop into adults and become tomorrow’s decision-makers.

At times, real policy messages can get lost in the noise of the election campaign and we are left thinking that the only rational option is to vote for selfish reasons.

But what if living in a society in which some of us are much better off than others is actually bad for all of us – even those of us who are most privileged?

The problem with inequality

There’s considerable evidence that more unequal societies have lower life expectancy and higher mortality rates; higher rates of stress and mental illness; more crime and higher imprisonment rates; and reduced quality of life.

This is not just because less egalitarian societies have more poor people, whose health and social outcomes pull down the average. Even the relatively wealthy in more unequal societies (such as the United States) do worse than others with similar levels of income living in societies with a more even spread of wealth (such as Scandinavian nations).

In Australia, rising average incomes over the last three decades have been accompanied by increases in inequality. Although polls suggest that voters’ greatest concern is the economy, research shows that beyond a certain level, increases in a country’s wealth are not associated with increased health, happiness or longevity for its people.

This is not only true for adults, a UNICEF report looking at the well-being of children in wealthy countries draws a similar picture.

This idea underpins much of our focus on inequalities within child public health research; social and economic inequalities will determine future economic status, educational achievement, and social inclusion of children.

So, what are the implications of an “equity lens” for considering the array of policies presented to us as the federal election looms? If inequality is bad for all of us, how should we weigh up the major parties’ offerings on disability support, paid parental leave, same-sex marriage, and asylum seekers?

Disability issues

Some policies appear to be moving in the right direction. DisabilityCare Australia (the National Disability Insurance Scheme) for example, is a significant policy that has bipartisan support.

At present, the level of support a person receives depends on the state in which they live, whether their disability is congenital or acquired, and how it is acquired.

When fully rolled out, DisabilityCare will result in funding being allocated directly to an individual or, in the case of children, their parents or legal guardians, to provide the support necessary to meet their needs.

While the implications for equity will ultimately be determined by how services are delivered, the policy ensures assistance for a far greater proportion of families dealing with disability.

Parental leave

Paid parental leave is an international indicator for child health and well-being. So how do the major parties’ schemes measure up?

Much of the Labor party’s criticism of the Coalition’s more “generous” plan to provide women on salaries of up to A$150,000 with 100% of their income for six months focuses on its affordability. Perhaps the more concerning issue is its impact on equity.

Many of the most disadvantaged families in our society – those with parents not in paid employment, or in insecure, low-paid, intermittent, or casual jobs – may be worse off than under current arrangements. This is particularly so if the baby bonus (the A$5,000 to which they are now entitled) is reduced or abolished to fund the new scheme.

If paid parental leave is intended to provide children with the best possible start in life, then surely we need to ensure that its provision does not widen the gap between rich and poor.

Same-sex marriage

Marriage equality is an area of contrast between the two major parties. Although the Labor party changed 85 pieces of federal legislation in 2008 to bring “equality” to same-sex parented families, the negative rhetoric and lack of leadership from both sides of politics (until Kevin Rudd’s very recent declaration of support for same-sex marriage) has a significant impact on same-sex attracted parents and their families.

In fact, stigma resulting from inequity is linked to poorer child health outcomes. Although children with same-sex attracted parents are generally doing well, a lack of equitable recognition by politicians is an ongoing source of disadvantage.

Asylum seekers

It can be difficult to keep up with the shifts in asylum seeker policy as the major parties vie with each other to be seen as the most “hardline” and more capable of “stopping the boats”.

Important human rights arguments and international legal obligations aside, what are the implications for global equity of reducing foreign aid to pay for ever more expensive policies of deterrence?

In the national context, we are spending billions of dollars annually on off-shore processing of refugees. The same amount of money could provide better and more productive settlement outcomes for many more refugees in Australia. And there would be funds left to contribute to high-quality government education, health care, and public transport for all of us.

We also now have policies whereby asylum seekers “lucky enough” to be living in our community rather than detained, are denied the right to work or be reunited with other members of their family. What kind of under-class are we creating, and how will the children growing up in those families experience the future?

Everybody’s business

Typically, concern with social justice is associated with the political left. And it appears to be something we’re all too ready to jettison for the supposed benefits of greater economic growth.

But if inequality is bad for all of us, then it’s actually in our own self interest to prevent it. And it certainly is in the interests of our children for us to consider the impact of policies on social equity when casting our votes this weekend.

Authors: Dr Karen Block, Dr Elise Davis, Prof Elizabeth Waters, Dr Lisa Gibbs & Dr Simon Crouch