It's not just money families need


It is a week after an election that was strongly focussed on securing the ‘family vote’ and families have dropped from the agenda entirely.

The post-election wash has offered the ‘what went wrong for Labor’ analysis and discussions about ‘where-to-from here for the government’. With a possible senate majority Howard’s agenda has turned to industrial relations, media ownership and the sale of Telstra, while the media ponders what will happen to interest rates.

Families are left with a black hole when it comes to their concerns about childcare, health and their prospects of permanent full-time employment. For families it is a familiar cycle, and perhaps one that we deserve.

No doubt, this election has proved we are in the middle of an era of self-interest. An era when what matters is our finances, our mortgage and what we as individuals can get out of government policy. We are continually sold the importance of economic prosperity by government at all levels. Yet, while governments continue to promote shrewd budget management, few families know what it is to run a surplus budget. We’ve re-financed our mortgages and extended our credit lines to the point where we are more in debt than ever before. Statistically, every Australian owes $19,000 dollars, but families who have bought into the housing boom owe significantly more. It is not a wonder that we’ve re-elected a government which claims to be able to keep our repayments as low as possible. In doing so, families have demonstrated where their concerns really lie.

Politicians on all sides are now talking economics more than ever. Clearly, Australians have mandated that this be the case. Labor is listening, all the frontbench heavies are claiming they need to be stronger presenting their economic credentials. We don’t want interest rates to rise, and seem prepared to listen to the discussion about it ad nauseam.

On Election Day families voted from their hip pockets. Obviously, the fear of not having enough money to satisfy our consumption urges is strong. We don’t want interest rates to rise because many of us know that at our current standard of living we can’t afford them. This obsession we have with linking material wealth to our happiness and wellbeing is well documented and regarded by many social commentators as highly dysfunctional. Consequently, we are now missing out on what families really need.

Under the Howard government families can expect less secure employment through proposed industrial relations laws. They can expect Telstra to be privatised and the monthly phone bill to rise as a result. There will be no extra childcare places, but greater pressure for mothers to return to work as household costs continue to rise out of step with wage increases.

I fear Australian families are too distracted. We are caught up in the economic hype and the false offerings of happiness via consumption, when really we just miss our kids. We feel guilty about working so much that we appease our guilt by catering to our children’s consumption desires. Our children don’t need the latest DVDs and MP3 players. They don’t need us to pay their mobile phone bills. Hell, fifteen years ago no-one needed mobile phones.

Children need their parents’ guidance and presence. They need them to be there to help them take their first steps and develop their first words. They need them to be there when they come home from a bad day at school. They need a warm bed and good food. It doesn’t matter if the bed is in a house that has increased fifty percent in value this year; or if the food is cooked on a new stainless steel stove. Most important are the cuddles and the home cooked meals.

Families desperately need a type of leadership from government that is not forth coming. We don’t want to feel guilty for calling in sick on our child’s birthday. We want to be able to spend one day a week helping with reading, going on school excursions or cutting the fruit at kindergarten. We want permission to work less, to spend less and just go out and play in the backyard.

Supporting families actually has very little to do with money. And, families before everyone else have to realise this.

Families can survive financial crisis. Just ask your grandparents. Many families have faced that demon. But, families can’t thrive with over-worked and tired parents who haven’t got the energy to play with their kids because they are too stressed. The government may know how to manage an economy. But, supporting families requires a whole new way of thinking. Let’s hope it hasn’t dropped off the agenda completely.

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