Australia Urged To Treat Families the Swedish Way

Australia has been asked to respond to a United Nations program, the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children. Called the Program of Action, Australia’s response is to be developed from three sources: Federal Government ministries; States and Territories; and non-government organisations.

The Australian Family Association was one of the NGO’s invited to three consultations chaired by Dr Don Edgar and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Areas of concern which the AFA expressed over the UN program (and the Australian response) included the following: acceptance of the flawed UN Convention of the Rights of the Child; lack of clarity as to the definition of the family (are three gay men living together to be regarded as a family?); the refusal to even mention the most serious threat to the well-being of a child: abortion; and the overemphasis on government solutions to family problems, as opposed to granting families the ability (and financial means) to help themselves.

Perhaps most disconcerting however was the general acceptance of the notion, pushed by Dr Edgar, that the Scandinavian model – especially the Swedish example – should be emulated by Australia. For anyone familiar with Swedish social policy of the last three decades, such advice must sound incredulous.

From about 1965, Swedish socialists, pressured by feminists led by Alva Myrdal, initiated a series of policies designed to establish the careerist woman as the national standard and incapacitate the woman who tries to care for her own children. Declaring the home-maker to be “a dying race,” economic and legal measures were enacted which steadily undermined the nuclear family.

Special protections afforded women in marriage were removed. The joint tax return for a married couple was eliminated, for example. Marginal income tax rates were increased to nearly 100 per cent, making it all but impossible to support a family on one income.

Maternal care of preschool children was also altered to favour the working woman at the expense of the traditional home-maker. Housing and tax benefits were curtailed if families chose to care for their children, instead of placing them in day care centres.

These and other government policies have produced disastrous results for the nuclear family. By 1984 the official “poverty line” for a family of four was approximately 40 per cent above the average annual wage. As a result only the rich could maintain a family on one income. Sweden today has the smallest percentage of full-time housewives – around 10 per cent – of any Western nation. For most of the population the male role as principal provider was effectively abolished. This policy, as one commentator has noted, “resulted not in more egalitarian marriages, but in the obsolescence of marriage itself”.

Indeed, the marriage rate in Sweden fell to the lowest level ever recorded in world demographic data. The rate of nonmarital cohabitation, or consensual unions, outranks that of all other advanced nations. Not only did the rate of illegitimacy rise to over 50 per cent of all live births, but the birthrate fell to a point 40 per cent below the replacement rate required to maintain zero population growth.

Moreover, despite the world’s most ambitious sex education and family planning program, and despite the widespread issuance of free contraceptives, the abortion rate has soared during this period.

Sweden’s child care system became increasingly totalitarian, with children wrestled from parents for the slightest reason. Directed to “promote a favourable development of the young,” some social workers have slapped custody orders on children who simply seemed withdrawn at school, or whose parents had untidy kitchens! The result has been some 16,000 children removed from their families to government care – most of them by force.

In addition to the devastating effects these policies have had on the family, the economy – as is well known – has also suffered severely. So much so in fact that the long standing Social Democrats were thrown out of office at the September 15 elections of last year. The new conservative Prime Minister Carl Bildt has boasted that the Swedish model of socialism has been consigned to “the scrapheap of history.”

Clearly the Swedish model is the last example Australia should consider if it is concerned about children in particular and the family in general. The welfare state, with its cradle to grave provisions, tends not so much to assist families as to replace them. The Australian government should be more involved in the family – but by empowering the family to help itself, not by supplanting the family and taking over its functions.

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