Time For a Rethink on the AIFS

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), which was established as part of the Family Law Act 1975, began operations in 1980. It was meant, according to its original charter, to “promote marital and family stability,” among other things. Indeed, the charter of the Family Law Act and the AIFS recognises the “family as the natural and fundamental unit in society”. With over $4 million a year of government funding, it was designed to be Australia’s premier family organisation.

However that has clearly not been the case. Instead, it seems from day one to have been promoting every type of family structure except the traditional family.  Indeed, it has refused to even seek to define what a family is. Instead it speaks of families as coming in all sizes and shapes, and that any combination is as good as the next. If anything, it seems to think that the natural or traditional family is an outmoded institution and not really the ideal for children or society.

Feminist bias

Its bias against the traditional family can be seen in various ways. A major example is the over-whelming feminist slant as seen in its publications and pronouncements. It is clear that the organisation is under the sway of feminist ideology (something which a former researcher at the AIFS has publicly admitted to).

There are many indications of such feminist bias. On a regular basis it comes out with studies informing us that there is nothing wrong with child care, and that children suffer no negative effects from lengthy separation from mum and dad at an early age. The Institute’s first Director, Dr Don Edgar, who resigned in 1993, could always be counted on to run the politically correct line in this regard.  For example, in 1994 he went ballistic over a book by English child expert Dr Penelope Leach, claiming it was “the most inconsistent, guilt-producing book you could possibly imagine.”  The reason?  Because Dr Leach argued that daycare harms children.

Research from around the world has shown that extended periods of day care does in fact harm young children, but the AIFS has continued to ignore such research, pushing its own agenda instead.

The AIFS has also produced a long stream of studies and research telling us that divorce does not hurt children, and that single parenting is just as healthy for children as being raised in a two-parent family.  Again a mountain of evidence from Australia and overseas suggests the exact opposite – children raised in single-parent families are significantly disadvantaged, and children suffer enormously from divorce, even decades later.

On the issue of women in the workplace, it tends to take the standard feminist line that the only good woman is a career woman, with homemaking viewed as a second-class lifestyle. Moreover it pushes the androgyny line, that the roles of men and women are fully interchangeable, and encourages men to stay at home while women enter the paid workforce. Now there is nothing wrong with such an arrangement if both parties voluntarily choose such a path, but not as a matter of social engineering.

The feminist version of things, in other words, seems to be the line most often heard from the AIFS. This can be seen in other ways. During its 20 year history, many radical feminists have held top posts at the AIFS. For example, Ms Moira Rayner was appointed as Deputy Director, while Ms Marie Coleman was appointed acting director.  Both of these women have a well-known history of involvement in feminist causes.  Ms Coleman’s feminist credentials feature prominently in the feminist account of the rise of the femocracy, Sisters in Suits by Marian Sawer.

Ms Rayner has for quite some time been an outspoken proponent of affirmative action.  She was also appointed by the AIFS to head a national project to fight child abuse.  Given Ms Rayner’s view that spanking should be made illegal, her appointment was clearly at odds with that of many parents.

From all this it can be argued that the Institute should be renamed the Institute for Feminist Studies, for that seems to be what it is really about.

Pushing the homosexual agenda

If the dominance of feminist ideology is not enough of a reason for tax payers to cease funding the AIFS, the recent promotion of homosexuality is another good reason. Lately the Institute has been using its position to champion the homosexual agenda in various ways. For example, in the Autumn 2000 issue of its main publication, Family Matters, it was surprising to find three pages devoted to the issue of homosexual marriage (an article the Director called “interesting”). Not only is this clearly not the kind of marriage envisaged by those drafting the original charter of the AIFS, it is clearly at odds with it.

The article, by Jenni Millibank of the University of Sydney Law Faculty, was entitled, “Legal recognition of gay and lesbian families”. In the article she argued that the natural family was based on “outdated moral codes” and that we need to broaden our definition of families. She said that people “are not simply born into families – they choose them”. She is right about that: same-sex relationships are lifestyle choices, not imperatives of nature. People are choosing to live in all kinds of social arrangements, demanding the privileges of marriage but denying the responsibilities thereof.

The article contained a good selection of all the latest buzz words: equality, rights, discrimination. However, no one is stopped by law in Australia from forming a family (of the traditional type) and having children. If a person chooses a lifestyle which by definition precludes the ability to procreate, then to talk about discrimination and rights makes about as much sense as to talk about a right to be ten feet tall.

No one’s rights are being violated here. What is happening is a radical redefinition of what a family is.

A family has always been defined as any group of people united by blood, marriage or adoption. Other types of relationships are just that, relationships. They are not families in the proper sense of the word. Thus they should not be extended the benefits of families while refusing the responsibilities thereof.

Societies have long recognised the importance of the institutions of marriage and family, and that is why they have afforded them special recognition. True, there is a concerted attempt to undermine this recognition, especially by so broadening the term ‘family’ that it no longer has any meaning. Such an attempt cannot be prevented, but I would have thought that Family Matters was not the venue for it to take place.

This was not a once-off anomaly however. In the latest (Winter 2001) issue there appears a large article entitled, “School Experiences of the Children of Gay and Lesbian Parents”. It begins with these words: “Research suggests that the children of gay and lesbian parents have similar psychological adjustment to children growing up in more traditional family structures”. It goes on to argue that such children are bullied at schools, and special support networks need to be set up to combat such “homophobia”.

There are a number of problems with this piece, other than why it should be in the journal in the first place. The claim that studies show no adverse effects of being raised by homosexual parents is just plain wrong. A number of studies have now appeared showing some of the problems. And a number of recent studies have shown that major methodological shortcomings mar those studies that claim no ill effects. None of these studies were so much as even mentioned however.

And speaking of shortcomings, this “research” article is full of them. Its sample size of children interviewed is way too small – only 48 children. But asking kids their opinions on issues is hardly an example of objective, scientific research. Indeed, the kids ranged in age from 5 to 18! Most kids that age can’t tell you where they left their shoes, let alone provide reliable data for a sociological study. Moreover, what kid is going to bag his or her own parents? Of course they will say they are happy with their two “mums” or “dads”.

And when asked if they were bullied or teased, what are we to expect? Probably all kids are bullied or teased in childhood. That is a normal, albeit unfortunate, part of growing up. To argue that such teasing is a sign of “homophobia” which demands draconian solutions like pro-homosexual counselling in schools is ludicrous.

Non-family family conferences

One other way to argue that the AIFS is out of touch with the values and beliefs of ordinary families – in fact, that it does not represent them at all – is to describe what takes place at their major conferences. I went to one recently and it was an eye-opening experience. The seventh bi-annual national conference of the AIFS was held in Sydney in late July 2000. The conference was a clear reflection of the feminist/homosexual ideology of the AIFS.

One of the keynote speakers was Carol Smart, a feminist legal theorist from the UK. She presented a paper extolling the benefits of divorce. She argued that for many people, children included, life after divorce was rewarding and exciting. People forged successful new relationships, and new ways of exploring family life were created. This attempt to put a gloss on divorce not only reflected perfectly the long-standing line put forward by the Institute, but was readily received by most at the conference. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald (predictably) made it a page-one story the next morning.

The family conference, which was attended by about 300 hundred people, was notable for its lack of real families. It appeared that the majority or those in attendance were social workers, bureaucrats, public servants or academics. One was hard pressed to find ordinary mums and dads. Perhaps this is partly due to the conference location: the Sydney Convention Centre, one of the more pricey venues in town. Indeed, the steep registration costs would have precluded many ordinary families from attending. Presumably the conference was subsidised by our tax dollars.

This absence of ordinary families may explain why the conference seemed to have so little family-friendliness about it. The other reason is the ideological bent of the AIFS, already referred to. Indeed, given its hostility to more traditional views of the family, it is somewhat surprising that a paper by myself (of the Australian Family Association) was accepted for presentation.

The paper (on the historicity and universality of the family) was presented on the first day of the conference. I remarked to several people that day that it might be the most controversial paper presented (along with papers from a few other pro-family organisations). Most ironic, of course, since it was being presented at a “family” conference.

But this proved to be the case. The questioners at the end of the presentation were mainly upset feminists, who objected to what they regarded as my judgmental and exclusivist remarks. Given that the paper simply surveyed the evidence of how normal and prevalent the natural family is, the response was surprising. Even the chair of the session concluded by saying, “Well, that was controversial to say the least”. Such a reaction shows how far the intelligentsia has drifted from common sense in regard to the issues of marriage and family.

The handful of other pro-family presenters (from Endeavour Forum, the Festival of Light, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) found the going equally rough. For example, the Festival of Light paper (on the evidence for higher rates of child abuse occurring outside of intact two-parent families) received a very hostile reception, complete with boos and jeers.

The very angry reaction to those who sought to defend the traditional views about marriage and family highlights how far modern societies have drifted from rationality and morality. Indeed, the conference even included a concurrent session on same-sex marriages. Delivered by Reg Graycar of the NSW Law Reform Commission, the paper argued for complete equality for same-sex relationships with normal heterosexual marriages.


The woeful direction taken by the AIFS simply reflects the social engineering that is currently taking place with regard to the family. Many people opposed to the family have declared war on the institutions of marriage and family, and are being aided and abetted by the media, academia, and organisations like the AIFS. That is why a strong case can be made that the Federal Government should immediately withdraw funding for the Institute and let it wither on the vine. Either that or appoint individuals who do recognise the value and importance of the natural family, and will work to promote marriage and family, not undermine them.

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