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"Nice try, Prime Minister. But I see right through your latest family scheme."

 

If you’re getting married, Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants to give you a wedding present. Because he’s just that sweet.

He and Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews have this morning announced a $20 million plan to give “relationship vouchers” to newlyweds. Starting in July, 100,000 couples in Australia will be given a $200 rebate for marriage counselling and in 12 months, the government will decide whether to extend the trial. Abbott and Andrews have sold the scheme as a way to promote stable, healthy families.

Tony Abbott marriage counselling vouchers
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews

“Australian research consistently finds that marriage and relationship education assists committed, married, engaged or cohabiting couples to move through the phases of their relationship with improved relationship skills, strengthening relationships for up to five years,” Andrews said. “[We want to] help couples achieve a greater degree of happiness and stability and thereby a better environment for their children”.

So, it’s all about the children. It’s about warm, cosy family values. It’s about happiness.

How could we possibly object to that?

Well, strap yourselves in, because I object. The whole scheme makes me deeply uncomfortable, confused, and moderately enraged. I think it’s morally lazy and fiscally irresponsible.

Why would Prime Minister Abbott throw money at the happiness of couples (which, by the way, you cannot buy for $200) when he has so many  more urgent things to fund? I smell duplicity here, and I don’t like it. It’s disingenuous and manipulative on the government’s part, not to mention spectacularly ineffective.

For starters, $200 will only pay for one session with a counsellor – which is barely enough time for a couple to agree on their “how we met” story, let alone address any problems in their relationship. So truly, this “we’ll shout you couples out there an hour of talking” initiative is nothing but an empty gesture. $200 per couple is a tiny, useless handout, but add it all up and $20 million is a whopping bill for something that won’t work.

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And look, counselling can be terrific. Therapists and psychologists save lives and restore sanity every day. It’s a noble profession (my mother is a brilliant counsellor and I’m a lifelong fan of therapy). But should the government bankroll one session for couples around Australia, at a time when they’re ferociously reviewing our welfare system? Why is he handing out $200, when he’s cutting disability support and proposing savage welfare cuts?

And is it even the government’s place, to intervene in our private lives with a token gesture of compassion? Tony Abbott marriage counselling vouchers

Twenty mill is a lot of money. It’d be better spent on funding the Gonski reforms our education system so desperately needs. Or keeping the National Disability Insurance Scheme alive. It could go towards any number of more important causes: the aged care pension, safeguarding human rights, reinstating the baby bonus, helping out with childcare. It’s a bizarre investment for the Abbott government, and we’re left searching for Abbott’s real motive here.

We can only assume it’s a distraction tactic. When people (like me) start talking about the Abbott government’s total disregard for international human rights of asylum seekers or their deeply unwise decision to ignore Gonski reforms, Abbott and Andrews can drown out our protests with a chorus of “But look, we care about families so much! We want to make the children of Australia well-adjusted! Can’t you see how generous we are?”

Yeah, I see you. And I call you out on a weirdly specific, badly timed gesture that will not work.

Do you think that we should be giving couples marriage counselling vouchers?

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