Federal Election 2019: Meet the Australian Better Families Party

Summary

Website: https://betterfamilies.org.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theabfparty/
Slogan:
We are better together.
Themes: Mental health reform, child support reform, family law reform.  Better support for victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender.  A touch of ‘but what about the men?’, and a worrying whiff of Men’s Rights Activism.
Electorate:
Upper House: NSW, QLD, TAS (Ungrouped)
Lower House: Greenway
Preferences: ABF preferences One Nation, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers, and the Liberal Democratic Party at 2-4 on both its Senate how to vote cards.  In Queensland, they then preference United Australia and the Australian Conservatives; in NSW it’s the Christian Democrats and the Australian Conservatives.

Essentially, they like right-wing, libertarian parties with Christian leanings and a fondness for guns.  And if that comes with a little bit of racism, that’s also perfectly fine.

Policies & Commentary

This party is a really odd mix of gentle, inclusive-sounding policies, concern for the environment, and Men’s Rights talking points of the plausibly-deniable variety.

Consider their front page, which has the kind, welcoming slogan ‘We are better together’, which invites the reader to be part of their community.  They explain:

We believe in the Australian family; in the welfare of all races, colours, orientation and creeds. We believe in a child’s right to continued access to both parents regardless of marital status. We believe that true equality is about mutual respect and it can only be achieved when people are judged on character and merit. We believe in freedom of speech and opinion, tempered only by the responsibility to use words with respect. We believe that any campaign against violence, domestic or otherwise should not be gender specific.

In a world without sexism and discrimination, this would be an excellent opening summary, and there is, on the face of it, nothing wrong with any of these statements.  I’ve heard people make similar statements in good faith.  But there are a few dog-whistles here.  Consider, for example, the bit about how equality can only be achieved when people are judged on merit.  This sounds very egalitarian on the surface.  It also sounds like what the Liberal Party says about how they choose their candidates who just happen to be, ooh, fancy that, almost all white and male.   So we either have to conclude that white men are intrinsically more likely to be meritorious, or that there might be some other factors that come up when people think they are judging on merit alone.

There is a whole rabbit hole we can go down here on the subject of implicit bias, but for those of you who haven’t encountered the term, it’s basically the set of basic, unconscious ideas about the world that we carry around with us.  These tend to be heavily influenced by our upbringing and our society, and they come from the fact that humans have evolved to make quick judgments about things that might affect their safety or their lives more generally, and to do this, we like to sort things into groups and patterns.  Everyone has these biases, and they are part of being human – there’s nothing wrong with that.  But it’s useful to be aware of them, because they do affect our judgment.  So, for example, we tend to prefer men over women in leadership roles, and tall men over short men, and white men over men of colour, and it’s not about anything concrete, they just ‘feel’ more right for the role.  More meritorious, you might say.

(Incidentally, if you are interested in exploring your own unconscious biases, Harvard has a set of Implicit Association tests online that you can do for free.  Apparently, I’m kind of racist, and think men are more competent than women.  But on the bright side, I slightly prefer gay people to straight people.  So at least my subconscious isn’t *actually* Fraser Anning.)

Back to that intro, because I’m not done yet.  We have the bit about freedom of speech, which again, is a lovely value, and one that tends to be valued more highly by people who are not in classes that tend to cop racial or sexist or other abuse.  And then we have this: We believe that any campaign against violence, domestic or otherwise should not be gender specific.

OK. I have friends who would agree with this statement, and I love them, but they are wrong.  At least partly.  Yes, violence against men is a problem.  However, it’s a problem that we are really good at recognising as a society.  Consider how many deaths from ‘king hits’ were required before we changed the law.  But domestic violence (of all kinds) is still seen as a relationship problem, a private problem, not a national emergency, and we haven’t really done a great job of coming up with solutions.  The Counting Dead Women Project keeps a tally each year of women killed by violence.  We’re up to 14 so far, so that’s tracking at one a week, only slightly better than last year.

We do need to work against all forms of violence, but violence against women is a particular crisis in Australia at the moment.  Saying ‘but we need to focus on all violence’ is a bit of an ‘all lives matter’ distraction.  Nobody is disputing that violence against men is a problem.  But violence against women is a problem *too*, and despite all the white ribbon campaigns, we simply don’t take it as seriously.

Oh, bloody hell, I’ve barely started the first page.  This post is going to be long.   OK, also on the front page, we see that ABF’s three three priorities are mental health reform, child support reform and family law reform.  I’ll come back to these in more detail once we get to the policy page, but I do want to note that the latter two are very popular causes of grievance for Men’s Rights activists.

The foot of their homepage has a collection of links to useful resources – mental health support, such as SANE and Lifeline; several material aid charities; a charity that helps with domestic violence.

And sitting innocently among these is a link to the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers, a group that feels that men are unfairly discriminated against in the Family Court and elsewhere, and claims that there is an epidemic of men committing suicide after being denied access to their children.  (They quote a figure of 21 men per week – but also admit that this number is based on anecdotal evidence, which… is not very scientific of them.  In fact, Sherele Moody at the Daily Telegraph has pointed out that while 42 men per week do commit suicide – and this is honestly  a shockingly high figure which we absolutely SHOULD be doing something about – there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that half of them are doing so due to family law issues.)

On their ‘About’ page, we learn that the party was

‘formed by families who have been exposed to the failures of family law, domestic violence law and child support policy. These families were actively involved with the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers as volunteers and raised concerns regarding the social damage the failures of these policies have on Australian families.  After 6 years of community volunteer work, raising awareness about male suicide, gender bias policy and legislative failures to protect victims of family violence, the decision was made to form a political movement. The focus is to ensure Australian Families are the first to benefit from all policy decisions from government.’

So let’s take a look at the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers, shall we?

(Oh my, and I’ve just noticed that Australian Better Families and the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers share the same acronym.  I wonder if they did that on purpose?  I mean, I’m not ascribing this to shadiness, if so, because it’s not like they are attempting to hide their association.  But if it is deliberate, then I think it’s pretty clear that Australian Better Families is intended to be the political wing of the Brotherhood of Fathers.)

James Purtill and Shalailah Medhora wrote a pretty extensive piece on the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers in 2017, which you should read.  The absolute kindest thing I can say about this group, having read this article and some of their writings, is that they are very angry, mostly at women.  They have worked closely with One Nation and with an online group called Blokes’ Advice, which was banned by Facebook for glorifying rape and violence against women, though it has since been re-opened and such posts are no longer permitted.  Neither of these things strike me as recommendations.  They held a counter protest on International Women’s Day in 2017, which they say was entirely accidental, timing-wise, but a ‘good thing’, and their leader thinks that the gender wage gap is a myth (it’s that merit thing again.  We ovary-bearers just don’t have it).

Alright, that’s enough about the Brotherhood.  Back to the Better Families.  And look, when they aren’t going all MRA-ish around the edges, they actually have some good things to say.  I mean, this, for example:

We will improve how families are supported in the areas of child care, aged care, affordable housing, health, employment, education, law, sovereign ownership and energy use. ABF Party objectives focus on reducing social and economic burdens placed on Australian families by producing better policy. We believe all Australians regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality should be treated with respect and equality in all aspects of their lives in our society.

All of these are good things.  I’m just not convinced that this party will deliver them.  Because I have read their Facebook page, and dear God, the commenters.  And the posters, for that matter.

This post is completely disorganised, I’m sorry.  It must be my ovaries making me all illogical and flighty and unreliable.

(That, and my entirely *explicit* bias against this mob.  The Brotherhood of Fathers riles me especially.  I have a brother and he is an awesome father to my niece and how dare they tar good words with their obnoxious, misogynistic brush?)

Right.  Policies.  They have 21 of them, and they are all super short, which makes them difficult to usefully summarise.  I will, however, endeavour to group them thematically.

They want to reform family law and child support – in particular, they  want to ‘ensure families dealing with child access disputes will be supported through long-term mediation and counselling programs to maintain healthy relationships and happy families post-separation.’  This is the sort of policy which is fantastic if everyone is behaving reasonably, and terrible if there is any abuse going on.

Also, they want to reform child support to ‘remove the financial incentives that are paid to parents who withhold access to children’.  That’s… not really how it works.  The parent who has majority custody has the majority of the expenses, and therefore the other parent provides more support to make up the shortfall.  It’s about making sure the *child* is living in a house where the utilities are paid and can afford to eat and go to school and things like that.

OK, I was moved to do some research on this, because the anecdotal evidence *I* have encountered has been that it is very, very hard to lose custody of a child, even in situations where there has been abuse.  (Also, it is very, very hard to get child support from someone who doesn’t want to pay.).  Clearly, this does not match up with the beliefs of the ABF.  So I went onto the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which is a federal government site, and did some checking.

It turns out that a child’s right to continued access to both parents is strongly supported by the Family Court. The presumption on which the court bases its judgments is that Equal Shared Parental Responsibility is best for children. Moreover,  a 2010 evaluation of family law reforms commissioned by the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs showed that even in cases where there were allegations of both family and child abuse, shared custody was awarded in 75.8% of cases.  Where the alleged abuse was only of the parent, and not the children, shared custody was awarded in 79.6% of cases.

(The report is very, very long, but this information can be found in Table 8.7 on page 190 of the report.)

Thus, we are left with two options: either we must assume that 75% of abuse allegations are false, or we have to conclude that the Family Court is actually bending over backwards to give shared custody, even when this might not be in the best interest of the child.

In other words, yes.  I think the Family Court definitely does need some reform around custody issues.  But not in the direction that the ABF seems to think.

On Family Violence, they want zero tolerance, regardless of age or gender.  Oh, and they want a Minister for Men, to focus on men’s health issues.  (What about the men…?)

Now we have a bunch of fairly non-controversial policies, which I’d class as conservative-leaning, but community-oriented.

They want to fix homelessness and create mental health wellness hubs, which are both fine policies that I’d like to see fleshed out.  They are also pro-environment – they want zero plastic waste and cheap renewable energy.  They have a fairly reasonable drug reform policy – not decriminalisation, but treating it as a health issue, which I think is wise, and they want an industry regulator to work with organisers to support safer live music events.  They also want better aged care and better services for veterans.

The ABF worry about farmers and food security and want a minimum gate price for Australian milk.   Again, good stuff.  They want to keep Australian infrastructure, farmland and housing in Australian hands, and they want a domestic aid program for national emergencies. They also want ‘strategies to support primary producers to reduce their exposure to weather events and climate change.’  Foreign aid and refugees aren’t on the agenda, but as nationalist policies go, these ones aren’t bad.

They want to reform the juvenile justice system by creating a National Youth Service scheme and a curfew.  I’d want to see this one fleshed out a bit more, and if anyone in the group is still reading, could I suggest that you change this sentence?

Our approach to reducing juvenile crime will see offenders enter the national youth service program prior to re-offending.

It sounds rather like the program is a helpful prerequisite to re-offending, which is possibly not what you are trying to say.

They have a slightly weird policy about community employment:

Our community employment policy will ensure Australians on welfare are provided with training opportunities and paid work in roles that support working families in their community. 

Are… we placing unemployed people as child care workers and/or housekeepers for families?  I mean, they also want to have a community childcare program with low-cost childcare, so it is faintly possible that this is precisely what they do mean.  But perhaps it is just a confusingly-worded policy.

And they want child-focused adoption reform.  And that’s it.

Whew.  That’s done.  Overall, this is a socially-conscious but conservative set of policies, with an unexpected and pleasing care for the environment and an alarming tendency towards Men’s Rights activism.  I’d really like to see these policies fleshed out a bit more, in order to know what to make of them, but on the basis of what’s on the website and Facebook so far, they seem like like a kinder, gentler version of the Equal Parenting Party.

ABF is not going to be at the very bottom of my ballot, because they do seem to have a social conscience.  But they are at best blinkered and at worst, well, raging misogynists (seriously, the comments on their Facebook posts are… not reassuring).  Expect to find them in the lower quarter of political parties – above the gun-toting, far-right extremists, but below… well, any parties I actually want to see in Parliament.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

I am not sure that any Eurovision Song that I actually like deserves to be associated with this party, but I can’t quite resist choosing Moldova’s ‘Hey Mamma’ for this.  It’s full of family themes!  There’s even a wedding at the end!  And as for the lyrics:

‘Mamma, mamma, don’t be so down / I’m not that defendant boy’?  ‘Mamma, mamma, don’t be so mad / If you knew me you’d be surprised’

I don’t think I would be surprised, and they are totally that defendant boy.  Or at least, that defensive boy.  They are definitely That Guy.

 

4 thoughts on “Federal Election 2019: Meet the Australian Better Families Party

  1. This sort of men never get a go in family law sort of stuff really annoys me. While this is solely from my personal experience as a young person in Victoria with divorced parents, the court as well as court psychologists bent over backward to meet what my father wanted. The court psychologists continually raved about the need for a son to see his father despite me not particularly wanting to see him nor when I was with him he wanting to see me. During school holidays I couldn’t be with my mother but with my father, who was significantly wealthy enough to take time off work, he didn’t take time off work and just sent me to school holiday programs or hired a babysitter when I could have actually been with my family and completely ignored me when I told him of physical abuse from his partner. Because of his tax avoidance after my father and mother had separated my family home was sold to pay for his debts despite it being a separate asset with my mother. This along with a complete lack of enforcement of child support has left my mother having to basically solely pay for my upbringing along with my siblings, the only way to enforce it was to get a court order which my mother couldn’t afford. My father got the access to me and my siblings he wanted, despite neither me nor my siblings actually wanting it but never had to fulfill his own requirements.

    • I’m so sorry to hear of your experience. It certainly matches with what I’ve heard from friends who are divorced or separated from spouses (including abusive spouses, which is why I feel VERY strongly about this issue).

      • The problem I find with it is that there probably are men who have been unfairly dealt with by the family court but these people get used by others who were not allowed access for very legitimate reasons. The push for family law reform seems to be with a focus that children cannot function without access to both parents, even when one parent is abusive or basically incapable of parenting. There needs to be a recognition that sometimes one parent is not on an equal level with another in regards to their concern about their child’s welfare and that should be reflected in the amount of access a parent receives. So many of these groups seem to focus on the end result of a parent not receiving as much access but never process that maybe the parent themselves have significant short comings.

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