Comment: Relationship counselling drive off to a shaky start

Kevin Andrews minister for Social Services at Parliament House Canberra, Wednesday 28 May, 2014. (AAP)

Flawed logic and unconfirmed statistics have ensured Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews' relationship counselling drive hasn't gotten into gear.

New figures for Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews’ Stronger Relationships trial, launched on July 1, were released this week.

The one-year trial offers a $200 relationship counselling voucher to married and de facto couples, limited to 100,000 vouchers. Over a month into the trial, there are a meager 98,600 vouchers remaining, so if you are in the market for an assuredly relationship-saving $200 worth of counselling you better hurry up.

Or on the other hand, just take your time: there will almost definitely be some left when you get around to it. Mr Andrews has said the initial numbers are “very encouraging” and believes more couples will take up the offer when they begin rolling out a wider advertising campaign about the program.   

In advocating for the scheme, Mr Andrews also gave some advice (which nobody asked for) to the de facto couples of Australia. While emphasising that people could enter whatever kind of relationship they want (thanks Kev), he vaguely referred to ‘data’ and ‘statistics’ (fronting up with neither) suggesting that de facto relationships are more unstable than marriages, ending in break-ups more often.

Because of this, it seems Mr Andrews thinks de facto couples should consider discussing their commitment to each other and perhaps get married sooner rather than later. Nobody is claiming that Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Statistics, but it looks like he could certainly benefit from a beginner’s course in correlation versus causation.

Comparing all de facto relationships to all marriages is like comparing people who both swipe right on Tinder on a Saturday night to people who have been engaged for a year. Instead of encouraging marriage using flawed logic and unconfirmed statistics, why doesn’t Kevin Andrews help these de facto couples to stay in happy and stable relationships?

The de facto separation numbers would include a lot of young couples that initially move in together early as a matter of monetary convenience, and other couples that break up because of financial stress. Perhaps it might be more useful for the Government to focus more on things like housing affordability, availability of jobs, and letting young people access the welfare system rather than funnel millions of dollars into a counselling voucher scheme.

On top of this, why is it an inherently bad thing for unhappy couples to separate while they are in a de facto relationship anyway? Surely it is better than divorcing when they are married, like half of married couples in Australia. Could it be that Mr Andrews is letting his religious beliefs intrude, wanting people to stop living in sin?

“... it seems Mr Andrews thinks de facto couples should consider discussing their commitment to each other and perhaps get married sooner rather than later. Nobody is claiming that Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Statistics, but it looks like he could certainly benefit from a beginner’s course in correlation versus causation.”

This absolutely seems to be the case, especially when you consider that while Mr Andrews encouraged the de facto couples of Australia to get married for the good of their country, he conveniently forgot to address the segment of citizens who are desperate to get married - who would get married immediately, but who are not permitted to do so.

This was a special moment of insensitivity from the Social Services Minister. It was insulting to read that a federal minister was publicly urging unmarried couples to get married, while ensuring that other unmarried couples don’t have that option.  It was yet another indicator that Mr Andrews does not think same-sex couples are equal, or even worthy of consideration.

This is not a surprise based on his past, and evidently not on his future, as Mr Andrews will be addressing the upcoming World Congress of Families event in Melbourne, an event run by an organisation that is actively and hideously anti-gay (amongst many other anti-woman, and anti-reproductive rights stances). Along with his 2011 claim that allowing same-sex marriage would destroy the institution of marriage, and his thoughtlessness surrounding his Stronger Relationships program, it is very clear where his beliefs lie.

It is also very clear to every same-sex attracted person in Australia what some of our leaders think of us. Kevin Andrews and his ilk are seeking to impose their religious beliefs on us in various arenas through morally censuring policy and action, and this does not inspire my faith in the leaders of this country.

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.

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