Dear Minister, no one wants 'relationship vouchers'

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Shorten questions marriage vouchers

Bill Shorten has accused the government of having its priorities 'all wrong', following Minister Andrew's confirmation that the $20 million relationship voucher scheme will go ahead.

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Kevin Andrews is having a wedding reception with a wishing well, and we’re all invited. 

That’s a little like how I feel about My Taxpayer Dollars with the announcement that the Federal Government has decided to show its commitment to the sanctity of marriage by putting aside $20 million for a “relationship voucher” program trial. (The program was originally floated last year but has only now been confirmed.)


Photo: Getty

And it’s not just those intending to marry who’ll be able to apply for their $200 golden ticket to relationship bliss: in our Government’s infinite wisdom, and despite Prime Minister Abbott’s vocal opposition to same-sex marriage rights, the relationship vouchers will be available to same-sex couples in committed relationships, and those who intend to commit to long-term de facto partnerships as well. It’s positively revolutionary!


“The idea is the brainchild of Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, who wants to ‘help couples achieve a greater degree of happiness and stability and thereby a better environment for their children’.”

Details are scant so far, so it’s hard to tell whether couples will have to show intent to Create A Better Environment For Their [Future] Children in order to get the voucher.

One thing’s for sure, Kevin Andrews reckons the answer to all society’s problems could be solved if we could only get more people to put - and keep - a ring on it: In his 2012 book Maybe 'I do'. Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness, he opined that the greatest threat facing the Western world was not climate change or radical Islam, but '’the steady, but continuing breakdown of the essential structures of civil society – marriage, family and community'’.”

That’s great, Mr Andrews, but why do we need to shunt $20m into an institution that lacks the relevance it once had, especially considering not all Australians can freely marry whomever they see fit?

There are so many issues one could take with this dimwitted scheme. Firstly, the notion that $200 is enough to cover intensive - or even casual - premarital counselling is laughable. Therapy doesn’t come cheap: I once spent over $1200 - and that was just my half - on sessions with a relationship counsellor in an attempt to save an already floundering engagement. I know others who have had more luck, but certainly not without considerable expense.

This government’s obsession with largely heteronormative relationship models continues apace with the announcement of the relationship vouchers, despite the fact that both relationships and parenting have evolved beyond a mid-century notion of “happy families”. Besides, children - happy, functional children - are being raised in a multitude of ways in 2014 by Cory Bernardi’s so-called “non-traditional families”.

Most infuriating of all, however, is the fact our Government sees fit to spend $20m on a 1950s pipe dream while it has been cutting and reducing funding in other crucial areas.

Just this week, Mr Andrews indicated he would take the axe to disability and unemployment payments. In late December’s Midyear Economic and Fiscal Outlook, Treasurer Joe Hockey revealed an eye-watering amount of cuts across the board, if by “across the board” you mean “especially from research, education, welfare and health”. Indigenous legal aid funding was nuked to the tune of $13.4m over four years; Westmead Hospital in Sydney lost $100m; Australian Research Council grants were deflated by $103m.

We hear so much about getting Australia’s deficit down to manageable levels, and yet here we are, staring down the barrel of a year-long relationship vouchers trial. It says a lot about our Government’s priorities that they’ll slash $103m funding from “futile research” in social sciences and humanities, but $20m can be put aside to fund our Social Service Minister’s dreams of a happily married future for Australia, no worries.

My Dad used to joke that instead of paying for individual showbags at the Royal Show, the organisers should provide a service where, at the door, they insert a vacuum cleaner directly into your wallet and remove the money quickly and painlessly. I bet Tony Abbott & Co. would love that idea.


  • I agree the thinking behind this is retrograde and heteronormative but our relationships are the most Important thing to us, whether they be with same sex partners, children, friends or traditional marriages. The opportunities to think about problem solving and communication skills in a relationship at the beginning, before issues arise, could solve a lot of trauma for some people. I couldn't be happier to see the focus taken away from fairytale weddings and to get couples to think about relationships and commitment and what it means just for a moment, in between thinking about 'the dress' and 'the colour scheme'. Getting along with our fellow human beings is tricky for us animals at the best of times and building relationship skills is surely only going to contribute to overall happiness. Not only is it a great idea, it should be compulsory.

    Date and time
    January 24, 2014, 8:40AM
    • I've got the bible. I read/study it in its form as a series of parables. Didn't cost me 200 beans. Definitely helped build my 'heteronormative' relationship. or should that be just 'relationship.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 8:52AM
  • I think this initiative is so the coalition has a gift for the happy couple when the attend tax payer funded weddings.

    Date and time
    January 24, 2014, 8:48AM
    • I did a pre-marraige course with my now wife. I cannot recommend them highly enough. We each learnt a lot, despite being together for 8 years beforehand.

      This is available to anyone looking for relationship counselling (including long-term unmarried partners and same-sex couples) and you're lambasting it for being a backward initiative?

      This is the second article I've read tearing this initiative to shreds. Sadly, I think if it had come from Gillard it would've been lauded as a $20million-well-spent on an inclusive progressive pilot program.

      It seems Andrews and Abbott can't do ANYTHING right by some people. The other article raised the same issue ("We can spend the money better!") but the reality is that the same argument applies to a huge number of government initiatives. We pump money into the AIS while people are sleeping on the streets. That's true, and it's wrong, but no-one really bothers to hammer on about it. It takes a decent initiative (Hey, let's ask people to think about their relationships) coming from the wrong source to get people up in arms about government spending priorities? Sad.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 9:17AM
      • Someone seriously needs to tell this Government that it's 2014. The 1950's are long gone and it's time to move on boys.

        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 9:49AM
        • So relationship counselling is not needed in 2014, JJ?

          Some people will use any excuse to bash our government...

          Date and time
          January 24, 2014, 12:15PM
      • This is a big waste of taxpayer funds on so many levels. Firstly, I challenge anyone to find a counsellor who charges less than $100 a session. So these vouchers give what, 2 sessions? As if that's going to do a damn thing. Secondly, this government is screaming about our social security bill and wants to take an axe to disability and newstart payments (and that's probably just a start) yet they have the money to waste on this stupid "thought bubble"? Give me a break! Either the country is broke and the budget needs fixing or it isn't. Abbott can't have it both ways.

        I can just imagine the outcry from the Libs and their Murdoch press lackeys if Gillard or Rudd had done this. They would be crying "waste". But it's ok if the Libs do it. AFter all they want to perserve the 50s idea of a perfect marriage and family.

        This is a really stupid idea and I resent my tax dollars being wasted this way when Newstart and the Disability pensions are at risk.

        Seems this government only cares about the people it thinks are worthy and screw the rest. Just like it's gold plated PPL scheme. Plenty of money for that!

        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 9:55AM
        • I don't get the opposition to it. $20M isn't that much in the grand scheme of things and, true, $200 won't go far. But the financial cost of broken families alone is huge - far more than $20M. And that ignores the cost of kids falling behind at school because of conflict at home, etc.

          As for the "largely heteronormative relationship models" nonsense above - the article itself says it's availble for gay couples and links to an older article confirming that too. As Shane says, it seems the government can't do anything right...

          Date and time
          January 24, 2014, 10:11AM
          • "As for the "largely heteronormative relationship models" nonsense above - the article itself says it's availble for gay couples and links to an older article confirming that too. As Shane says, it seems the government can't do anything right..."

            I have to admit, that threw me too. All the other reporting i've seen has talked about it being about 'marriage vouchers'. On which basis I thought it was moronic and prejudiced.

            But, if they're available for everyone, married or not, gay or straight, why is it being linked by association to heteronormative behaviours? I seriously doubt gay people appreciate the insinuation that having a stable, healthy relationship is heteronormative. That link just seems like an attempt to smear it through insinuation.

            By all means, go after the government for their multitude of other unpleasant, discriminatory and bigoted actions. I'm right with you on that. This just doesn't seem to be one of those.

            In fact it actually seems like an excellent thing to trial. It's not a huge amount of money for a government, it's based on real science, and it's not restricted based on assumptions about what constitutes a 'relationship' - this article specifically says it's about relationships, not marriage.

            Date and time
            January 24, 2014, 1:18PM
        • I feel that people have fundamentally missed the fact that divorce and separation costs Australians a lot - not in feelings, silly, in dollars! Having worked in a lot of community legal centres, divorces, relationship disputes, custody battles and the like take up a lot of court time, practically monopolise free legal help and lead to higher welfare and child care payments in a lot of cases. And that's before you've even considered things like personal mental and physical health costs following a separation.

          I did premarital counselling and found it really helpful. It didn't cost me anything near $200. Lots of churches and community groups provide it nearly free, and I'm sure would and could put that money to good use if people came to them with their vouchers. Open communication is the number one indicator of future marriage success (something I learned in premarital counselling) and if the scheme is implemented well I think it could help save public money.

          Date and time
          January 24, 2014, 10:35AM

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