Dear Minister, no one wants 'relationship vouchers'


Photo: Getty


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.)

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.