“It has been said that the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother,” FamilyVoice research officer Ros Phillips said today. “Gough Whitlam, who died today aged 98, is surely one who did just that. He remained faithful to his wife Margaret until death parted them, and continued to be a loving and generous father to their four children.
“But I look back on his time in office with mixed feelings.
“The Family Law Act, passed by federal parliament on his watch, has not eliminated bitterness from divorce as many hoped. It sparked a huge increase in divorce, sometimes instigated unilaterally against the wishes of one partner – who was given just 12 months’ notice that all was not well. Even ‘amicable’ divorces have been shown to cause lasting emotional damage to children, who cannot understand why mummy or daddy no longer lives with them."
Ros Phillips said the Family Law Act has not only facilitated divorce, it has led to less marriage. “People are saying, What’s the point?” she said. “The Family Law Act means that a husband or wife can cheat on their spouse, yet walk away with half the family property and possibly custody of the children most of the time. The decline in marriage means that more children are being born to single or cohabiting mothers, whose relationships are often fragile. We are seeing a generation of fatherless children, who grow up to disproportionately fill our prisons and psychiatrists’ offices.
“Gough was a family role model I wish many other political leaders would emulate,” Ros Phillips said. “But sadly, his government’s legacy has harmed a significant number of other families.”
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