October 30, 2007 12:00am
Bettina Arndt weighs up what the parties offer parents and to children's rights.
IS Kevin Rudd interested in men?
The answer, sadly, seems to be no.
Unlike John Howard, the Opposition Leader rarely talks about issues affecting many of his own gender, such as family law, child support, fatherless families, boys' education.
Indeed, this potential prime minister seems content to hand over the running on most social issues to female colleagues renowned for their anti-male bias.
For anyone keen to ensure men and boys receive a fair go, the prospect of a Labor government is all bad news.
As a prime minister, John Howard has been most unusual in his passion for social issues, his famous "barbecue stoppers" and his willingness to stick his neck out and speak about the role of men.
Remember the debate about single women's access to IVF?
While most politicians were cowed by the wave of women's rights rhetoric, Howard voiced the concern of many suggesting it isn't in our society's interest to encourage more fatherless families.
Picking up on community discontent about children losing contact with fathers after divorce, he set up a bipartisan committee to look into the "rebuttable presumption of joint custody", where parents share care unless good reasons preclude it.
But Labor's Jennie George and Jenny Macklin dug in and the committee was forced to water down their recommendations.
A 2005 survey of parliamentarians by Fathers4Equality showed 62 Coalition members likely to support a shared parenting amendment compared with six from Labor.
Yet, resulting changes to the Family Law Act have done much to ensure children's rights to contact with both parents.
Labor reluctantly supported the legislation, with Kevin Rudd expressing great concern about the changes.
He deferred to his then shadow attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, who played up the fear that children would be forced to spend time with dangerous dads.
Roxon previously dismissed the custody inquiry as "dog whistle politics to men's groups aggrieved by the Family Court". Labor's disdain for such groups is consistently demonstrated as Labor shadow ministers refuse to meet even the most respected of these organisations, despite strenuous efforts by a sprinkling of Labor backbenchers to encourage their party to take interest.
Labor MP Roger Price spent years tearing his hair out over his party's failure to implement the recommendations of the inquiry into child support that he chaired in the early 1990s.
It was the Howard Government that finally tackled this controversial issue, implementing far reaching changes recommended by an expert committee to make the scheme more equitable.
Yet, Labor's determination to cater to lone-mother lobby groups shows in their recent announcement that they are monitoring the scheme to ensure the primary carer is not disadvantaged.
They have also expressed concern about Government efforts to help lone mothers make the transition from welfare to work.
Both policies could well suffer rollbacks if Labor ends up in power.
Labor doesn't just have it in for men.
The party has consistently favoured women in the workforce over mothers at home with young children.
The last time Labor was in power, families relying on one income lost ground compared with other families, suffering an average 4 per cent drop between 1982 and 1995, according to the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling in Canberra.
At the time, Joe De Bruyn, national chairman of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Union blamed Labor's "femocrat advisers" for consistently refusing to support women who stayed home, choosing instead to promote child care to encourage workforce participation.
With more than 75 per cent of all families relying on one income when they have infants, Howard moved to increase their support. Between 1996 and 2001, a single-income, two-child family on average weekly earnings gained 16 per cent in disposable income.
Labor's more recent support for the babycare payment is a sign the feminist ideologues may be losing some of their grip on the party, but there are clear signs biases remain.
One major reason Keating lost power was the perception that Labor governed for some rather than for all.
The 750,000 non-resident parents in Australia are one group who should be wary that their interests have no place on a Labor agenda.
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