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Speech by The Hon Sussan Ley MP

Speech at the AGM of Relationships Australia Canberra and Region

E&OE

Thank you to Helen Berry (Board President) for your introduction

I would like to begin with an acknowledgement of the elders and traditional owners of the Ngunnawal people on whose land we are meeting this afternoon

Acknowledgement of important guests

Once again I would also like to acknowledge the Relationships Australia Canberra and Region Board President, Helen Berry

RACR CEO, Mary Pekin, Deputy CEO, Janice Wickerson and Board Vice-President, Peter Bailey

It is a great pleasure to be here on behalf of the Australian Government to address your Annual General Meeting

The Australian Government Context

Our Government has adopted a whole-of-government approach and is continuing to work with organisations and state and territory governments to support families and help build resilient communities

This Government believes strong families are essential to a healthy society

This belief is reflected in our wide range of services supporting families and couples to establish and maintain positive relationships

Family relationships are an important influence on childhood development

We know from research that children will always have the best chance to reach their potential when they grow in strong and nurturing families with both parents taking an active role in raising their children where appropriate

With the roll out the biggest ever expansion of the Family Relationship Service Program we are looking forward to continuing our good working relationship with RA

We believe an expanded range of prevention and early intervention programmes is a key element of the FRSP and family law reform package

We want to support and assist families to learn a range of skills to work through difficult times

Unfortunately family breakdown is a reality and ongoing conflict within the household can be severely detrimental to children’s development

There were about 53,000 divorces during 2003 alone – and hundreds of thousands of children are affected each year

In such circumstances it is very important that we strive, where appropriate, to support relationships particularly after breakdown

Supporting these relationships will allow the continuing and constructive involvement of both parents in the child’s life

Connecting Government

The Government has attempted to address issues facing families in an integrated manner, not only within the FRSP but within the broader context of social policy

We are working with the Departments to better deliver on our social policy agenda with a Whole of Government approach

In 2004 the Management Advisory Committee, a forum of Secretaries and Agency Heads, released Connecting Government – Whole of Government Responses to Australia’s Priority Challenges

This report dealt in a detailed way with working across organisational boundaries to deliver government objectives including policy development, programme management and service delivery

Welfare to work

We are also building upon our commitment to improve the lives of Australians by helping build the capacity and well-being of individuals

We are providing $3.6 billion to support more Australians to make the move from Welfare to Work

More parents in jobs ensures better outcomes for children through a higher standard of living for families

It also leads to improved social connections and enhanced emotional wellbeing of parents

This major initiative, overseen by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, includes an additional $260 million for childcare from my own Department of Family and Community Services

Funding for families

We have consistently demonstrated our strong commitment to families through direct funding as well as significant expansions of services and programmes

Measures such as increased Family Payments, the maternity payment, doubling of available child care places and child care benefits for grandparents all underline that commitment

In the last financial year alone, the Government spent around $15 billion on families assistance and about $6 billion on parenting payments

Tax and family policies have produced significant increases in real disposable income and effective tax thresholds for all family types

And the main winners have been low income and large families

Family Law

We have also responded positively to the Parliamentary committee of inquiry into child custody report Every picture tells a story with an unprecedented reform package of more than $397 million

This is the biggest ever investment in the family law system, involving the most fundamental changes to family law in 30 years.

The centrepiece to these changes is a nationwide network of 65 community-based Family Relationships Centres.

FRCs will be places where families can go to find out information or get assistance or reassurance

They will not be just for people going through separation or experiencing parenting difficulties

We want to strengthen families at all stages and so the Centres will have a role in building strong, healthy relationships by helping couples to access pre?marriage education and relationship skills

For separating families, FRC staff will seek to help people reach agreement on joint parenting arrangements without recourse to lawyers

And where parenting arrangements have broken down, or court orders are breached, the Centres will be the first port of call for families needing to resolve these issues

Applications will be called by the end of this month to enable the opening of the first 15 FRCs from mid next year including one here in Canberra

Family Relationships Services Program

The reform package represents a threefold increase in the FRSP

There will also be a significant expansion of early intervention and prevention services costing $74 million over the next four years

There will be more services for men and Pre-marriage and Family Relationships Education, counselling and skills training and more than $7 million for enhanced family violence responses

The primary challenge for Government and the FRSP sector will be to deliver on this huge programme investment by providing high quality and effective services that will make a real difference to families and communities

Another sector challenge over the next three to four years will be to work within the broad context of Government social policy I outlined earlier

FRCs will be the gateway to other family relationship services and will assist families to access relevant services

Large scale expansion of existing services and the new FRCs offer a multitude of opportunities for the community sector to adopt a whole-of community sector approach

Under this approach service providers will work across organisational boundaries, especially when working in partnership with governments

I am pleased to note RACR already has strong partnerships with Canberra and regional service providers and, furthermore, invests a lot a time and energy in maintaining this network

This is evidenced by the success of your Primary Dispute Resolution partnership with Centacare and Marymead

Conclusion

It has been a privilege to be able to speak with you all today

I may see some of you at the opening of RA’s new Brisbane office on Friday

I look forward to working with you all as we strive to forge a better future for our families and most importantly, our children.