If I turn up at my doctor’s surgery with chickenpox, I don’t expect the doctor to give me a packet of band-aids and tell me my problems are solved. It seems to me the Federal Opposition has taken exactly that approach with its “mentoring” policy – they have identified a problem, whacked some expensive band-aids on it and told us all that the future will be rosy.
In announcing the policy, the ALP has finally joined the Liberal-National Coalition in recognising a crucial concern. However, instead of providing a real solution, they have offered a short-sighted policy which pinches funding from the holistic approach put in place by the Australian Government.
The Opposition needs to get its history straight. I welcome their new enthusiasm for the topic of social breakdown, especially the "crisis in masculinity". However, they are merely following the lead established by the social conservatives.
For example, in 2002, I discussed the emerging "social whirlwind" in Australia that was seeing "failed performances at schools by our boys. . . to male youth suicide, the highest in the western world".
I, and others of a socially conservative persuasion, have always maintained that the individualistic social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s led inevitably to the social breakdown we face today. The "crisis in masculinity" is one such result. And I welcome the Opposition in finally sharing our concern for the wider health of our society.
Yet, Mark Latham and Lindsay Tanner need to get more than just history right – they also need the correct diagnosis. Mr Tanner has stated that the "two key authority figures" in the lives of children are "parents and teachers". Moreover, he stated that "mentoring can help fill the gap created by the decline of extended families and communities".
These statements show the shallowness of the Labor Party’s thinking on this issue. Surely the "two key authority figures" in a child’s life should be Dad and Mum? If they are present, then mentoring would cease to be a need. In fact, mentoring as such is a sad indictment on the fact that family has become a broken institution and marriage a term that some are trying to stretch beyond meaning.
In all truth, the correct diagnosis is not that there is a lack of mentors; it must be a recognition that families and communities need help and mentors are only a temporary and well-meaning band-aid.
Mentoring cannot be a one-off solve-all policy. It is not a wonder cure for the "crisis of masculinity" and social breakdown. While mentoring is a useful tool to pick up the pieces as families fail, what is needed is an approach that deals with the problem before it starts. In that sense, mentoring must be partnered with early childhood intervention, parenting training and marriage preparation and strengthening.
The Labor Party has failed, to the best of my recollection, to offer a policy on strengthening families and communities, or a policy on preparing people for marriage, or a combined approach that ties mentoring into these avenues.
Mr Latham and Mr Tanner have spent a lot of time making claims about their concern for young men and the need to solve the masculinity crisis. Yet, when their mentoring policy is examined, it is faulty. It is based on a one-sided view of history. It is shallow and trite in its diagnosis. And it is narrow in offering a solution. In effect, it is a glorified band-aid.
For us to deal effectively with the plight our youth face, both boys and girls, we must deal with the real issue at hand: the damage done to families. Mentoring is part of the Coalition's wide-ranging approach. It is placed alongside and amidst programs to strengthen communities and families. As such, we recognise our responsibility, as fathers and mothers and politicians, to help solve in the best way possible the social breakdown we see around us.
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