A little-noticed item appeared and then passed in the national media during the week which deserves urgent and far closer attention than it is likely to receive in the foreseeable future.
Sadly, because it is not a politically correct or fashionable issue to address, a general lack of interest in tackling it across almost all levels of government, academia and the media means will lead to families across the nation experiencing greater and greater internal stress and dislocation which hurt children and society.
But this is Australia, where key issues often go unaddressed while the causes celebre of the political class hog the limelight.
School principals, it was reported, have spoken out on a growing trend they have noticed of younger children spending up to 11 hours a day at school as their parents use before and after-school care for child minding.
Paradoxically, while the nation’s political parties punish each other in the lead-up to the next federal election on the comparatively unimportant issue of how to handle a few thousand people attempting to annually gain illegal access to Australia, the destruction of families, family time and the increasingly intolerable social, personal and financial pressures placed upon the family unit by the nation’s economy and it political establishment has almost no chance of becoming an issue to be debated.
At any given time the wellbeing and welfare of the Australian family unit – the foundation of society – is the most important policy issue facing the nation, yet it is a measure of the relative illiteracy of Australian politics that it rarely, if ever, is treated with the respect it deserves.
A further dimension of the problem is that when one talks about families one is also talking about marriage and how it is faring in a society increasingly indifferent to its existence and oblivious of why the family and marriage are fundamentally important inter-connected issues for the welfare of individuals and the nation in general, including the economy.
The mini-baby boom and a surge in demand for childcare, it was additionally reported, has led to an increase in businesses which provide care for children out of school hours, with Australia’s largest provider reporting a 9.5 per cent increase in enrolments of five- and six-year-olds in the previous 12 months.
Almost no-one, except school principals, appears to have noticed that there may be something very wrong with this picture. Where does one start?
That families are being forced to increasingly place four and fiver-year-old children in care and to pay for it up to 11 hours a day is a scandal.
That the trend is now to enrol three-year-olds and younger is almost beyond parody but it is certainly a clear sign of an inhumane economy and a political class devoid of any apparent awareness or concern as to what is essential for the wellbeing of individuals.
What is essentially happening in a process that is now decades-long is that there is no longer such a thing as a family wage.
If there is no longer such a thing as a family wage which can be sufficiently earned by one individual, usually the male, it means that both parents must work in order to afford to own a family home or, in Perth, to rent a family home.
If both parents must work on a full-time – or near full-time – basis, it follows quite logically that parents are being dragged further and further away from their children in their earliest years at precisely the time when centuries of common sense and all the available data from the social sciences tell us that the most important factor in the lives of infants are their parents, beginning with the mother.
In short, many mothers can no longer afford to have children and, if they want to choose the option, to stay at home with them for such time until they feel they wish to re-enter the workforce.
In any other language this might be described as social dysfunction but in Australia it is considered a desirable state of affairs.
The irony is rich. Australia prides itself on being a resource-rich country which weathered the GFC of 2008 better than most but the truth is that it discriminates not only against families but especially against women who wish to be mothers.
Being a mother is now increasingly unaffordable for the vast majority of the nation’s families and a significant part of the problem is a culture which is convinced that the role of being a home-maker and a mother is a second-class occupation while the participation of women in the workforce is glamourised.
Although they are naturally drawn to establishing their own families numerous women now fear childbearing and rearing for the financial and career obstacles that these will bring.
Partly because of the political correctness which envelopes this urgent but unaddressed issue, the nation’s political leaders and parties are unwilling to address it, fearing they would be branded as attempting to discriminate against women.
It is a deeply disturbing aspect of Australian society and culture that it prides itself on having liberated women yet the increasing profusion of childcare centres as substitutes for motherhood is clear evidence that our society is increasingly failing not only women but children as well.
Three, four and five year old children should not be forced into childcare centres so that their mothers must work in order to afford the fees.