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The Lone Fathers’ Association (LFA) is the largest and longest-running of the non-government organisations in Australia which have been set up to assist individuals and lobby for improvements in law and administration of family law. The LFA has a particular focus on fathers and their children, but does not discriminate between men and women. About a third of its members and half of its national executive are women.
The Lone Fathers Association ACT Inc was established in 1973, and there have been about twenty LFA Branches established throughout Australia.
The Lone Fathers Association (Australia) Inc. (LFAA) was established at the national level in 1982, and has been recognised by Australian Governments as the key peak body for separated fathers and their children since 1999.
A modest amount of government funding has been provided to the LFA over the last ten years or so, but for four decades the organisation has relied largely on its own volunteer resources and its keen concern for the rights of children to be loved and guided by both their fathers and mothers. In directing public attention to these basic issues for the health of society, the LFA has always operated scrupulously within the law.
Early LFA publicity for the cause of lone fathers and their children included:
– a “tent embassy” on the lawns of Parliament House by Mr Barry Williams in 1977, and again by the LFA in 1995, designed to attract the attention of the national media and members of Parliament,
in 1990 the largest national conference on family law held in Australia up until that time, with a broad range of invited expert speakers, both male and female, to inform the Government and the public about key family law issues.
The 1977 tent embassy was followed by the swift passage of Commonwealth legislation extending the Single Mothers’ Benefit to single fathers with care of their children, and renaming it as the Sole Parents Pension. The 1995 embassy exposed many issues in family law, including the serious issue of denial of access and the inability of the lawmakers and courts to act on contraventions and punish the defaulters.
The 1990 national conference on family law resulted in a major expansion of public understanding of key issues in family law – including a consensus on many of them – and also enhanced awareness of the expertise of the LFA in this area.
The LFA established a capability for providing advice to government across a wide range of family law issues. With this capacity, it has been able to provide sound analysis of the extensive range of information and comment available on family law and administration.
The trail-blazing1990 conference was/has been followed by triennial national conferences covering similar ground. The most recent of these conferences was held in 2010.
Government appreciation of the LFA’s high-quality submissions to government inquiries have led to requests for an LFA representative to be appointed to deliberative groups such as the consultative committee that designed the original child support scheme, and, nearly twenty years later, the Ministerial task force which redesigned it. There is clear evidence of the influence that the LFA representative was able to bring to bear on the deliberations of those committees – for example, the changes from the parameters in the early design of the original child support scheme to those eventually recommended by the consultative committee.
Many policy suggestions made by the LFA over the years have been accepted by successive Australian governments. Policy ideas which have been developed and energetically promoted by the LFA over the years and were eventually adopted by government include:
– Extension of the single mothers benefit to include fathers (1977)
– A system of Federal magistrates courts to assist the Family Court in dealing effectively and expeditiously with less complex family law disputes (1984)
– Penalties for defiance of contravention orders (1991)
– Guides for mounting litigants’ own cases in family law proceedings (1997)
– A pioneer crisis and accommodation service for fathers and their children in the ACT (1999-2002)
– Legislation encouraging shared parenting after separation, greater access to mediation, via an Australia-wide network of Family Relationship Centres, in settling family disputes, and a less adversarial approach in the operation of the family court system (2003-2006). The policy of introducing Family Relationships Centres, now implemented, was largely founded on the LFA’s advocacy over many years of “family assistance bureaus” with the same objectives
– Reform of the Child Support Scheme (2004-2008).
Nevertheless, much further policy reform remains to be to done. Continuing gender bias in Government policy is indicated by –
– Failure on the part of the Government to establish a Government Office of the Status of Men and Their Families to provide essential policy balance to the (very well resourced) Office of Women
– Anti-discrimination measures confined to measures which accord with radical feminist agendas,
– Government funding going overwhelmingly to bodies with feminist objectives and feminist staff, and
– Crisis and accommodation services for men and their children accounting for only a tiny fraction of the services available to women.
The LFA will continue to address these issues with government.
The LFA has joined other affiliated groups in promoting the status of the family, maintaining family values as a priority in welfare community programs and sustaining family as an issue throughout development of government social strategy.
Initiative, resourcefulness and experience through member self-help has kept core functions in focus while the work of the LFA has matured well beyond the special needs of lone fathers.