Dear Senator David Leyonhjelm,
I'm a proud parent to a gorgeous little eight month old boy. Or, as you would put it, 'bundle of dribble and sputum'. Although (most days) I would disagree with you there.
Actually, I disagree with you on a few points. In November, you gave a speech to the Australian Parliament which threw a few choice bombs at Australian parents and their children, while trying to praise those who are childless in our society.
The quotes your speech provided, Senator, have prompted me to write a response. And one that I hope is fair, balanced and more nuanced than your attempt at adult conversation in Parliament.
Thanking one group doesn't mean insulting another
My main question to you, Senator, is: why must your thanks and praise of one section of our population rest upon the denigration of another section?
In my response I hope I characterise you more kindly than you have other people. Because that's the decent thing to do, right?
While I might laugh knowingly at the label 'bundles of dribble and sputum', you also labelled children 'little blighters'. I have to ask: would you ever use that language towards a physically incapacitated adult? Someone like Stephen Hawking, for example? Of course not. So why is it OK to label children with those derogatory terms?
Children are valuable—let our language reflect this
I look at my son, and imagine the kind of boy and man he will grow to be. I hope that he will be someone who is respectful, polite, who speaks kindly, wisely, and has a great capacity to empathise with others.
Unfortunately, this is not only determined by my input but also what he sees and hears around him. Senator, your attitude to the 'least of these' in our society is not one I hope my son will emulate. But how can I hope to raise such a man when someone in your position—of authority and leadership—cannot even use grown-up, appropriate language in a forum which should call for utmost respect for other people? While you asked for people to 'please, think of the childless', when you are giving such a speech, would you please think of the children who are listening?
Whether or not you like children (and I don't think everyone has to) does not disqualify you from regarding them in your speech and actions as fully valuable members of society. Our value is not based on what we can contribute or what we take away from the system. We are valuable because we are human—regardless of age or stage.
Children and families benefit from Government support
In addition to my concern about your language, Senator, I'm also a bit worried that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how our tax and welfare system works. I guess I thought you'd have this figured out already, seeing how you work in politics. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to think that taxpayers have the right to pick and choose which Government benefits they will contribute towards and benefit from.
For example, of the childless, you said,
You work for more years and become more productive than the rest of Australia. You pay thousands and thousands of dollars more tax than other Australians. You get next to no welfare and your use of public health services is minimal. But you pay when other people get pregnant, you pay when they give birth, you pay when they stay at home to look after their offspring, you pay for the child's food, clothing and shelter, you pay when the child goes to child care and you pay when the child goes to primary and secondary school. And then you pay when it goes to university.
Oh Senator—do you not realise that it is not only childless people whose dollars pay for these things you mentioned? Working parents also contribute too!
In fact, we all contribute tax dollars towards services which we either never use or indirectly benefit from. For example, I've never had a fire truck defend my house from fire. But I'll gladly see our tax dollars go towards a fire service.
And what's more, the whole of society benefits when children are born, when they are nurtured at home, when they are fed and clothed and educated. While parents should bear the brunt of these costs (as in most cases they have chosen to have this child), is it too much to ask that society support those who will, later in life, give back to society?
In fact, Australia's fertility rate suggests we aren't having enough babies to support ourselves! It's almost like we need to encourage more people to step into the dirty work of raising 'bundles of dribble and sputum' (a job which comes with the benefits of little sleep and a whole lot of judgement—but that's another post!).
Society benefits from children and families
Senator, you also made this argument:
For some people, childlessness is not a choice; it is a great sadness. Forcing them to hand over money to more fortunate people is like charity in reverse. It's like making people in wheelchairs pay for other people's running shoes.
Yes, childlessness can be a great sadness for those who desire children. But I hope that those who are childless can be happy for those who have children and desire that our society is set up to support families and their children—children who are the future of our country.
Senator, I believe you were a child once, yes? And as a child, did you not benefit from a free education? From free health care? Perhaps even a free university degree? Please don't tell me that your parents, and they alone, bore the entire cost of bringing you up with absolutely no benefit from our tax system? And please tell me that, at tax time, you do nothing to try and minimise the tax you might contribute to the system? And your retirement will be completely self-funded with no impact on our aged care system or health system? I won't go on.
It's right to thank the childless
Finally, Senator, I think I can agree with you on one thing. Let's thank the childless who do contribute to the feeding, clothing and education of our children. They do work hard. They are often not thanked; often seen as merely resources to fund our system, and that's not right.
Just as you say, Senator, there is sometimes a very poor attitude to childless and single people. But let's not use this as a basis for a poor attitude to parents and children. After all, it's not us vs them. We are all in this together—let's speak and act that way.
Sarah Urmston lives in Melbourne with her husband, Stephen. She loves God, her family, writing, colouring in, crochet, and creating lists. Sarah works full-time at home and tries to get out when her motivations, feeding schedules and nap times allow.
Sarah Urmston's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-urmston.html