NEWLYWEDS across Australia will be given a $200 voucher for marriage counselling from July 1, as part of a $20 million trial to strengthen relationships and avoid family breakdowns.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews confirmed the Federal Government’s $200 voucher scheme would proceed with a 12-month trial of 100,000 couples starting on July 1.
The Federal Government believes the move will strengthen relationships, create more happiness and stability in the home and create a better environment for children.
“The evidence shows that strong relationships between parents make a substantial difference to a child,” Mr Andrews said.
“Australian research also consistently finds that marriage and relationship education assists committed, married, engaged or cohabiting couples to move through the phases of their relationship with improved relationship skills, strengthening relationships for up to five years.”
About 120,000 couples are married in Australia every year.
The $200 subsidy will be able to be used for marriage and relationship education and counselling, including parenting education, conflict resolution and financial management education.
While the focus is on couples who are married or intending to marry, couples who are in a committed relationship, including same-sex couples, will also be eligible for the payment.
Relationship counsellors have welcomed the scheme, saying it is important for couples to discuss their values ¬before tying the knot.
Relationships Australia (Qld) counsellor Valerie Holden said the first year of marriage was a time of transition.
“There are some things you don’t even think about or are not aware of until you get married – your beliefs, yours idea about finances or children,” she said.
“You are also getting used to living with someone, so there are issues that pop up in that first year that you don’t anticipate. Having a place to talk about that is a good thing.”
Centacare co-ordinator of pre-marriage education services Jennifer Mason said many couples attended pre-marriage education sessions, often through their church, before marriage.
“Couples provide overwhelmingly positive feedback, they speak about the advantage of being able to dedicate time to their relationship,” she said.
“Programs like ours are really about couples taking time out from their daily life, having some dedicated time together and looking at improving their skills.
“Newlyweds face problems like all couples.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the Coalition’s priorities were “all wrong”.
“Marriage counselling is a nice idea,” he said. “But really, when you’re cutting the SchoolKids bonus, when you’re seeing child care workers’ promises being unfunded and child care workers not getting properly paid – where are the priorities of the Abbott Government?
“On one hand, they’ll take away from working parents and School Kids bonus, they’ll talk about a GP tax which means making it more expensive for families to take their kids to the doctor… so I think this is a government who doesn’t quite appreciate that cost of living can put pressure on marriages.”
Mr Shorten said the money could be better spent on maintaining election commitments.
“Perhaps the first thing they could do with this $20 million is say ‘alright we’re actually going to keep our promise that we made to voters before the election in order to get them to vote for us at the election,” he said.
“I would say to the Abbott Government, stick to your promises, don’t break your promises.”
Brisbane newlyweds Tegan, 28, and William, 32, Gray, were not convinced about the need for the new counselling subsidy.
“I’m sure it’s a good idea, but at the same time it puts a dampener on something you are excited about,” Mrs Gray said.
Mr Gray joked: “I don’t need a psychologist or a counsellor to tell me I should do what I’m told.”
The trial will be evaluated after a year.