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  • Family centre contract row
  • By Annabel Stafford, Canberra
  • The Age
  • 25/01/2007 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 59 articles in 2007 )
The Federal Government has come under fire for awarding several contracts for its new family relationship centres to Catholic or Christian agencies or consortiums of which they are a part.

Last year, the Government opened the first of what will eventually be 65 family relationship centres to help couples going through divorce or separation.

The centres - in which troubled couples can get a free three-hour counselling session - are part of major changes to family law that the Government brought in last year. These included a requirement for parents to attend dispute resolution and develop a parenting plan before going to court - except in exceptional circumstances.

But yesterday, Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she was concerned that some of the centres would be run by "faith-based organisations", after the Government announced the winners of contracts to run 25 of the centres.

"I think we need to be careful about the philosophy that may run through some of the faith-based centres," Senator Siewert said.

"We need to be clear that people are getting independent, unbiased advice. I know groups like Centacare (which will run some centres on its own or as part of a consortium) do some excellent community work.

"But when it comes to things like this where you can cross that line into where people's faith starts to get involved, then you need to be sure that all the people providing advice are qualified practitioners."

Senator Siewert said there should be strict guidelines setting out the qualifications required by counsellors as well as "ongoing monitoring of services". But her main worry with the family relationship centres was not that they might be run by faith-based groups, but that they were being "set up to fail".

It was not always possible or desirable for couples to go into dispute resolution or to share parenting responsibility, she said. "And I think we're setting up a potentially disastrous social situation."

A spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock dismissed Senator Siewert's concerns about faith-based organisations running the centres. "These are all people who are suitable to run relationship services. Yes, there are some faith-based people, but the Government doesn't believe that should impede anyone from taking advantage of what has been a very popular service."



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