Is it time for a new conversation about “family”?

Panel plenary session
Friday 27 July, 1330 – 1515


Madonna King, Writer and Journalist


Benjamin Law, Good Weekend
Romlie Mokak, The Lowitja Institute
Jonathan Nicholas, ReachOut
Jamila Rizvi, Author and Political Commentator
Nora Spinks, Vanier Institute of the Family, Canada

Last year the national survey on marriage legislation and the subsequent vote on same sex marriage brought something very private into the public gaze, ultimately seeing tears, applause and even impromptu singing in the House of Representatives. This was an exceptional moment in the history of social policy reform, after a period of heated and often very hurtful arguments.

The preceding period of public debate saw some advocates claiming the territory of so-called “family values” as a justification to maintain the status quo. The “yes” campaign tended to focus more on individual rights.

After what was in many ways an uncomfortable and ugly period of public discourse, is there now an opportunity to think in a fresh way about the idea and the reality of “family”? What would that conversation look like?

Is there a way of harnessing the idea and the reality of “family” in a positive and inclusive way, not one that is aligned with predominantly conservative values? Or will “family” forever be contested territory?

Social change continues to alter our lives and our experiences of “family” and relationships. More people are choosing not to have children, more people are living on their own, greater acceptance of same-sex relationships has led to a redefinition of marriage, and greater mobility means that family ties often cross continents and cultures.

Yet some attitudes and roles within families have changed little. For example, the burden of caring responsibilities is still strongly skewed towards women, reinforcing gendered roles of women as carers and men as workers, and setting up tensions around work/life balance and participation in the labour market.

Is this persistence in how families arrange themselves a strength in times of disruption, or is it evidence of an unwillingness to adapt that may prove to be a weakness? Is the time ripe to redefine “family values” so that our public policy and national debates are more inclusive of the diversity and tensions in families’ private lives? Is it time to “think family” in a new way?

Panel purpose
The purpose of this panel session is to stimulate debate and discussion on how families matter in the 21st century. The session will be facilitated by Madonna King, who will lead a Q & A panel discussion with our five panelists.