Friday 5 May was a momentous day.
Early in the morning, an announcement was made of the end of mandatory participation in ParentsNext, affective immediately, with a new co-designed voluntary program to be ready by July 2024. CSMC and our colleagues have been working toward this for five years, and while it was too late for many of the women who joined our activism, it is a huge win for all the single parents currently participating who are no longer obliged to engage or at risk of having their payments suspended or cut for any infringement or for errors by Providers or automated systems.
Later that day, we had notice that on Budget Night the Treasurer would announce that from 20 September this year, access to the Parenting Payment Single (PPS) income support payment will be extended until the youngest child turned fourteen instead of eight years old. Any single parent who lost the PPS when their youngest turned eight will know what a relief this represents.
And to top the day off, at the end of the day, we gathered with sixty invited guests for the launch of a wonderful chapter ‘Out of wedlock, Out of luck’ authored by our host Terese Edwards as part of the newly-released book Women and Whitlam: Revisiting the Revolution.
The inspiration of the evening was the 50th anniversary of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children (NCSMC), now Single Mother Families Australia, which was founded in 1973 by some of CSMC’s founders to undertake federal advocacy work. To top it off, 2023 is also the 50th anniversary of the Supporting Mothers Benefit, the first federal social security available to single mothers – that is ‘unwed’ women having children – which was instrumental in giving women support to keep their babies instead of being forced to give them up for adoption.
Terese Edwards, CEO of Single Mother Families Australia, had convened a panel with two of her (and our) founding members and Brian Howe, Minister for Social Security in the Hawke/ Keating Government who had championed and overseen legislation of the Sole Parent Pension in 1986.
Terese kicked the evening off with single mother and Aboriginal woman Barbara Williams Weston opening the meeting with an acknowledgement of country. Terese then invited Rosemary West to tell the story of CSMC and NCSMC’s beginnings, which she did in a lively and engaging style. Trisha Harper continued with an engrossing account of the decade of policy work to secure payments and end the legal illegitimacy of children born ‘out of wedlock’. Brian Howe then shared further policy stories, reminding us that all victories have to be continually protected as even when secured, they can be threatened. All of us in the audience felt enormously privileged to listen to these speakers.
It was wonderful to be gathered by Terese to celebrate the incredible work of Single Mother Families Australia and this chapter of history which reflects of the vision and dogged determination of the women who came before us and their allies to secure essential rights over the past 50 years for single mother families. It was a joy to simultaneously be celebrating these latest landmark policy wins, which Terese has significantly impacted through a decade of determined work.
CSMC has three copies of Women and Whitlam: Revisiting the Revolution to give away. To go into the draw, simply email Margie at email@example.com with ‘Book giveaway’ in the subject line.
A timeline of change
The Supporting Mothers Benefit was introduced in 1973 under the Whitlam Government. Five years later, this was changed to the Supporting Parents Benefit under the Fraser Government, which in 1980, legislated for the Federal Government to assume full responsibility for payment of the Supporting Parents Benefit.
In 1986 Social Security Minister Brian Howe established a Social Security Committee of Cabinet and in 1988-1989 the Sole Parent Pension was introduced and merged with the former Widow’s Pension. This remained until 1999 when the pension was changed to the Parenting Payment.
In 2003, obligations were imposed upon single parents receiving these income payments.