Hopes and fears on couples program

FAMILY health advocates are eager to see the rollout of the federal government's $20 million relationship counselling voucher program, with hopes that the 12-month trial will be as successful as a similar initiative tested in Tasmania 15 years ago.

However, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is yet to say which service providers will be eligible to accept the $200 vouchers, with some fearing that experienced private practitioners will be excluded from the program.

From July 1, the Stronger Relationships trial will give up to 100,000 couples $200 to access relationship counselling, as part of a move to lessen the social and economic costs of family breakdown.

Relationships Tasmania chief executive Matt Rowell praised the government's commitment to give all types of couples the skills to endure difficult times.

Launceston-based counselling social worker David Hunnerup, also a marriage celebrant, agreed that the move was a "political winner", but said he was concerned that the program would be limited to particular agencies.

"Obviously I declare a self-interest in this - but there are a lot of good relationship counsellors out there who I fear will not be involved because they are not affiliated with an agency," he said.

"In the long run, it is taking business away from them, and that is a bit unfair."

Mr Hunnerup said he was heartened to see the program was open to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex couples, and that it included financial counselling.

He also hoped the 12-month trial would prove as popular as a similar program that was tested in Tasmania 15 years ago.

The Department of Family and Community Services' pre-marriage education pilot program in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia offered pre-marriage education vouchers.

More than 60 per cent of attendees across the country said the scheme improved their communication skills, while 25 per cent who used the vouchers said they wouldn't have otherwise attended counselling.

Mr Hunnerup said the government's new program would need five years for its true worth to be realised.

"It depends on how it is sold, but I believe it will need the first two years capture people's attention and bed it down," he said.


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