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Tuesday, 30 September 1997
Page: 8835

Mr BROUGH(10.55 p.m.) —I rise tonight to talk about the Child Support Agency, something which I guess has been spoken about many times in this adjournment debate but always with negative connotations. Today the Minister for Social Security, Senator Jocelyn Newman, announced several measures that this government is going to put into place by way of legislation to be brought into the House before this Christmas.

I would like to acknowledge a number of members of this House who have been members of the backbench subcommittee in this area, which has worked very hard over the last eight to 10 months to bring these measures to fruition. The members for Bowman (Mrs West), Forde (Mrs Elson), Capricornia (Mr Marek), Dickson (Mr Tony Smith) and Richmond (Mr Anthony) are all present in the chamber tonight and have all played an important role in ensuring that those many hundreds of thousands of Australian families who have looked for something for the last eight years from the previous government have now seen a government grasp the nettle of this issue and start to address it. I would like to bring to the attention of the House a few of the issues that the subcommittee has looked at.   First of all, I want to assure the House and Australians as a whole that this government ensures that people must have responsibility for the children they bring into this world. That is what we predicate our decisions on in this area. We ensure that there is accountability in this issue. We are deem ing that any parent who has a liability for child support, regardless of their situation—be they on unemployment benefits or some sort of pension—be required to make a minimum payment of $260 a year. We have also broadened the base on which people have been able to limit their liability for child support payments by having such things as investment properties where they have been able to lower their taxable income and, in turn, reduce their liability to their children. This whole issue is about the welfare of children.

We have also increased the exempt amount of income for those non-custodial parents who we acknowledge are finding it very difficult in these times to be able to get ahead and to restart lives. Not only has the exempt income been increased by 10 per cent but also we have acknowledged that where there is shared custody of 40 or 50 per cent, those same parents can then have another addition to that exempt income, recognising that they have a life to get on with.

The measures that we have brought forward will not mean an end to this problem, with the difficulties of these emotional breakups of families; they are simply another step along the road that this government is taking.

Mr Slipper —A big improvement.

Mr BROUGH —They are an enormous improvement, as the member for Fisher reminds me. They are the first real instalments that the people have been looking for. Nearly one million people are involved with the Child Support Agency around Australia. In the conversations I have had this evening, media outlets, individuals and associations have certainly welcomed these steps. We acknowledge that there has to be more. I would like to place on the record that the Minister for Social Security has already committed herself and this government to ensuring that that process will continue. It has been through her knowledge and understanding of this problem—and that of the ministry and all members of this House—that we have not squibbed on the issue of the Child Support Agency, as those opposite did for so many years.

We have just seen the member for Wills (Mr Kelvin Thomson) stand up and talk about fair trading. Those opposite handed down 17 reports when they were in government and there was not one bit of action.

Mr Slipper —All talk and no action.

Mr BROUGH —They were all talk and no action, as we are reminded by the member for Fisher. On the issue of child support, those opposite brought down a very good joint select committee report in 1994. But what did they do? As was the case on so many issues, they did absolutely nothing at all. They left those people out there crying for help without ever considering their real needs.

This government has been responsive to the needs of both payees and payers. We will do more to ensure that this system becomes more equitable and more accountable. We will do more to ensure that, above all else, the children, who must be our greatest focus in this issue—children of both first families and of subsequent families—are looked after so that they can have the fulfilment that they deserve as young Australians.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 11 p.m., the debate is interrupted.