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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 4321

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (13:00): I rise to speak on the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Amendment Bill 2011. This bill makes minor amendĀ­ments to the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 to allow the Child Support Registrar to delegate powers that would permit the outsourcing of particular services, such as debt collection. It also amends a number of criminal penalty provisions to help ensure successful prosecution where wrongdoing is found and to underpin the integrity of the Child Support Scheme.

The Child Support Agency is required to collect outstanding child support debts; that is part of their core business. At present there are a range of ways that the CSA can recoup outstanding debts from parents who refuse to pay child support. This bill will expand the avenues that the Child Support Registrar can pursue for debt collection. In particular, it will allow the registrar to outsource debt collection activities to specialised debt collection services. Centrelink already has an existing capacity to outsource to specialist debt collector services, but this bill will give the Child Support Registrar similar powers. This measure is designed to increase the successful collection of child support liabilities owed by parents who have refused to pay.

Item 5 of the bill is intended to make clear that an employer who fails to deduct child support from an employee's pay when required to do so has committed an offence. The government has said that this measure is designed to correct an ambiguity in the legislation which did not make it clear that an employer could commit an offence by failing to withhold pay when required to do so. The government has indicated that a literal interpretation of the provision suggests that an employer could be penalised for complying with the section as it is currently drafted. This makes prosecution difficult. The bill clarifies that an employer is strictly liable for failing to act appropriately when required to do so. This should enhance the prospect for success of prosecution when there is wrongdoing.

Importantly, the government has indicated that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has been consulted in the drafting of the proposed amendments and, given that the bill makes a number of technical amendments which appear to enhance the operation of the Child Support Agency and registrar, the coalition will not be opposing the bill.