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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1473

Ms FATIN —Is the Minister for Social Security aware of statements made by the Opposition that it is not necessary to have a Child Support Agency to collect maintenance orders? Will the Minister inform the House why the Child Support Agency is necessary and who will benefit?

Mr HOWE —I thank the honourable member for her question. The honourable member for Richmond said yesterday in the House:

Why is it necessary for this agency to collect all orders?

He asked why it was necessary to have Big Brother if people going their separate ways can come to a mutually agreeable settlement. Similarly, on a Channel 9 program Peter Harvey said:

but there's a lot about this the Federal Opposition doesn't like. In particular, it's worried about the plan to compulsorily get the money through taxation.

The shadow spokesman replied:

We don't know why it has to be compulsory. If people are complying with maintenance agreements now, why does the bureaucracy have to get involved?

In general terms-I will preface my remarks by--

Madam SPEAKER —Will the Minister speak into the microphone? Some honourable members are having trouble hearing him. If honourable members are silent they will hear the Minister.

Mr HOWE —I preface my remarks by saying that the honourable member for Richmond communicated to me at the beginning of Question Time-I did not hear his various remarks-the fact that the Opposition would support the establishment of the Agency. We need the Agency because--

Mr Spender —That is a complete misrepresentation of what he said.

Mr Blunt —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for North Sydney will be silent. The honourable member for Richmond is perfectly capable of speaking for himself.

Mr Blunt —I did approach the Minister before the beginning of Question Time. In case the Minister did not hear what I said, I will repeat it. I said that we would not oppose the establishment of an agency and that, although I had not heard the Australian Broadcasting Corporation report, I did not believe that it was an accurate commentary.

Mr HOWE —I am sorry. Let us make it perfectly clear: Her Majesty's Opposition will not oppose the establishment of the Child Support Agency. Quite clearly, we need the Agency because 70 per cent of non-custodial parents do not pay regular support. There are 450,000 children in sole parent families being supported by the social security system. There are 250,000 lone parents on benefits. The scheme, which I announced yesterday, will mean that regular child support will be available for the first time ever. Social security will no longer have to carry, to the same extent, the full costs associated with the financial responsibility for those children.

Let me make it clear that all court orders made after the start of the Agency will be forwarded straight to the Agency for collection. Collection will be automatic unless both parties agree to opt out. Let me repeat that: Collection will be automatic unless both parties agree to opt out. Couples who come to their own arrangement do not have to use the Agency. Custodial parents on social security, however, will not be able to opt out of having their orders collected. The most valid reason for the establishment of the Child Support Agency is clearly related to the fact that there is so much child poverty in Australia today. I want to extend my answer very briefly to clarify a report that appeared today in a Sydney newspaper--

Mr Sinclair —Is it relevant?

Mr HOWE —Opposition members should calm down for a moment and consider the subject that we are talking about. We have had enormous stress and concern in relation to the Family Court of Australia because people have generated an enormous amount of emotion around the issue. I think that it will help the House if I am permitted to complete my answer. This afternoon a story appeared in a Sydney newspaper-the Daily Mirror-entitled `$153 a week child support'. It stated:

. . . a divorced father on average weekly earnings could pay up to $153 a week or 34 per cent of his wage.

I make it clear that, in terms of the formula, the Government has made no decisions about a formula and will not make any decisions--

Mr Sinclair —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The question addressed to the Minister related to a statement made by the honourable member for Richmond. The Minister yesterday had leave of the House to make a statement. If he seeks to make another statement he can have leave again today. I suggest that this is entirely irrelevant to the question that was asked of him and that he should be ruled out of order.

Madam SPEAKER —I find the Minister in order. I call the Minister, in conclusion.

Mr HOWE —I was saying that in this area, which is a very emotionally charged area, very misleading reports are not damaging to government but are very damaging to people who have a concern about this matter. That figure is a total misrepresentation.

Mr Blunt —It was based on your paper.

Mr HOWE —It was based on an option in the discussion paper which was released last October and it referred to five children. However, the report ignored the fact that the particular option to which it was referring has an exemption level. The effect of that exemption level would mean that the payment in the option-and it is only an option in the discussion paper-if it was correct, would have been of the order of $92 to support five children, not $153. If there had been a second family involved in terms of the non-custodial parent, the payment required under that option would have been $46.

I think it is very important, and certainly the Government sees it as important, that the discussion about the proposals that we have in this area is not tinged with emotion and that the Press as far as possible makes some effort to get the facts right. I believe that the course that the Government has announced will not only result in some savings to revenue, but will also result in a great deal less poverty in sole parent families in Australia.