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Thursday, 2 April 1998
Page: 2465

Mr EOIN CAMERON (11:21 AM) —I welcome the introduction of this Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill 1998 . I do not think I would be an orphan in this place if I said that child support problems were amongst the most complaints that my office received, and certainly they cause the most headaches. Prior to my election in 1993, I had never before in my life seen so many men breaking down—emotional, nervous and physical wrecks. I think everyone has their particular horror stories to tell. I have too many horror stories to mention in the time that we have this morning.

One particular case saddened me greatly and this legislation will go a long way towards sorting it out. Obviously, names cannot be mentioned. A gentleman's marriage broke down. He had two young children. His wife moved with the young children to be closer to her immediate family in the eastern states. Because of work situations, he had to remain in Western Australia where he had a job.

As a result of some of the treatment meted out to him, he was working extraordinary hours to the stage that he was a mental and physical wreck. The only times he got to see his two young children were when he would fly them to Western Australia twice a year to spend a week with him each time. Because of his financial circumstances, he would try to get the best air fare imaginable. By booking with the airlines well ahead, he would manage to get a cheap deal. For three consecutive years—that is, six consecutive trips—the day before the children were due to board the plane in the eastern states to fly to Perth, his wife would call and say, `So and so has got a cold and cannot fly.' This would mean that he had to rebook. The child, of course, would have a miraculous recovery the next day. He would have to rebook and pay the full fair. It was just sheer spite. Stories like that are legend. I think so many of my colleagues can tell stories like that. The fact that the wife had remarried and was a millionaire was beside the point. She was just meting out all kinds of vicious treatment when she could.

When Benjamin Franklin said the two certain things in life were death and taxes, he obviously did not foresee the Child Support Agency and the associated problems there. Unfortunately, we will never have adequate legislation in the eyes of those affected by the child support act. Either way, one party will always be in dispute with the other and I do not have enough feet and hands to count the number of allegations that have come into my office of former partners evading tax, hiding income, ripping off Social Security and the like. Nevertheless, while this act will never be amended to the satisfaction of everyone, it can be improved, and I am confident that the changes proposed to this legislation do go some of the way towards fixing the child support act.

The important principle highlighted by this bill is that the parents hold primary responsibility for the financial support of their children, and it is high time all parents adhered to this principle. Children come into this world, more often than not, from a loving partnership. Too often, that partnership dissolves and too many parents do their utmost to avoid contributing to the upbringing of their children.

In the House the other day I spoke about domestic violence and mentioned that children learned from their parents. It is such a shame that many children learn these days that it is easy to divorce, that it is worth while fighting over evading responsibility for the upkeep of dependants. One aspect of this legislation I particularly support is that the minimum child support liability for all payers should be $5 per week, including for those receiving income support. I wholeheartedly agree with that particular policy for it is a sign to parents that they cannot evade their responsibilities altogether. It reinforces the principle that parents should share in the cost of supporting their children, and there is nothing wrong with the notion that parents accept responsibility for their children. I do get extremely cheesed off when people threaten to quit their job and go on the dole so that they do not have to carry out the responsibility of providing for the upkeep of their offspring. By taking a token sum from the social security payments of parents, it reinforces the principle that both parents are responsible for the upkeep of their children, irrespective of their source of income.

A further pleasing aspect of this legislation is that it allows parents to move, by agreement, from Child Support Agency collection to private collection. I have had parents come and see me seeking this option. If parents can take on that responsibility, they should be allowed to do so. Furthermore, the registrar can also require parents to move to private collection if it is considered that regular payments will continue—and that, indeed, is a welcome sign. The less government intrusion into the lives of Australians the better. The Child Support Agency will still provide parents with a service to determine the amount payable and to register parents' agreements and court orders.

The bill also recognises the difficulties for some paying parents in maintaining their own life, notwithstanding the responsibility to their children. Paying parents still have a right to a reasonably normal life, and to have another relationship and family if they so choose. This legislation makes amendments to better recognise the capacity of parents to pay, which is, of course, a source of numerous complaints to my office and, I am sure, the offices of my colleagues.

I am pleased to support the legislation. It meets with the satisfaction of a number of my constituents who have contacted me since the changes were announced—in fact, they were delighted with the proposals. I must say this is not the end of the government's changes to child support. I welcome the fact that a task force of government members will be established to examine further proposed changes to the child support scheme. I commend the bill to the House and look forward to fewer complaints about the child support scheme.