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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15538

Mr HAASE (12:18 PM) —I stand today to bring to the attention of members the frustration I feel when confronted by a number of parents in my electorate of Kalgoorlie who are struggling with the payment of child support. I have to say that child support is the single most emotive and maddening issue that is repeatedly brought to my attention. People come into my office angry and upset because they cannot see a way forward. They are at the end of their tether, they seem to be obstructed at every turn, and they feel victimised and resentful. Frankly, I do not blame them. I believe the child support system we have in place can be unduly intrusive, unfair and damaging to relationships both new and old. I can see why it is perceived by paying parents to be one-sided. I am not defending those parents who are trying to shirk their responsibilities; those who will go to extremes just to avoid paying up. I am referring to hardworking, non-custodial parents who are happy to pay towards the upkeep of their children but who also have lives of their own to lead.

It is not being selfish or uncaring; it is simply fact: we cannot badger non-custodial parents to the extent that they cannot afford to pay their bills. New relationships break down and children from second relationships suffer. The result is anything but healthy. It seems even more unfair in those cases where the custodial parent refuses to allow contact with the child. How frustrating must that be? You are paying to support a child and you cannot even visit them. I support moves to enforce Family Court orders giving non-custodial parents access to their children just as stringently as the Child Support Agency enforces the collection of child support moneys. We as a government tried in 2001 to pass legislation that would lower the non-custodial parent's child support contribution, scaled on the amount of time they spend with their children. That move was rejected by both Labor and the Democrats in the Senate.

The building of healthy relationships between children and both parents should be encouraged regardless of the state of the parents' relationship. A child is entitled to the support, love and care of both parents. Just because one parent may not live in the family household does not diminish that right. Both parents have a responsibility, to the best of their capacity, to ensure that all the needs of the child are met so that they thrive, develop and grow into decent, contributing members of the community. But a non-custodial parent's capacity and ability to pay needs to be taken into account, as should the contact—or refusal of contact—with the child. If the child support payable is assessed on the basis of gross income, why can it not be taxed as income for the custodial parent?

I have a constituent who has contacted me with a scenario where, despite having sole care of his child for two months, he is still forced to pay the mother child support. If the support is intended to be for the child, why should the parent who is caring for and supporting the child in his own home have to pay the other parent? He is being told to pay $1,500 to the child's mother for two months whilst the child was living with him. It seems quite ludicrous to me. Steps must be taken to ensure that equity and fairness are introduced to the child support system. In my electorate we have a highly-paid young male work force, possibly contributing to the fact that child support is a major issue in my electorate. I see the helplessness felt by parents, mostly men, who are not trying to dodge their responsibilities but are merely trying to survive. I feel the frustration of knowing that we as a government continue to try to make changes to the system, try to make it more equitable to all parties, and that these efforts continue to be shunted by the opposition in the Senate.

The Child Support Agency is enforcing laws that we as a government have tried to change. It is time that the system is changed and that Labor and the Democrats wake up and see the damage they are inflicting by refusing to allow those changes. I remind members opposite that the future of this nation is going to suffer, because the people we are hurting most are the children.