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Thursday, 3 June 2010
Page: 5190

Mr ANDREWS (12:31 PM) —I rise to speak on the Child Support and Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010. This bill is designed to align legislative arrangements relating to child care, particularly those relating to payments. Firstly, the bill aligns child support pay income estimate periods with financial years rather than child support years. Essentially, this changes the period over which income estimates are reconciled from 15 months to a financial year. This will ensure greater accuracy and efficiency as it is a simpler process to assess taxable income at the end of the financial year. This will also reduce delays in the automated reconciliation process.

Secondly, the bill will align care determinations under both the family assistance law and child support legislation. This amendment will allow parents or carers who are recipients of family tax benefit and who are paying or receiving child support to have the same care determinations made for a child in the case of a child having multiple carers.

Thirdly, this bill also allows for payments of family tax benefit to recipients who have not lodged their tax returns in the hope of having a lower accessible income to be cancelled. This will allow parents or carers who are entitled to FTB and also child support payers or payees to have the same care determinations made for a child where the care of the child involves more than one carer. This payment will be based on their adjusted taxable income.

The coalition has a proud history of child support policy. It was the former coalition government that established the Family Law Hotline to enable Australians to access information and advice about family law and child support issues. It funded a child support strategy that was aimed at improving post-separation relationships and encouraging parents to maintain contact with their children, which, evidence shows, will increase the likelihood of child support liabilities being met. It let payers with second families claim 100 per cent of child support paid as a deduction from the household income used for determining family tax benefit and the childcare benefit entitlements and increased the family tax benefit income test deduction for child support paid by non-resident parents with a subsequent family.

It was also the former coalition government that offered unemployed parents who had a child support responsibility access to community based parenting and relationship support services. When relationships break down and children are involved and where parents cannot agree on what support should be provided, our child support system plays an important part in ensuring that appropriate support is provided. If the government were serious about helping families and resolving disputes quickly and amicably, they would not have cut $50 million from family relationships centres and marriage counselling services in this year’s budget.

But Labor did just that. Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister, has demonstrated that the government is genuinely disinterested in families when it comes to ensuring smooth and efficient dispute resolution. For example, the government has decided not to replace four judges in the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court, placing unnecessary pressure on the judiciary, meaning that family law matters will now take even longer to get to court, let alone to be resolved.

The decision to cut almost $50 million from the Family Relationships Support Program is one to be deplored. In the budget papers the Treasurer announced a $4.5 million slashing of funding to marriage counselling in Australia. What was not in the budget papers, but was revealed in the next 24 to 48 hours, was a further slashing of $43.9 million to the family relationships centres. As my colleague here at the table will recall, these family relationships centres were established by the previous government—

Mr Hartsuyker —And very important too.

Mr ANDREWS —and were very important centres. I think there were about 65 of them throughout Australia, set up with the intent of providing a place where families having disputes and problems or issues with their relationship could go to a one-stop shop for assistance. They could obtain advice, information and assistance in relation to those disputes with a hope that reconciliation of the difficulties might be achieved and, where reconciliation could not be achieved, to at least conciliate rather than litigate the outcome of those difficulties.

The problem with this sneaky decision—sneaky because it was not announced on the budget night and was not in the budget papers but we found out afterwards—to slash $43 million from family relationships centres is that the very centres, the very organisations, the likes of Relationships Australia in the various states, and Centacare and Anglicare and other similar agencies around Australia, charitable and voluntary agencies that are providing excellent services to Australian families, will have less funding to provide those valuable and important services to Australian families right throughout Australia. As I said, it is something to be deplored and condemned and it is hard to understand why a government that routinely has used the phrase ‘working families’ in its rhetoric would actually pull funding out from the very services that provide support for families right around this nation. There has been no explanation as to why that has been done. As I said, it is regrettable in the circumstances.

The coalition support legislation that makes the interface of citizens and government departments and agencies simpler. We support aligning legislation in the areas of child support and family assistance to make life easier for parents and carers. Because of that, we will be supporting this bill.