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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2863


Ms PLIBERSEK (Minister for Human Services and Minister for Social Inclusion) (9:23 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Amendment Bill 2011. The bill has two objectives. Firstly, the bill proposes to allow the Child Support Registrar to delegate certain powers and functions to individuals outside the Department of Human Services. Secondly, the bill amends several criminal penalty provisions to ensure the offences in those provisions can be prosecuted successfully.

The government believes it is vital that the children of separated parents receive the emotional and financial support they need. While most parents do the right thing and pay their child support in full and on time, not all parents meet their child support obligations.

The Child Support Program has identified that having the ability to outsource debt collection activity to external service providers on occasions should increase the successful collection of outstanding child support liabilities.

The first amendment in the bill will enable the Child Support Registrar to delegate certain powers and functions to external service providers. This approach is currently utilised by Centrelink for collection of outstanding liabilities.

This approach aims to improve the collection of child support by using the expertise of skilled external providers for specific collection activities. The outsourcing of collection activities is expected to lead to an increase in the successful identification and collection of outstanding child support debt.

Additionally, the outsourcing of collection activities allows Child Support Program staff to concentrate on other compliance activities and better serve other Child Support customers.

The amendments to the delegation provisions under the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 are based on equivalent provisions under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 and the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010. As the Department of Human Services moves towards an integrated model between its various agencies, these amendments will enable the Child Support Program to ensure consistency of service delivery options across agencies.

The second group of amendments are to certain criminal provisions under the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988. These provisions relate to the obligations of an employer when they are required to withhold money from an employee.

Employer withholding is a process whereby an employer withholds amounts from a paying parent’s wages or salary, only as required by the Child Support Program, to be paid to CSA in satisfaction of a child support liability.

The current offences relating to employer withholdings in the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 are somewhat ambiguous. The offence provisions create an obligation and provide a penalty, but do not specify whether the offence is created by an act or omission.

A literal reading of these provisions suggests that an employer could indeed be penalised for complying with the section. This makes it difficult for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute an employer who is doing the wrong thing.

The proposed amendments will make it clear that an offence is committed when an employer fails to take a certain action.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has been consulted in the making of the proposed amendments.

These amendments will improve the prospect of successful prosecution under the act. They make it clear that it is an offence when an employer fails to deduct or remit child support payments for the benefit of children. Improving the ability of the Child Support Program to successfully prosecute employers who fail to comply with requirements under the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 will also help protect the integrity of the Child Support Program, and, at the end of the day, better support the children of separated parents.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.