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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4902

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (12:59): I also rise to support the member for Denison's motion. Often in my electorate I have people come to my office and raise with me a couple of things in particular. One is their compassion for their own children and their commitments to wanting to make sure that their journey in life is supported, even though the circumstances between a husband and wife has reached a point in which they separate and in that separation have to enter into new agreements and arrangements. Often they say that there needs to be a review of some elements of the legislation which prevent them from having an opportunity to create the best possible pathway for their children.

Marriage separations can be very bitter—not in all instances, though. I do have constituents who have amicably separated, divorced and reached agreements in terms of their contribution and commitment to their children. In any relationship where there are children involved it takes two and the responsibility resides with both. But it is saddening when you see bitterness prevailing to the detriment of a child. I have often had people come to me saying, 'Why can't we just amend the act to enable us to do the things that are best for our child?' I have had people say to me, 'I pay maintenance; I am more than happy to do it. But I am frustrated because the money is not being spent for the purpose I intended it for, which is to ensure that my children have the best possible opportunities in life, including educational pathways.' Recently a couple came to see me and they spoke about the breakdown of a relationship and the coming together of these two people in a new partnership in life, and I made the point that their commitment in supporting their children was important. They felt that the act and the interpretation that is given to the act, and some of the orders that prevail, prevented them from entering into a shared discussion. What they wanted was a better system that would enable a supporting parent to have a say in their children's future and their pathway.

I read with great interest the Fatherhood Foundation's newsletters that come to me, partly because of the number of people who have come to me and said, 'I've reached a point where I'm contemplating taking my life.' I find that sad in this context of a society because I think that it is beholden upon us to review legislation, to look at what the impediments are that we can make better and, through that process, redesign those areas of the legislation and the administrative arrangements that cause great angst. We cannot legislate for human behaviour. But common sense should prevail in the way in which we look for solutions that encourage an opportunity for a family that has separated to look at new pathways. I often write letters on behalf of constituents advocating for support from the CSA, and we send letters to the Australian Taxation Office based on issues raised. I appreciate the legal requirements. Nevertheless, I see a constant theme of frustration.

It would be good if the member for Denison's motion were supported by both sides, and it would be good if we could review and address those things that are not quite perfect. But we are dealing with a very complex area in which legislation cannot mend broken hearts or bitterness. There we have to tread carefully, but I think that our bottom line is that we have to look at the outcome for children. Based on the evidence of work by overseas people and by the relevant research institutes in Australia, there are strong indications that children living in dysfunctional contexts tend to take a pathway that is detrimental to themselves in terms of their education, their career pathway and their health. I hope that we will transcend the differences and look at this opportunity to improve the elements that are important—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 13:04 to 13:38

Mr WYATT: Like all members of this parliament, I have received emails from individuals who have expressed their personal concerns in respect of family law and the child support system. I read the Dads in Distress Support Services newsletter with great interest because it provides constructive articles which tackle the issues of inspiring fathers and encouraging families. Dads in Distress Support Services volunteers have saved untold men on the brink of suicide and seen many children reunited with their fathers and extended families. As I indicated earlier, one of the greatest opportunities we have, and a privilege we have, is to look at the way in which we can ensure that the love accorded those parents who give their love to children is not diminished by separation.

The campaigners have long complained that fathers can be excluded from their legal right to see their children, particularly when a split has been acrimonious. By creating a new insight for children, ministers hope that judges ruling on custody disputes will ensure more equal access. This arises out of an amendment or a change to legislation in the United Kingdom, where children in the UK won the legal right to see both parents after divorce on the basis that it was the best possible outcome for children. Except in those cases where it would be of detriment to them, then I would suspect those courts would rule, based on the evidence, that it is most paramount. I also read with interest that a journalist, Loughton, last night told the Daily Telegraph:

The state cannot create happy families, or broker amicable break-ups. But if children are having decent, loving parents pushed out of their lives, we owe it to them to change the system that lets this happen.

I would hope that the review the member for Denison has proposed in this motion does get some serious consideration. Having experienced a number of constituents coming in and talking through their heartbreak, their concerns and their frustrations, I would certainly like to see some way that we can alleviate some of the frustration.

I think it is through frustration that we see inappropriate behaviour occur, and that often leads to a set of consequences that none of us really enjoys. Quite clearly, ordinary living and working arrangements make an equal division impossible and undesirable in all but a small minority of cases. In all of this, the most important thing remains the principle that the child's welfare is paramount and is always considered, and it must not be diluted. If we change and consider removing some of that despair—although we cannot remove it totally—then I think it would be far better for some of the families who are affected.

In closing I want to say that I welcome the member for Denison's motion. I certainly support the four tranches of what he recommends. Let us hope that motion goes forward and that we as members of this House look at the possibility of easing some of the pain and hurt and create the opportunities that need to be accorded to all children—that the love of one parent should never be excluded where the opportunity prevails, and that the company, companionship and the learning that we take from either parent is there intrinsically for the future so that it encourages a strong and healthy individual who can understand the antagonism but at the same time share in the love of both a mother and a father.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 13:43 to 16:00