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Fed Govt to 'get tough' on child support debt -

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Fed Govt to 'get tough' on child support debt

The World Today - Thursday, 12 June , 2008 12:22:35

Reporter: Lindy Kerin

EMMA ALBERICI: There's some concern today about the Federal Government's tough talk on child
support.

The Minister for Human Services Joe Ludwig has revealed that he intends to crack down on parents,
particularly fathers, who are refusing to make the payments.

It's been revealed almost $1-billion is owed in child support and the Government says it has new
plans to recoup the outstanding debt.

But one parenting group says around a third of separated parents are finding it too hard to come up
with the money.

Lindy Kerin reports.

LINDY KERIN: Over the past 20 years separated parents have paid more than $25-billion in child
support through the Government agency or through private arrangements.

The Federal Minister for Human Services Joe Ludwig says while most parents are fulfilling their
obligations, many are not.

JOE LUDWIG: There's always reasons people throw up as to why they shouldn't pay child support. My
view about this is very clear cut: they do have an obligation, they must pay the child support, it
is for the benefit of the children and there really isn't any excuse why they can't make those
payments.

The amount of outstanding child support payments in Australia grew by about almost $61-million
during the 06-07 financial year to around about $951-million. It was $983-million as at March 08.

The majority of this increase though is due to growth in international cases associated with child
support, but it's still a big number when you look at the amount.

LINDY KERIN: It's estimated around 30 per cent of separated parents are paying less than the
minimum $5 a week in child support.

Joe Ludwig says he's looking at a range of options to crack down on parents who are avoiding their
responsibilities. He says he'll make an announcement in the next few weeks.

JOE LUDWIG: I'm keen to establish a clear case that this Government will get serious about it, and
I will make an announcement and we will start to work on how we ensure that people meet their
obligations.

LINDY KERIN: Dr Elspeth McInnes from the University of South Australia has conducted extensive
research about single parenting. She is the convenor of Solo Mums Australia for Family Equity.

She's welcomed the Minister's comments, saying less than half of all solo parents get paid child
support in full and on time.

ELSPETH MCINNES: It's good to hear it again. It will be great if it actually is translated into any
kind of recognisable difference on the ground for the mothers who are trying to get child support
from parents who aren't lodging tax returns, who are minimising income, who are having income in
partnership accounts and channelling it through small businesses and family trusts.

LINDY KERIN: What does the Government need to do to make the child support agency system effective?

ELSPETH MCINNES: It needs to treat it like any other debt to the Commonwealth and be serious about
getting money from people.

LINDY KERIN: But Wayne Butler the national secretary of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia
says the Government should proceed with caution. He says around 30 per cent of separated parents
are struggling to meet their commitments because of low incomes.

WAYNE BUTLER: There are a vast majority of people are meeting their obligations. There is a small
minority of people who are not meeting their obligations and those people need to meet their
obligations. It's quite straightforward.

Certainly the number of low income earners is rising. There is a very large number of payers who
are on social welfare benefits and I think that's probably a reflection of the stats that we are
seeing, a very large number of beneficiaries, pensioners or pension-type income streams that
actually are on, in these lower end statistics.

LINDY KERIN: The debate about parents and child support comes as the new system of payments is
about to come into effect on July the first.

The Minister Joe Ludwig says the changes will see a new formula that better reflects the cost of
raising children and treats parents on a more equitable basis.

JOE LUDWIG: Both parents will have the same exempt amount for the child support payment which is a
self support amount, it's currently at about 16-odd thousand dollars, and the cost of their
children will be derived from that combined income. So it is a formula that's, if you put it in
simple terms, it better reflects the costs of raising children, it better reflects the combined
income of the parents, so that it is, it takes the share of raising that children the costs there
more equally between the two parents.

EMMA ALBERICI: Federal Human Services Minister Joe Ludwig ending Lindy Kerin's report.