Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Coalition backbenchers form a committee to review anomalies in the Child Support Scheme

ELLEN FANNING: We begin with broken homes. And a group of Coalition backbenchers wants to change the system under which one parent is forced to pay child support to another.

Now, under the previous Labor government, the Tax Office was given the power to garnishee the wages of a parent who'd been ordered to pay maintenance. Four hundred thousand Australians are affected by that scheme.

Well, the Federal Member for Herbert in northern Queensland, Peter Lindsay, surveyed 60 Coalition backbenchers last month and he found that more than 95 per cent supported reform of the system. He's now heading an ad hoc committee of 30 MPs who'll draft changes to the scheme in the new year.

David Spicer spoke to Mr Lindsay last night.

PETER LINDSAY: It's a matter of child support in a survey of Government Members shows that it's the issue that generates the highest level of inquiry to Members' offices across the country. And the reason that it does is that the way it's formulated is disgraceful. There are tremendous inequities in the law - causes problems for both the custodial and the non-custodial parents when marriages break down. And there are just so many inequities that it's high time that Government Members feel that we need to do something about this.

DAVID SPICER: How is this law not equitable or workable at the moment?

PETER LINDSAY: There are many, many examples, but just to name a few: people say to me 'Look, I'm forced to pay maintenance for my kids and I don't mind paying maintenance for my kids, but I'm denied access to the children. I can't see them.' People say to me 'Look, I have to pay maintenance for my kids. I don't mind doing that. I accept it's my responsibility. But I know that my ex-partner uses the money for gambling or to buy a new stereo. It doesn't get spent on the children. And I'm really frustrated because I can't do anything about this.'

On the other side of the coin there's this issue where, for example, a non-custodial parent's income may fall and then six months later the person who has charge of the children gets hit with a notice from the Tax Office saying 'Well, you've now got to pay back money.' And in an instance that I saw very recently, it was an amount of about $2,000 where the person who was looking after the children was just asked by the Taxation Office to pay back $2,000 that this person had spent six months ago. Well, what a silly state of affairs. What a disgraceful, disgusting situation that our country should run this way.

DAVID SPICER: Well, notwithstanding those examples, hasn't the scheme ensured that many children aren't left destitute, that parents are obliged to support their children after the breakdown of a relationship?

PETER LINDSAY: There is absolutely no difficulty with the philosophy that parents - and that's both parents - should be responsible for their children; that wherever possible the problem of the children should not be thrust back on the Government to sort out. I absolutely agree with that philosophy. And, you know, you find most parents agree with that philosophy. It's just when you see these terrible inequities in the system that you realise that the system isn't working as it really should work, and we've got to try and do something about it. And that's why the backbenchers in the current Government are very keen to have a solid crack at this and do something meaningful.

DAVID SPICER: Well, how can the system be made more equitable to include those anomalies where either partner becomes wealthy or where a partner is paying the money but is denied access without justification?

PETER LINDSAY: Just what the solution is at this stage, it's too early days because what we've got to do as a backbench committee is to look at every single anomaly that we can discover - all of the Members have their own variations of what the anomalies are - put them into the middle of the table and say 'Right-o, now what can we meaningfully do about this?' And I believe that in that process with perhaps up to 30 backbenchers assisting in trying to solve it, I think we're going to come up with some very good recommendations.

ELLEN FANNING: Peter Lindsay, the Federal Member for Herbert, and he was speaking from Townsville last night to A.M.'s David Spicer.