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Minister announces overhaul to child support; National Council for Single Mothers and their Children criticises changes.

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Tuesday 28 February 2006

Minister announces overhaul to child support system; National Council for Single Mothers and their Children criticises changes


MARK COLVIN: It's a highly charged and emotive area of public policy; how much parents should have to pay to support their children after a partnership breakdown. 


Today the Federal Government waded into that debate and unveiled its response to last year's major review of Australia's system of child support. It's announced a major overhaul of the system based on the recommendations of that report. 


The most contentious change is bound to be a new formula for child support, based on the cost of raising children, rather than the incomes of each parent. It's expected to result in some non-residential parents paying less. 


Single mothers' organisations fear it will simply result in less money for children. 


From Canberra Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: It's the biggest overhaul to Australia's system of child support in two decades, that will leave the lives of few separated parents untouched.  


The Federal Human Services Minister, Joe Hockey. 


JOE HOCKEY: So up to two million adult Australians will be affected by this package and 1.1 million Australian children. Our best information is that of the 726,000 cases on our books, only 40 will be unaffected by these changes. Now that gives you some scale of how significant the reform package is. 


PETA DONALD: It was up to Mal Brough, the recently elevated Minister for Families and Community Services, to explain the basic emphasis of the new approach. 


MAL BROUGH: This is what is in the best interest of children, not what is in the best interests of a resident or non-resident parent, but what is in the best interest of the children. 


PETA DONALD: The reforms will be phased in from July this year, but the biggest change, a new formula for calculating the amount of child support, won't start until mid 2008. 


MAL BROUGH: This now will take account equally both parents' income. Currently, the residential, resident parent has an excluded income for their own support in the order of $41,000 and the non-resident parent has in the order of $13,000.  


From 1, July 08, they'll both be treated equally, then by using the tables that have been worked out deriving the cost of children from their combined incomes, based on this latest research, will actually determine what that cost is, and share the cost based on their relative incomes between the two parents.  


You then look at the shared responsibility of the children and that is discounted to the non-custodial parent, depending on the percentage of time they actually have with those children in their care. 


PETA DONALD: Non residential parents on high incomes, mainly fathers, will have the cap lowered to just over $100,000 of income they can earn, that's taken into account for child support.  


MAL BROUGH: What we want non-resident parents to do, is to actually maintain the quality of life for the child, not the quality of life for the former spouse. 


PETA DONALD: All up the package of changes is worth $850 million over the forward estimates, with 124 million to be spent on trying to force parents to actually pay the child support they owe. 


MAL BROUGH: We believe, and estimate, that that will actually generate payments, of $484 million, to parents from obviously the non-resident parents who are not making the payments. Currently about 50 per cent of payments are made in full and on time. The rest are abdicating their responsibility or a very large percentage of them and a large component of this is to right that balance. 


PETA DONALD: The Government has implemented the recommendations of a review of the system by Professor Parkinson last year. At the time, single fathers groups welcomed what they said was a fairer model, while those representing single mothers were up in arms. 


Jac Taylor is from the National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children. She's disappointed with today's announcement,  


JAC TAYLOR: The winners are the fathers' rights group and the losers are the children.  


PETA DONALD: Why the children? 


JAC TAYLOR: Because the children, the household where the children spend most of their time, which is with the resident parent, which is overwhelmingly their mother, will be having a lower amount of child support paid to that household to look after them. 


PETA DONALD: For it's part, the Opposition believe the changes are a move in the right direction.  


Labor's Kelvin Thomson. 


KELVIN THOMSON: It has always been a matter of concern that many non-custodial or non-resident parents don't meet their child support obligations on time or in full, and so if the Government is able to better address that situation, naturally we would support that. A 


We want to support reforms which will encourage shared parenting and which will encourage a proper balance between parents as to their responsibilities in relation to their children, both financial and in terms of the support they provide in looking after them.  


MARK COLVIN: Labor's Kelvin Thomson ending that report from Peta Donald in Canberra.