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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1968

Mr RUDDOCK(7.31) —Variations of maintenance orders for children can be applied for where it is believed that the circumstances have changed. One of the factors that are taken into account in considering changes that might have taken place is the extent to which the consumer price index or other costs have risen. Other factors can be taken into account, and I recognise that. There are no problems about varying orders at any time, but I am seeking from the Committee an agreement that regulations may provide for an annual variation of orders for the payment of maintenance for children by reference to variations in the cost of living. This is to remove one of the matters that might ordinarily be taken into account in seeking variations and to give maintenance orders an element of automaticity. Children's needs are important, and there seems to be no justification for the fact that a parent who is paying maintenance for a child should not continue to pay an amount that is realistic. There ought not need to be the intervention of the Court to get a realistic payment.

I appreciate that when this matter was raised in another place the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) said that he agreed with the proposition in the broad and that basically it was a very worthwhile amendment but one that the Government could not support. He said that it simply would not work. He repeated himself over and over again, saying in various ways that it would not work. Senator Missen, when he discussed this matter dealt with some of the problems that were raised about fractions of cents and other difficulties that people have endeavoured to put in the way of implementing this amendment. I do not accept those arguments. When I travelled in the United States and looked in particular at family law in Chicago, one of the factors that operated in the court system was a degree of automaticity in the variation of maintenance awards for children.

I think that people who were determined to find a way of making such arrangements work with good will would be able to do so. I do not accept the judgment of those who, as the Attorney-General said, are closest to the coal face that it would be so difficult as to be incapable of being properly implemented and of operating in the way in which the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act intended. This was not an amendment from which any members of the Committee demurred. Many Ministers were involved, including the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen), in acceding to this recommendation. I think it should be supported in the form that I have proposed. I do not see in the comments the Attorney offered on a previous occasion substantial reasons why the amendment cannot be proceeded with.