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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1969

Mr CADMAN(7.36) —I move:

(5) Clause 35, page 26, lines 33-41, omit proposed paragraph (f), substitute the following proposed paragraph:

''(f) the eligibility of either party for a pension, allowance or benefit under any superannuation fund or scheme, whether the fund or scheme was established, or operates, within or outside Australia, and the rate of any such pension, allowance or benefit being paid to either party;''.

This amendment makes some adjustment to the matters which are to be taken into account by the Family Court of Australia when it comes to settling the levels of maintenance and the division of property. The amendment removes from the principal Act the capacity for the Court to consider the law of the Commonwealth , State or Territory in regard to pensions. It commits the Court to consider pensions, allowances or benefits under any superannuation fund or scheme, whether the scheme is established within or outside Australia. The amendment would allow the Court to establish whether there is a capacity within families facing the dissolution of marriage for proper maintenance to be paid. I have come across too many instances within my electorate when magistrates or judges say to people of great financial substance and means who appear before the court that they do not have to worry about the major aspects of maintenance because their spouses are immediately eligible for social security payments. It is not a process that I think any thoughtful person could endorse. There is a capacity for those benefits to be applied for and gained without any problems in this day and age. It is a matter for the Department of Social Security to make judgments on the criteria that the rest of the community has to support. For judges sitting in court to take those benefits into account automatically means that the system must recognise that process. The regular payment that a husband may be required to make to a wife in the form of maintenance is often swept aside and the contribution of the state is substituted.

I do not think that in practice we can allow people to be completely unaccountable for decisions they have taken. There may be hardship and difficulty within the family. I am certainly in favour of the State supporting families when there is not the substance or the wherewithal for them to continue to maintain themselves, to gain proper access to food and clothing, and to meet the normal day to day needs. Therefore, by this proposal, I am removing the right of the Court to take into account Commonwealth or State benefits. However, the parties or party would immediately become eligible to make claims on the State if their means and circumstances warranted it.

I am afraid that for too long we have been faced with the circumstances of the courts, purely for a simple administrative reason, awarding benefits to an individual and taking into account the amount that that indivdual would receive by way of welfare payments. I suspect that the Committee is well aware that in 1982, $717m was paid out in widows' pensions, over half that amount going to those who were divorced. That is an increase of 174 per cent since 1975. Almost 70 per cent of recipients of the supporting parent's benefit allocated for 1982 are separated wives or de factos-a 300 per cent increase since 1975. I do not believe that those figures are an accurate reflection of the number of divorces that have taken place. Rather they are a reflection of the simplified processes that magistrates and judges can apply to people who are before them in the process of dissolution of marriage. It is, therefore, my intention to pursue this amendment for I feel it is one of justice for those in need and it is a matter of justice for those who have to pay the bills.