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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1970

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(7.42) —The Government does not agree with the amendment. As the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) has said, the amendment would prevent a court from looking at the question either of payment or eligibility for payment under any law of the Commonwealth or State. I know that the thrust of his argument is that too much emphasis is being put on the fact that there would be an entitlement because thereby the courts are reducing the maintenance payments that perhaps should be paid by one of the spouses and relying on social security. Let me put it in another context. Surely that should be a matter for the laws relating to social security, whether it be for the Commonwealth or the States, to look at. One has to look at the eligibility of the rights of the parties.

Mr Cadman —Of course, it is not.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable member for Mitchell is shaking his head, obviously with some sense of disbelief. But this is not a new matter. This provision was in the earlier matrimonial causes legislation introduced way back in the 1960s. It is not a new matter in the sense that it was just thought of in the last few years. It has always been a matter for a court actually to determine the entitlements of the parties before it because it relates to the maintenance of the other party and of the children. It is purely a fiscal finding as to what would be the entitlement under other laws. If the honourable member wants to alter the issues in respect of those entitlements he ought to go to those other laws and not say that a court cannot look at the question of eligibility. In other words, he is saying: 'You may be eligible but we will not take that into consideration'. I think it is a distinction without a difference. If one is eligible under the other laws one will find that one is entitled under those laws.

There seems to be superimposed in the honourable member's reasoning the fact that, if we remove this matter from the provision whereby the court is able to look at it, the court would order an additional amount of maintenance to be paid and thereby reduce the liability on the taxpayer. That would not be the situation. It does not logically follow. The fact is that, as the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act decided, there ought to be a more effective method of collecting maintenance. That is the real issue. If maintenance were collected as ordered by the courts we would not then have a social security liability of 75 per cent of the $717m or 58 per cent of the $600m because we would have an ability to enforce the order. At the present time that has not been done and that is the social problem.