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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 96

Mr TRUSS (Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (1:12 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill 1998 contains substantial measures which form part of the major reform package to the Child Support Scheme announced by the government on 30 September 1997.

The package addresses some of the concerns raised by the Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Issues and underscores the fundamental principle that parents are primarily responsible for the financial support of their children. The government, through these measures, will not intrude unnecessarily into people's lives. It provides a safety net to ensure children are adequately supported and the community does not carry an undue burden.

Parents' capacity to provide financial support

The administrative formula will be modified by increasing the liable parent's exempted income, including an allowance for a shared-care child and reducing a carer's disregarded income. It also increases a parent's taxable income by adding back rental property losses and including exempt foreign employment income. Child support payable by a parent with a subsequent family will reduce the income used in calculating family allowance entitlement.

The bill introduces a minimum child support liability of $260, including provision to withhold from income support payments. It also provides for a more accurate assessment through using the most current taxable income, thereby eliminating the requirement to apply an inflation factor. In addition, the date by which a person may lodge an estimate of income is extended to 31 July and the Registrar will be able to reject an estimate where it does not accurately reflect the person's income.

Assessments are to be modified to take into account certain kinds of parents' agreements as to care arrangements, both factual and lawful daily care of a child and a stepchild where a liable parent has a legal duty to maintain the stepchild.

The bill reduces the complexity of the departure from assessment process, clarifying the rights of parents to exchange information and the circumstances under which hearings will be granted. The Registrar will be able to initiate a departure when satisfied that a parent's financial circumstances are not accurately reflected in their child support assessment.

Parents' rights and responsibilities

The bill will provide for the following rights:

. either parent may apply for an administrative assessment of child support

. the Registrar may suspend disbursement of child support where the Family Court has been asked to make a decision

. parents may choose to privately pay and collect child support by agreement at any time and the Registrar may require parents to move to private collection where satisfied that regular payments are likely to continue

. a parent may elect to end their administrative assessment where the Secretary to the Department of Social Security has granted an exemption

. a child support assessment or agreement may continue until the end of the school year if a child turning 18 is a full-time student

. information shown on an assessment notice in relation to children of a liable parent will be limited

. parents may object to all decisions of the Registrar made in relation to administrative assessments

. greater onus on parents to notify changes in circumstances.

Flexible and streamlined administration

The bill contains improvements to streamline administration of the scheme and provides greater flexibility to meet parents' particular circumstances. These improvements include:

. removing retrospectivity in relation to the commencement of a liability

. enhancing payment options for liable parents

. providing flexibility in how information is provided

. allowing the Registrar to offset debts between parents.

Non-agency payments

Arrangements for direct (non-agency) payments in lieu of a child support liability have been changed in order to make them more flexible and allow payers more choice in the form in which child support is paid by them, while protecting payees and meeting the basic needs for children.

The important reforms in this bill will represent the second stage of the govern ment's response to the Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Law Issues. Other changes were introduced in 1997. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr McClelland) adjourned.