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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 214

Mr TRUSS (Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:05 PM) —I begin by thanking the honourable member for Lilley and the honourable member for Hinkler for their contributions to the debate on the Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill 1998 . I know that this is an issue of great interest to many members on both sides, and there has obviously been an extensive debate on this legislation in the previous parliament. I am grateful to the opposition for granting the rapid passage of this legislation so that it can get to the other house and be taken up where it was left off at the time that the parliament concluded.

This is, as the honourable member for Lilley rightly commented, a difficult area. This legislation is an acknowledgment that not all is right with the Child Support Agency arrangements. However, he says, and I readily agree, that no matter how perfect we may get the formula and the arrangements—and we should strive to have them as perfect as is possible to be—there will still be many difficulties in this area. We are dealing with breakdowns in relationships where often there is an absence of goodwill, or where there is sadly a degree of attempting to get square and to use the formula or whatever administrative arrangements might be in place to endeavour to even up the balance sheet for things that had gone wrong in a past relationship. That certainly means that this legislation and, indeed, all endeavours in this area are often cast in the most difficult environments possible.

In the Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Law Issues there was a very comprehensive inquiry into these sorts of matters. There was tremendous public interest in that inquiry, and the report came down with 163 recommendations. That came down in 1994; and I noted the criticism by the member for Lilley of the actions of the current government in addressing those recommendations. Perhaps it is worth it to point out that, whilst he referred to his absence from this chamber for a while, he was a part of the Keating government that actually received this report and did precious little. Very few of the recommendations were dealt with by the Keating government, even though they had a year and a half or more to address them—and those that they dealt with were basically the pretty easy ones.

The coalition government was left with the report and has, through this legislation and other actions, addressed the vast majority of the recommendations of that committee. We acknowledge the bipartisan effort that was put into that committee to endeavour to address the very difficult issues involved. We have now very substantially, with this legislation, worked through the recommendations of that report.

The government has acknowledged that it does not see this legislation as the end of the issue. This is stage 2. We are already working to address others of the remaining recommendations of that report and, indeed, other issues that have come up since. The commitment was made, in the summing up of the legislation in the House of Representatives, that this was not seen by the government as the end of the matter and that further legislation could be expected in the life of this parliament.

The opposition proposes to move some amendments, and I will comment on those when we get to that stage of the debate. I thank the member for Hinkler, who outlined many of the features of the legislation and many of the changes that are proposed. They are quite comprehensive and cover a very large range of matters of concern. We know that, as the honourable member for Hinkler has rightly said, there is still more to be done, but we believe that this legislation should be supported because it does make substantial advances. I have to say that even in my own electorate I had people coming to me during the election campaign, critical of the fact that this legislation had not passed. So I hope that the Senate will deal promptly with it and that the opposition will give it smooth passage—bearing in mind that the Senate did have some opportunity to deal with it and did not take up that opportunity. I hope that they will give it much more priority when it comes to the Senate following its passage through the House on this occasion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.