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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 4323

Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (13:09): I thank senators for their contribution to the debate on the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Amendment Bill 2011. The first section of the bill will enable the Child Support Registrar to delegate powers and functions to external service providers. The bill will also allow the Child Support Program to consider the use of contracted staff to undertake specific and limited jobs. The core work of the Child Support Program requires skilled work by staff who have a wide knowledge of child support matters. The minister and I are absolutely certain that no contracted service provider would be able to provide staff with this range of skills and depth of knowledge.

The bill will not be used to outsource the core work of the Child Support Program and will not be the basis of job cuts within the program. External service providers may be able to provide staff with more limited but specialised skills that could be used in specific circumstances. For example, a forensic accountant may be used to discover hidden assets belonging to parents with a child support debt. This will allow highly skilled and valued staff to concentrate on what they do best—helping Child Support Program customers and their children. This bill will also allow the Child Support Program to use external debt collectors, in limited circumstances. This approach is currently used by Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office.

The government wants to ensure that the Child Support Program has every tool available to collect unpaid child support debts. Debt collection activities will enhance the Child Support Program's existing com­pliance tools. In the first instance, the Child Support Program works with paying parents to encourage voluntary payments of child support. The engagement of a debt collection agency will only occur where Child Support Program staff have exhausted all avenues for collection and have been unable to identify any further opportunities. These delegation powers are already available to Centrelink. It is important that each agency in the newly-integrated Department of Human Services have the same powers. For example, if one person has both a Centrelink debt and a child support debt, it makes no sense that a debt collection agency would collect one part of the debt and not the other.

The outsourced services will be clearly specified in the delegation instrument, issued by the registrar as well as in guidelines provided to the contract service provider when they are engaged. The Child Support Program will consult with staff and the CSU on plans for implementation, including the nature and scope of any proposed outsourced work as specified in the delegation instru­ment. I can assure the Senate that adherence to the Australian Public Service values and code of conduct by the service-provider staff would be an essential requirement and would be specified in any contractual arrangements. I can also confirm that any outsourcing will occur in line with Commonwealth procure­ment guidelines and will be subject to review, as per contractual arrangements.

The second section of the bill relates to certain obligations on an employer to deduct and remit child support payments to the Child Support Program. The current offences relating to 'employer withholding' are written in a way which is ambiguous. The proposed bill will make it clear that it is an offence when an employer fails to take a certain action. This will improve the prospect of successful prosecution of employers who fail to deduct or remit child support payments for the benefit of children. I say, for the record, that the government will support Senator Xenophon's amendment and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.