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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1219

Senator GILES —by leave-It is with considerable satisfaction that we have heard the sensitive and supportive remarks of Senator Peter Baume and Senator Powell this afternoon on the tabling of our child support proposals on behalf of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe). I would like to make two or three points in response to some of the remarks that have been made. As in any exercise of this nature, which has been correctly described as very complex, the consultation process necessarily required a timetable. I too have heard from very few sources complaints about insufficient time for that consultation but I have also received from other sources congratulations on the thoroughness of that process, the way in which it was conducted and the way in which a wide range of organisations and individuals were given the opportunity to make their views known to government. I assure the Senate that those views have all been taken into account in development of the proposals. A remarkable feature of that series of consultations has been the almost unanimous support for the main principle of this plan which is, of course, to ensure that as many families as possible are able to live in dignity and at a reasonable standard.

The principles that have been referred to on a number of occasions in the last hour are included in the statement by the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate). The foremost of them is that non-custodial parents should share the cost of supporting the children according to their capacity to pay. The consultation which will follow the tabling of this statement and precede the development of the second stage will be just as thorough as those which preceded this statement. I guarantee to the Senate that that will be the case. The second stage, which is that of developing the formula, is not necessarily easier than the first stage. To take into account the very many variables that occur within the financial arrangements between custodial and non-custodial parents has not been a simple matter; nor has it been simple to devise a scheme whereby a child support agency legislation can be developed to take account of that set of measures within the Family Law Court and the social security system.

I assure the Senate that at all times during this process we have taken into account the work that is being done by Professor Hambly in relation to matrimonial property. We have also taken into account the fact that considerable work is being done on the question of access. There is virtual unanimity that the system whereby access is administered in Australia must be improved but that the question of access itself must be kept quite separate from that of child maintenance. We have also been very conscious of the work that is being done by the social security review and have taken into account all those questions that were introduced into the debate by Senator Powell. I believe that we are as conscious as anybody in this nation of the financial and social problems of those people who are going to be most closely affected by our plan for a child support levy.

This set of proposals was not in response to the private member's Bill introduced by Senator Durack in the Senate about 18 months ago. It was in response to what we have been aware of for quite a long time; that is, the poverty of the families that are most directly involved, the feeling in the community that the responsibility for the support of those children should be more fairly allocated and the fact that the Commonwealth Government has a very strong responsibility to do something about this matter. It has been the subject, as we all know, of a considerable amount of community discussion over the past few years and a very comprehensive report that was commissioned by Senator Gareth Evans when he was the Attorney-General.

I will make another brief reference to the objectives of this proposal. We are very aware of the fact that the community generally would agree that Commonwealth expenditure be limited to what is necessary to ensure that we meet the needs of the families-the children of separated parents particularly. We are also very aware of the fact that within this community we are dealing with the poorest group, the group on which, we believe, a great deal more concern and community resources should be concentrated. At the same time, there are other groups in the community to which scarce resources should also be targeted. On this occasion we certainly are not looking at a scheme to reduce the standard of living of any group in the community. We are not interested solely in cutting welfare costs. We are very concerned to increase the well-being of those in greatest poverty particularly custodial parents and their dependent children.

Working on these child support proposals has been a challenge. We still have a great deal of hard work ahead of us. It is comforting to know that there is a spirit of co-operation in the Senate around the majority of these proposals. It is a source of satisfaction that we are able to present to the people of Australia at this time such a significant measure for the alleviation of much of Australia's poverty. We look forward to the time when we can have our child support levy operating widely within the community and, we believe, operating justly and well.