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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 193


Senator HARRADINE(10.08) —The paper entitled 'A Maintenance Agency for Australia', the report of the National Maintenance Inquiry, has been tabled by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). This study has been proceeding for some considerable time. The essence of the finding of the inquiry is:

. . . that only 40 per cent of Australian maintenance orders are fully complied with.

The report also states:

. . . another 40 per cent of orders are never paid at all.

Of course those words come from the summary by the Attorney-General of the inquiry's findings. It indicates quite clearly that many Australian men are avoiding their responsibilities to their former spouses and their children. Of course, this stems in part from two factors: The easy availability of divorce under the 1975 amendments to the Family Law Act and, secondly, a belief that other taxpayers will assume prime responsibility of the husband and father by the payment of widows' pensions and supporting parents benefits.

I took the opportunity during the family law debate last year to have incorporated in Hansard figures showing the cost to the taxpayer of husbands and spouses who are not accepting their responsibilities. Given the fact that I have only five minutes in which to speak I will not repeat those points. Of course, the payment of widows' pensions and supporting parent benefits in circumstances of need is an important factor and a tolerant and charitable gesture is required in certain circumstances. The widows pension, as a part of the Budget, is entirely misnamed. As I have pointed out before, some years ago a change occurred and a majority of the recipients of the widows pension were separated or divorced women rather than de jure widows.

From time to time we hear statements that those receiving the supporting parents benefit are mostly unmarried mothers or, indeed-there have been some quite fantastic statements-that young women deliberately become pregnant in order to become eligible for this benefit. In fact, only about 10 per cent of these recipients are women who have never lived with the father of the qualifying child. Most are separated women. Women and children have been the great losers in the easy availability of divorce. There is not much dispute about that fact. The failure of large numbers of men to pay maintenance for their former spouses and their children-surely they are not former children; a man might divorce his wife but he certainly does not divorce his children-means that a third group of people are now the losers, that is, the ordinary taxpayers .

If, through the development of the welfare state, we allow the state to assume responsibilities for obligations which are clearly our own, how can we argue that a democratic state is built on foundations of personal responsibility? In the maintenance area we need to balance the obligation of the state to assist separated women and children, if they require assistance, to maintain an adequate standard of living and a determination that former spouses-if they are in a position to do so-should not avoid their financial responsibilities for their former spouses and their children. We must accept at face value, with the obvious qualifying statements, the statement in the report that a national maintenance agency could give effect to this principle with substantial savings. It is fair to warn that no one wants to see merely the creation of another bureaucracy designed to provide employment for well paid public servants.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.