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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 193


Senator HAINES(10.14) —The report entitled 'A Maintenance Agency for Australia' of the National Maintenance Inquiry, which I have not had time to read completely because it is an extremely large one, was compiled by the Family Law Branch of the Attorney-General's Department under, I understand, the instructions of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). I believe it was one of the 49 matters that he forwarded to his Department to look into. It is, I think, a tribute to that Branch of the Department. It is one of the most comprehensive and best analyses of maintenance needs and the systems available to support those needs that I have ever had a look at. In fact, it runs very close to being as definitive a report on the history and sociology of maintenance systems as it is possible to get. It looks in detail at the legal, financial and operational anomalies, problems and benefits inherent in a wide range of schemes which apply not only in Australia but also overseas, specifically the New Zealand model. It covers the problems associated with defaulters, mostly male, and the severely disadvantaged recipients, mostly female, within the existing systems and then looks at models and methods for avoiding, or at least mitigating, those problems.

There is no question in my mind or in most people's minds that there is a need for change to maintenance payment collection and enforcement in Australia, and indeed that that change is long overdue. As the report points out, there has been an undue and costly history of evasion of payment, reliance on the social welfare system to either top up maintenance payments or to be used as an excuse for not paying maintenance at all or for cheerfully evading it. In fact, anecdotal evidence indicates that some of the fairly wealthy members of society are able to do this quite easily simply by leaving their wives and children with houses and cars and paying the children's school fees. The wives are then able to go to the Department of Social Security for their support. Furthermore, the report makes a statement that many of us have long suspected to be the case, that is, that maintenance payment decisions have usually paid more attention to the respondent's needs than to the needs of the wife and children. Clearly this is quite unsatisfactory.

As Senator Harradine pointed out quite rightly, society expects people to accept their responsibilities in caring and providing for their children. The state's responsibility is to see that this is done. Only if it is not possible for this to be done by the defaulting spouse should the state step in and fill the breach. However, Senator Harradine spoke a moment ago as if men had never evaded their responsibilities to their dependent wives and children prior to the new divorce provisions. As the report points out quite clearly, that is not the case. Men have indulged in that exercise for many years. The report specifically looks at the goldfields situation--


Senator Giles —It is a great Australian tradition.


Senator HAINES —It has not just been the great Australian tradition. I think it has been a great universal male tradition to skip off and either leave the wife and children to fend as best they can or to leave it to the state to pick up the tab. The Government, therefore, is to be commended for looking seriously at this problem. From conversations I had with the previous Minister for Social Security , I understand that the previous Government was also concerned about the problem . I understand that, like me, Senator Chaney was looking seriously at the New Zealand model at least, although I do not know how much further the previous Government went.

Nevertheless, this Government is to be commended for the action that it has taken and for looking at ways of sheeting home the responsibility for maintenance payments to the person responsible for making them. I understand from a report put out by the Attorney-General that in the first instance the Government will accept the report's recommendations regarding following the South Australian model. I hope that it also takes up the report's recommendations with regard to garnishment and looks further at the use of the taxation system in enforcing and tracing payments of maintenance by the respondent to his or her dependants.