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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 194

Senator MACKLIN(10.18) —I think that the report of the National Maintenance Inquiry, entitled 'A Maintenance Agency for Australia' is extremely good and very comprehensive. I make only a couple of comments in relation to two areas. One concerns the recommendations in relation to taxation and the use of the Australian Taxation Office. The other concerns the recommendations in relation to the Department of Social Security. It seems to me that the arguments against the use of the Taxation Office and the Department of Social Security advanced in this report are not well founded. Indeed, I believe that propositions put up in part of this report are merely straw men to be knocked down. I think that it requires us yet again to look with a little more detail at the notion of creating yet another agency.

The report suggests that the Taxation Office is not the most appropriate department for tracking people in this country. It seems to me that if one compares the Taxation Office with any other agency that may be established, the other agency must fall far short of the capacity of the Taxation Office to keep track of people in this country. If one is concerned with trying to get as many people as possible to meet their obligations, the Taxation Office must be seen as the office best able to do that. I believe the use of the Taxation Office to collect moneys due and the use of the Social Security Department to pay them out , and the dissociation of those two roles, will eventually lead in this country to socially desirable ends. The most important one concerns the unacceptable situation at the moment of women who have custody of children and who seek to enforce payment from their husbands through their own initiative or through the courts. As is pointed out in this report, that type of pressure on individuals puts them at a grave social disadvantage. I am thinking particularly of those people who do not readily understand the operations of the courts and the various systems in this country. I hope that the Government in its review of this report will look again at the reasons it gives for dismissing the recommendation on page 321:

. . . that no steps be taken to impose upon the Australian Taxation Office a requirement to enforce as a taxation debt a sum of arrears of maintenance.

I do not believe its reasons hold up or are good reasons. Before we look at changing the system, and particularly before we establish yet another agency and another bureaucracy, we should look at the bureaucracies already in place, which have enormous expertise, which have enormous reach into the community and which have the capacity to assume these additional responsibilities with very little change to their structures. For example, the Social Security Department is well able to take upon itself the payment of further benefits to people with very little movement within that Department. The Taxation Office is quite capable of assuming responsibility for the collection of new debts in the community, as it does every year through changes in the law. At the moment I am unconvinced that a new organisation is necessary. Indeed, I am still convinced that it would be superfluous.