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Friday, 13 September 1985
Page: 527

Senator CHANEY —My question is also addressed to Senator Ryan in the same capacity in which she has just answered the last question. Is she familiar with the decisions which have apparently been taken by her Government to amend the Family Law Act to require the Family Court of Australia to ignore social security benefits in determining maintenance? Is that report correct? Has the Minister for Social Security signalled that move in a speech to the Australian Council of Social Service? I further ask the Minister: Is it the policy of her Government to strengthen the maintenance collection arrangements, a policy which was advocated by it in 1983? Can she explain to the Senate in what way what is being put forward by the Government in this field is different from what I have been arguing, namely, that a strengthening of maintenance collection and changes to the Family Law Act would in fact improve disposable income and shift some of the burden from taxpayers to the private citizens who probably should bear those burdens?

Senator RYAN —I would be very concerned if I thought that Senator Chaney and I were at one on this matter, but in terms of the last part of his question it sounds as though we may be. It is the case that the Government has under review the question of maintenance collection.

Senator Walters —What about Senator Durack's private member's Bill?

Senator RYAN —Well, Mr President-

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Ryan, will you answer Senator Chaney.

Senator RYAN —I will answer Senator Chaney when Senator Walters stops shouting and screaming so that I can be heard. It is the case that the Government has this matter under review, I think in the form of an interdepartmental committee which is looking at the effect on families of present family law provisions and maintenance collection provisions and at the kinds of decisions that are made in the Family Court. Of course, it is a matter of concern to us that the public burden for the support of single parents is so large, although, having said that, I should like to qualify it by saying that our Government would not take any steps which would reduce the income of needy single parents.

Senator Chaney —No one is advocating that.

Senator RYAN —Good. I am pleased to hear that no one is advocating it; we may get to a bipartisan position on this matter. What would be a requirement of our Government-I do not know whether it would also be a bipartisan matter between Senator Chaney and me-is that, if we were able to develop new ways of collecting maintenance payments from people well able to pay them for their spouses and their children, the burden of that collection would not fall on the individual dependent spouse, which it can do under present arrangements. For example, in Israel it is the case that the state takes on the responsibility of pursuing the maintenance paying spouse.

Senator Gareth Evans —And in South Australia and Western Australia.

Senator RYAN —I thank Senator Evans. An arrangement of that kind would be acceptable. It is certainly not our Government's view that people who are well able to support their families should be allowed to abandon that responsibility. On the other hand, nor is it our view that a burden of legal action and pursuit of a spouse in these matters should fall to the individual woman-it mainly is a woman, but in some cases a man-thus creating further difficulties for that individual. I hope that, as a result of the review that the Government is undertaking, we will be able to develop a fairer system. When that happens, I am pleased to realise that it will have the support of the Opposition.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question. I welcome that indication of a change of stance by the Government. I simply remind the Minister that when Senator Durack and I advocated that sort of change to the Family Law Act a couple of years ago, she and her colleagues voted against it. Can the Minister just confirm that the Government is reconsidering the attitude it took at that time?

Senator RYAN —The Government is considering the implementation of national maintenance enforcement measures, but such measures-which the Government has not yet determined-would have to comply with the various criteria I have set out in reply to Senator Chaney's question.