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Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Page: 2440

Senator GILES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Is the Minister aware of claims that the Child Support Agency (CSA) in Western Australia has been cutting across private arrangements for maintenance? How does the agency get involved in cases where neither party to a marriage dissolution has approached it?

Senator BOLKUS —I am aware of the articles in the West Australian about this particular issue. Going to the heart of the issue, I think the Senate needs to be reminded that when the Child Support Agency legislation passed the Senate last year that legislation provided for mechanisms for the collection of maintenance and structures which had to be followed in pursuing the Government's achievement to collect maintenance. Basically, the two requirements were that a person who obtains a maintenance order has to either apply to the agency for the agency to collect the maintenance or opt out of agency collection. The other obligation under the Act was that courts were required to send to the Child Support Agency a copy of all orders they made.

Because of this and because many lawyers practising in the family law area are still failing to advise clients of their obligation either to apply to the CSA for collection or to opt out, we are in a situation, particularly in Western Australia, where there are a significant number of orders which have not been registered and for which no application has been received. Because of this and because this could lead to major cost on revenue, the Perth Child Support Agency exercised its powers under section 24 (2) of the Child Support Act to register a number of these orders. As a consequence, we have had the problem that Senator Giles refers to. The primary reason for the difficulties that have arisen is that people who are not pensioners and beneficiaries have not been aware of their obligation, and have not complied with that obligation, either to apply for registration or to opt out. As I said, one reason for this is that many lawyers practising in this area are not accurately advising their clients of the effect of the particular legislation.

The other particular problem-and the Government finds it regrettable-is that the first letter from the CSA to the payee in the particular case which Senator Giles referred to did not make it clear that the payee, who was not a pensioner or beneficiary, could simply opt out of CSA collection. The agency has, therefore, modified its procedures to make sure that people are accurately advised of their rights to opt out prior to collection and, in doing so, has rendered an apology to any particular person who has been inconvenienced by the practice that has been followed so far.