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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 367

Senator SPINDLER (5.19 p.m.) —As a member of the inquiry conducted by the Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Law Issues, I, too, was concerned that the income support scheme required a thorough investigation and overhaul. I am pleased that the efforts to bring that about have now come to fruition and that the inquiry is under way. I am also pleased to be a member of this inquiry for a further term. I do believe that the guiding principle of this inquiry should be the welfare of the children, as indeed the Family Law Act prescribes in general terms whenever one talks about a family break-up.

  My experience during the family law inquiry and my experience with this inquiry so far has overwhelmingly made me realise once again how difficult it is to find legislative and administrative solutions to what is essentially an extremely traumatic personal experience for the people who are involved. I believe it is our task to minimise the trauma and, in particular, minimise the suffering of the children involved and ensure that they live full and satisfying lives which are supported not only by basic necessities but also by opportunities for future development.

  Even at this stage it is very clear that the many letters and phone calls that I, other members of the family law committee and, no doubt, other members of parliament, particularly senators, have received from people who feel that this scheme is not functioning as it should have brought out major difficulties in the operation of the scheme. It is very clear that the structure is far too rigid and does not allow the departmental officers to take account of particular circumstances as they affect individual families. The structure is too inflexible and cannot accommodate individual circumstances where hardship exists and where the provisions of the scheme operate to make it impossible for people to find an equitable solution to the problems that they experience.

  The details of the responses that we received from this phone-in—the report about which I am addressing—have been mentioned by Senator Reid. I shall not delay the Senate by going through these again. Suffice to say, the very volume of responses that we received—150,000 calls, with 700 calls individually listened to and dealt with—indicates the massive difficulties that the community is experiencing in this area. I, too, have experienced a degree of humility in assessing this response. I, too, would like to say `thanks for listening'. I make a commitment that the work of the committee will be pursued conscientiously to address the difficulties that people have brought to our attention.

  It is obviously too early at this stage to foreshadow solutions to the problems that have been brought to us. All we can do is work with dedication and in great detail to assess the record number of submissions—the several thousand submissions—which have reached the committee, in addition to the calls that we received on this hotline. I would simply like to say, `Thanks for listening'.