October 10th 2015


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Will drought and falling dollar spike food prices?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

EDITORIAL Obama's climate gambit: do as I say, not as I do!

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

RURAL AFFAIRS FTAs eat away at our food and agriculture surpluses

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Byzantine Catholics driven underground

FINANCE Hidden by a metaphor: the secret life of money

EDUCATION Proliferation of screens making kids no smarter

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cabinet door must be open to public service

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Child-support program under the microscope

PUBLIC POLICY Prohibition of drugs has the evidence on its side

CINEMA Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

BOOK REVIEW Hope for the Land of the Southern Cross

BOOK REVIEW Evaluating arguments against free will

LETTERS

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FAMILY AND SOCIETY
Child-support program under the microscope




News Weekly, October 10, 2015

The Commonwealth House of Repre­sentatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs recently tabled the report on its inquiry into the Child Support Program (CSP). This article is the first of a two-part review that will consider submissions to the inquiry, the committee response and recommendations, and their ramifications. Michael Ord reports.

The aim of the Child Support Program (CSP) is to provide support, advice and financial adjudi­cation for separated parents. The CSP is one of the Australian Government’s largest social services programs, interacting with the family assistance system, family law and taxation streams, and affecting some 1.2 million children.

There were around 1.3 million parents involved in the CSP in 2012-13. The majority (90 per cent) of payees are female and the majority (also 90 per cent) of payers are male. In 2013-14 the total amount of child support transferred between parents was $3.5 billion.

The incomes of parents in the CSP are, on average, much lower than those of parents in the general population who have not separated. The average taxable income of child support payees at June 2013 was $28,500, and around 58 per cent of payees in active cases receive an income support payment, typically the Parenting Payment, Newstart Allowance or Disability Support Pension.

On the other side, the average taxable income of payers was $46,100, and about 24 per cent of payers receive an income support payment, typically Newstart Allowance or Disability Support Pension. The average annual liability is around $4,400, although, in over 36 per cent of cases, the annual rate of child support is less than $500.

The committee was to inquire on the methods used to collect payments in arrears and manage overpayments, flexibility to accommodate changing circumstances of families, alignment of child support and family assistance frameworks, linkages between Family Court decisions and child-support policies, and how the CSP could provide better outcomes for high-conflict families. The inquiry took submissions, provided an online questionnaire, held public hearings and community statement sessions, and heard a large number of personal stories.

Analysis of submissions

The inquiry received 128 written submissions. A total of 79 (60 per cent) were private submissions, including 58 from payers and nine from payees. There were 13 (10 per cent) submissions from women’s groups, nine from legal services organisations and seven from fathers’ groups, of which three were more than just one-man organisations. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Human Services made submissions.

Private payer submissions high­lighted experiences of unfairness and impacts on relationships with children. Private payee submissions focused on child-support payment issues. Government submissions discussed their administrative experience and suggested improvements for the CSP inquiry terms of reference.

The submissions from women’s groups emphasised woman single-parent family issues, payee and child support debt/arrears issues, domestic violence and financial abuse issues, ensuring child support debt was paid, and claims that self-employed payers were avoiding child support.

Some submissions highlighted that services to women were based on gender equality and a feminist framework. One asserted that many submissions to the inquiry might speak about fathers not having contact with children and asked the committee not to necessarily take these claims at face value.

Incidentally, the review noted that over 40 per cent of all submissions and nearly 60 per cent of private payer submissions identified contact with children as an issue. Key themes were contact difficulties, contact withheld and the connection of care thresholds and child-support payments.

The submissions of the three main father groups were a contrast to the women’s groups. One group brought up the issues of child contact and child financial support, made a proposal for law reform for contact, and made mention of suicide among CSP clients and domestic violence legislation.

A second group indicated their submission was gender neutral as the post-separation experience was not determined by the gender or particular role of parents (for example, female payers can face the same challenges of male payers).

They expounded that Australia needed to put family needs at the top of the reform agenda and to structure legislation and policy to strengthen families and not divide and diminish their natural purpose.

The third group stated its priority was to help the children of Australia and to help turn the tide of fatherlessness (over a million children are living without their fathers) by strengthening and supporting Australian fathers, mothers, marriages and families.

Next time I will  discuss the connections between separated families and their lower levels of income, and whether government and stakeholders have a genuine interest and capacity to resolve the causes of family separation. Or is their involvement nothing more than a vested interest using taxpayer funds on symptoms and consequences?

Michael Ord is a representative on a Brisbane CSP stakeholder engagement group.




























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