October 24th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Labor proposes expanded role for infrastructure fund

CANBERRA OBSERVED Crossbench unity plugs Coalition water spill

EDITORIAL Deplorable attack on Sir Peter Lawler

LITIGATION Appeal to freedoms will not avail for Archbishop

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe generous in face of Middle-Eastern influx

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe's refugee crisis was much worse last time

CULTURE WARS The PC left is saving us from ... Tintin and Twain

SCIENCE AND CERTAINTY No safety in numbers as variable as these

EUTHANASIA Belgium, Netherlands in the grip of the small laws

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Marriage redefinition will feed government business

PUBLIC POLICY A wake-up call from land of rocky highs and lows

CINEMA Respectfully intended to make you laugh: The Intern

BOOK REVIEW Clearing the head


Books promotion page

Marriage redefinition will feed government business

by Michael Ord

News Weekly, October 24, 2015

In “Child-support program under the microscope” (News Weekly, October 10), Michael Ord reviewed the submissions to the Commonwealth House of Repre­sentatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into the Child Support Program and raised questions about government and stakeholder involvement with separated families. In this second part, he considers the committee’s report, “From conflict to cooperation”.

Australia’s child-support program (CSP) has been operating for over a quarter of a century, during which over $45 billion has been transferred from one parent to another. The recent parliamentary inquiry into the CSP remarks in its report that the program has been developed and refined over its many years of operation, and enjoys broad acceptance in the community.

Of course, the report continues, many clients of the program may wish that they did not need its assistance. When relationships break down, parents need to resolve many tough questions: among the most difficult is how to care for and support their children now that they are separated.

No administrative program can fix the emotional and psychological results of a broken relationship, nor can it resolve differing priorities or approaches to parenting.

Given the program’s history, and its comprehensive integration into social policy, the inquiry focused on finessing elements of the program to improve responsiveness to client needs and to recognise the diversity of contemporary family arrangements.

One of the primary aims is to promote mechanisms to lessen the conflict between separated parents and to strengthen elements that focus on children’s wellbeing in a holistic manner. The committee aims in particular to enhance support systems for victims of family violence and high-conflict families, and improve systems to learn from the millions of decisions made in the program each year.

Inquiry recommendations

The committee report is structured in three chapters: child support in context; the design of the program; and administration of the CSP.

The “in context” recommendations include collecting demographic information to accommodate services to the range of client nationalities, collecting statistical information so the effects of the CSP may be better understood, and providing additional funding and training for Family Relationship Centres to assist parents to negotiate child-support arrangements using mediation.

The “design of program” recommendations include a review of the formula used to calculate child support payable, consideration of child-support income management to ensure child support is spent on the children, and measures to improve management of non-lodgement of tax returns.

The report advocates a review of international models for enforcing contact/parenting orders through the CSP, a review of the “capacity to earn” criteria and development of a clearer system for resolving disputes about payment of school fees.

“Administration” recommendations include ongoing audits of consistency of advice, seeking advice on best-practice communication of financial information, and the appointment of “information officers” to explain the advice or decisions to clients.

The report recommends that CSP clients be allowed to nominate preferred communication methods and calls for the establishment of a dedicated family violence response unit and consideration of limited child-support guarantee payments by government.

Marriage as business

The CSP inquiry comes against a backdrop of attempts to redefine marriage. For centuries the principles of marriage have included that marriage is the creation of a reasonable chain of generations and the aim is not happiness and pleasure but rather the resolution to face all situations together.

Understanding these principles brings into contrast the stark reality of the context and recommendations illustrated above for separated families. It goes something like this. The CSP has come in the train of the no-fault divorce revolution. Where once the sexual relationship was mainly consummated in marriage, today children are born in all sorts of situations. Increasing numbers of parents are never together or do not stay together to raise their children. Raising children is challenging in the best of circumstances but in separated family situations it can be overwhelmingly challenging, driving parents to despair.

Separated families require assistance and intervention and the CSP alone has a departmental budget of $466 million for 2015-16.

Broken families seem to generate extensive business for government. Separated parents are called clients and the measures are purported to be about the best interests of children. But if it was about the best interests of children, they wouldn’t be in difficult separated family situations in the first place. No-fault divorce is the first broken link in this chain.

Recognising the cost of separated families to society must be part of the debate on same-sex marriage. An argument for same-sex marriage has been that it will be good for business. Perhaps it will be good for government business: extra chaos, more inquiries and additional tax money spent on the consequences of family breakdown.

Michael Ord has been a member of a Brisbane CSP stakeholder engagement group for eight years.

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