CHILD SUPPORT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1998 This document has DRAFT status
Mr CAMPBELL (Kalgoorlie) (12.10 p.m.)–The previous speaker, the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Billson), is quite right: at the end of the day, this is about the little people. That is exactly the problem because this legislation was compiled by intellectual pygmies. The legislation is a disaster. If people get up in this place and say they support the legislation, it is a complete cop-out. Nobody, in my view, should be able to avoid paying for the upkeep of their children. In my experience, the great bulk of people want to contribute to the upkeep of their children. But what this Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill 1998 does is divide families and it makes the wives and children of second families second-class citizens in Australia.
One of the great joys of being an independent is that the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have immediately conspired to keep me off committees, which for the most part are a waste of time; a way of keeping backbenchers occupied. However, this is one committee I would like to have been on because I think I could have made a contribution.
This is a social evil in Australia. It is causing chaos particularly in my electorate and throughout Australia.
You see here–and I think the member for Chifley (Mr Price) made this comment–that you cannot consider this legislation without looking at family law in total. What is the reason for family law? The Family Law Court is the fastest growing, most corrupt court in Australia and it should be swept away if we are going to do anything constructive. It should be returned to the states to start with. It should be in the district court with appeals to the Supreme Court.
There is a case that the Child Support Agency could still function. I have heard people here say the Child Support Agency has its hands tied. It cannot take factors into consideration–for instance, if people put their assets in trust. That is not true. The Family Law Court has the power to assume an income–up to $97,000 a year, I believe it is–and they use this quite wantonly in cases.
I see this day by day in my electorate. The other day I had a 53-year-old man whose crime was to work all the overtime he could because he thought it was to the benefit of his family. He came home one day to find the family gone. His wife had never said to him,`I’d rather have you home; this is no life.’ He was making money because he thought that they would be able to retire to the city. Now he is reduced to riding a bicycle in Tom Price at 53 years of age. What justice is that?
We see in this child support allowance–and they say it to me all the time–`My hands are bound.’ It is not true. There is a lot of discretion there and they do not use it.
In relation to zone allowances and people working in remote areas, often the custodial parent goes to remote areas because he can earn more money. Zone allowances are to take account of the high costs in those areas, yet we tax them. We say, `This is part of your income.’ We say, `Second jobs.’ A man is struggling. He has an income that was his income when he was married. He goes out and gets a second job because he is married again or living in another relationship, and we make that part of his income. Overtime is part of the income. There is simply no way forward for him.
Mr Tony Smith–He will never get ahead.
Mr CAMPBELL–He is locked in a downward spiral. This just devastates people. I have had people in my electorate simply take that too hard option and retire. They will go from $75,000 a year as a train driver on Hamersley Iron to the dole in Adelaide because they are better off on the dole. That is what the effect of this legislation is. It is a mess. It is a mess, because right from the start, it was introduced by people not with goodwill but a vehement hate of males.
Mrs Gash–Oh, come on!
Mr CAMPBELL–I do not think there is any doubt about that. There is another explanation: it could be just stupidity. It could be that, and I am prepared to concede that.
There is one group of women who do suffer as custodial parents: in my view and in my experience, this group is business women. I have a case that I am very involved with at the moment, where a woman brought all the money and all the assets to the marriage. She ended up with all the kids and the husband ended up with all the assets. Nine years later, she is being pursued for perjury in the Family Court, when she has nothing and he has all the assets. What a nonsense, using public money for this!
In the Family Court, everybody lies. I have taken this up with the Chief Justice of the Family Court in Western Australia, Judge Michael Holden. He wrote me back a letter and told me off for my gratuitous insults: in his view, that did not happen. Where is this man living? Of course they lie! It is the adversarial nature of the cases that makes people lie in the Family Court.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hollis)–Order! I do not want to interrupt the honourable member, but I am in a difficulty. You must be very careful when you are referring to the court, because there are standing orders about that. I am drawing that to your attention: we must be a little careful when we are referring to the Family Court or any other court.
Mr CAMPBELL–Thank you, Mr Chairman. I have a very strong view–
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER–I know; that is what I am worried about!
Mr CAMPBELL–that this parliament, the court of the people, is the highest court in the land. The judges are not beyond criticism, nor should they be. For them to hide behind that standing order is, in my view, long out of date.
Let us take another example of the anomaly. A custodial parent can be earning $37,424 per year without contributing 1c to the upkeep of the child. That is far more than the non-custodial parent is left with. He will be left with–as the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Billson) said–$40 per week. We are going to reduce that in this bill–big deal!–to $29,598 to take account of child-care arrangements. It was always in there to take account of child-care arrangements. It was always within its scope to take account of that, but it never was. If the parent has got child-care responsibilities, back it goes now to $37,424.
Of course, it may not be known to some of the honourable members and it may not be known to the Family Court, but there are two people who are responsible for the procreation of children. As a custodial parent, the mother has to accept some responsibility. I think it is absurd to give that very large exemption there. But is this addressed in this act? No; these amendments go simply nowhere.
I can tell members that there is nothing, no other single issue, that generates as much angst and animosity in my electorate as this single one does. It constitutes a very large proportion of my office business. But are you addressing it?
No, you are not addressing it. This bill goes nowhere.
If we had a tribunal situation to which we could actually refer people, without going to that confounded Family Court, we could keep the lawyers out of it and we might have a better chance. It is at least worth a try. But the fact is the Family Court is growing and growing. To what purpose? It is growing to confound the community and to spread angst and hate in the community.
Mr Slipper–I rise on a point of order. Mr Deputy Speaker, the honourable member has been here for a considerable period of time and he ought to know that, in standing orders, he is not able to reflect adversely on judges-
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER–If you had been listening, you would have heard that I have already drawn the honourable member’s attention–wait until I have finished–to that. The actual ruling is that you cannot refer to the judiciary itself. It does not exclude you from referring to decisions of the judiciary or decisions of the court. I did draw the honourable member’s attention to that. I have been listening to him very carefully, and he has been reflecting more on the actions of the court than on individual members of the court. While ever he does that–and do not jump up again–he is in order. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie has the call.
Mr Slipper–On a further point of order, the court basically is the collective number of judges of the court. I listened carefully to what the honourable member said, and he said something to the effect that the court existed to spread hatred. Those sentiments, I believe, are well and truly beyond the standing orders, and I would ask that he stay within the standing orders, accordingly.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER–You may believe that. I am in the chair. I have made my ruling. For your benefit, I suggest that you read page 479 of House of Representatives Practice, under the heading `Reflections on members of the judiciary’. You will see that, as usual when I am in the chair, I am correct and you are incorrect.
Mr Slipper–Mr Deputy Speaker, I take personal exception to the comment that you made and I ask that you withdraw it. What you said was–
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER–If you take exception to what I say in the chair, there are measures available to you. You should pursue those rather than asking other things. So you should resume your seat.
Mr Slipper–On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: you mentioned that `as usual’ I am wrong when you are in the chair. That is a reflection and I would ask you not to generalise because, when I do take a point of order, as you would know I take it sincerely and upon consideration.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER–You may think that, but I am in the chair. My ruling stands. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie.
Mr CAMPBELL–I might say to my honourable friend that I spent a lot of time on this and I am on the receiving end of considerable damages, so I probably know much more about this than you, from your limited knowledge as a lawyer. I can tell you this, with the greatest respect: given your lack of intellectual rigour, I am surprised …. ?on the receiving end of considerable damage
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER–The honourable member for Kalgoorlie should direct his comments through the chair and return to what we were talking about.
Mr CAMPBELL–I am happy to do that. It is quite clear. I am surprised the honourable member never made a judge.
Having had my train of thought thoroughly dislocated, I am going to have to recapitulate some of this. Why can’t we have a situation where people are encouraged in a tribunal format to discuss these things equitably between themselves? It does not happen. What happens, though, is that the court can come down very hard on the non?custodial parent and there is no room to move, no room to manoeuvre at all.
The law is the law. It is the embodiment of everything that is excellent, as the honourable member would know. But when it comes to the custodial parent, they can ignore orders of the court with absolute impunity, and they do. They can up and move interstate, imposing an enormous additional cost on the non-custodial parent, and nothing is done about it. Judges will say, as the previous speaker said, `What do you want me to do, gaol them?’ If necessary, yes. Why should only one side be subject to the law? The whole thing is just a nonsense.
The other thing is this: you have the non-custodial parent paying out money week after week. A lot of them want to do it; they want to see their kids kept. But they have no say in how the money is spent, absolutely no say at all, and they are precluded by the law from having any say. In some cases, as I know from my experience of cases that come before my office, the money is often spent to keep the new boyfriend; it is spent on clothes. It is not spent on the children.
It is nonsense to suggest that a three-year-old child needs the same income as a 15-year-old child. There should be a way in which this money can be postponed. It would give, in that case, the non-custodial parent the chance in life. The greater income then comes when the child needs that income. Or at least there should be a mandatory requirement to put some of it away for those later costs that are going to be incurred. What happens inevitably is that, when those costs arise, the non-custodial parent is once again hit to meet those costs–and many of those do, if they can, because they have a regard for their children.
These things will not be addressed in this act, and they are certainly not addressed by the Family Court.
I know that, when people go before this court, statements are made by the custodial parent. There is some view that custodial parents are somehow pure, and no attempt is made to check statements made by them. It is just not done. It is considered not right, apparently. So they lie and they get away with it, and then the good judge tells me that there is no perjury in his courts. What a nonsense.
I believe that this act, basically, goes nowhere. I am sure the committee laboured mightily but they brought forward, at the very best, a very small egg, and it is a dud one at that. I believe that we have to go to a situation where we have some tribunal arrangement, something very similar to the French model. We ought to be keeping those lawyers at bay as much as we possibly can, and we ought to be taking a much broader look at this whole thing. I can tell you now that this is not a male/female issue; it is the second wives, of second marriages, and the children of second marriages that we, in this parliament, are turning into second-class citizens. There is no justice in that. Of course there is no justice.
Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was going to make the point: why do we have to provide protection to judges in the Family Court? We do not provide it elsewhere. We have to provide protection to judges in the Family Court because the people know there is no justice–that is why. I believe that this act goes a very small way, a negligible distance. I suppose we should be grateful for crumbs. But what we really need is a complete revamp, a complete overhaul, and a sweeping away of the Family Court and returning it to courts where justice can be seen to be done.
Australian House of Representatives Hansard for 1st April 1998