Labour and Democrat Senators reject CSA relief for payers!

Would you ever vote for them again? Think carefully when the next election is called!

The Senate has rejected most of the changes contained in the child support legislation that would benefit paying parents.

The Child Support Amendment Bill (No 2) 2000 was to provide for a reduction in child support, by acknowledging that there is a cost involved in caring for children during contact visits. A 2 and 3 percent reduction in the formula amount was envisaged for non-custodial parents who have between 10 – 19%, and 20 – 29% contact time, respectively.

[Unfortunately the 2 and 3% reduction, only applies to the first child. By the time one reaches 6 children there is no reduction at all. But that is another issue and becomes irrelevant at this stage, when the changes have been rejected by Labour and the Democrats]

For high income earners the cap was to be reduced from $102,000 to $78,000, because the government has realised that payments calculated on this level of income are more than is needed to support a child. This change has been determinedly rejected as well.

Labour and Democrat Senators have argued against the 2 to 3% reduction in child support, and the lowering of the cap and claim to be currently conducting discussions with the Government to find a solution.

During the recent Senate debate Senator CHRIS EVANS (Labour – Western Australia) said “Labor will be opposing measures to lower the cap” and that they have “reservations about linking child support and contact but will consider lower child support percentages for contact between 10 and 30 per cent if the government can assure us that resident parents and children are compensated”.

Once again Labour is procrastinating by calling for “a more thorough review of the operation of the scheme and other policies affecting separated families”.

We have already had an extensive inquiry in 1994 and it has taken six years to see any of the monetary changes come into being. Labour during its time in office only enacted 54 of the administrative recommendations.

Senator Evans argued for more research, but if you read our submission to the Family Law Pathways Advisory Group you will understand the difficulties encountered in ensuring that research is undertaken in an atmosphere of fairness and independence and conducted by people who are not trying to support their own agenda.

Democrat Senator Woodley (Democrats – Queensland) viewed the proposal to reduce the child support payment to take account of contact time “with alarm”

He said, “It is biased against carer parents and their children. It will increase child poverty. We think it is a backward step; it will undo much of the good work done since the late 1980s.

“The costs of raising children alone do not reduce when the child spends time with the contact parent.

“Resident parents are required to continue to meet accommodation, clothing, education, health, child-care and recreation costs for children even when they are on a contact visit with their non resident parent.”

The same might be said for the contact parent who needs to maintain suitable accommodation to cater for his children’s needs. A report prepared by Paul Henman and Lyle Mitchell, Estimating the Costs of Contact for Non-resident Parents: 
a budget standards approach, has found the cost of contact can be 40% of the total cost of suporting a child.

The paper has been positively refereed by Australian and overseas academics and will be published in the 2001 edition of the Journal of Social Policy, Cambridge University Press. The Journal has an international audience and is among the most prestigious and respected forums for scholarly papers on social policy issues.

The paper has only recently been finalised. It has been released by its authors prior to publication in the Journal because of its relevance to the debate on the Child Support Formula reforms that were being considered by the Australian parliament.

It is claimed the paper was distributed to the politicians prior to their debate. If this is so, why did Labour and the Democrats not take these crucial findings into account and if the paper, which was specifically made available for the debate, was not distributed, why not? Senator Len Harris did not receive a copy. The information could have supported his argument for even greater reductions.

Unfortunately, Senator Woodley and other oponents of fairness in child support levels, equate the reduction as providing “financial incentives” to encourage parents to have contact with their children. We know this is not so in the vast majority of cases. Most fathers we see, desperately seek contact with their children for the love of their children, not the reduction in child support.

According to Senator Woodley’s address the Democrats have also opposed the reduction in the “Cap” because ” it only serves to further disadvantage sole parents and their children,” and objected to the exclusion of income earned for the benefit of resident children that are the stepchildren of the paying parent. (We are not sure about Woodley’s interpretation of this section that stepchildren are included.)

They support the principle that parents who take on additional work to support their new family will be able to apply to the Child Support Agency to have the additional income excluded from the assessment of child support. However, they are not accepting the inclusion of “step children in the same category as natural or adopted children of the new family.” Woodley said, “The payer, at law, has no legal duty to support stepchildren; however, this legislation elevates stepchildren to the level of natural children of the second family.

“The obligation of a parent to support their own children must take priority over the support of children of other people, notwithstanding that such stepchildren and one of their parents may live with the child support payer.”

As expected the Democrats  and Labour will support the departure prohibition measures – a down side of the legislation .It is proposed to introduce Departure Prohibition Orders, preventing overseas travel, for payers with a back debt. The Registrar or his delegated staff can unilaterally, instigate a DPO. There is no call for a court determination, though that is the avenue of eventual appeal and the Registrar cannot revoke a prohibition order prior to seven days before the intended departure date. The conditions imposed by this section of the bill are draconian and will, we fear, be the precursor to further restrictions on a person’s free movement and freedom to determine the course of their own life.

The skeleton bill now has little to recommend it. Surviving is the measure that gives some relief for second families. It is proposed that child support payments be deducted from the income used to calculate eligibility for additional family tax benefit and child care benefit at a dollar for dollar rate instead of 50cents. Also overtime or second job income may be excluded from income used to assess child support if it is for the benefit of the second family and can be shown through the review process to have not been included in previously earned income.

Administrative changes include divesting the Taxation Commissioner of his dual role as the Registrar of the Child Support Agency – always matter for contention under the terms of our Constitution.

Senator Len Harris has always been supportive of fairness in these issues and we have had continuing discussions about the new legislation. Prior to the Senate debate we conferred with his adviser and formulated some amendments to the bill. Senator Harris was the only Senator to take issue with the Departure Order Prevention procedure. Here is part of his speech…..

“Personally, I feel that the whole child support payment structure that is instituted presently needs to be ditched and that a much more equitable and less contentious means of supporting our children needs to be found. The anger and frustration in the pleas for help that I am hearing-as, no doubt, are being heard by many others in this chamber-distress me. It takes two people to produce a child, and I feel that the basis of responsibility for these children should be vested in the principle of shared parenting – and not, as presently based, on the present resident and non-resident parental principles.

Senator Harris proposed that “the basis of child support be a figure of a normal 38-hour working week and exclude any additional earnings from both overtime and second jobs. This additional income should not be included in the child support calculations; thus, it would remove any disincentives for those willing to work the additional hours to obtain further benefits to their incomes and improve their circumstances. If the payer chooses to expend his additional income on child support, it is to be entirely optional and any access to this income by the Child Support Registrar should be eliminated. Nor do I support the right of the registrar to perpetrate the deeming provision that exists presently in the act. I feel that this needs to be seriously considered in the very near future, thus removing another opportunity for the registrar to intrude so unjustly into people’s lives.

“If anything demonstrates the despotic behaviour of the CSA, it would have to be the introduction in schedule 6 of the departure provision orders, DPOs.

“If this does not raise the ire of the rational thinking Australian citizen, then it should. This provision raises the question of the denial of natural justice provisions inherent in our democratic country, at the same time as denying payers an immediate right of appeal and access to challenge the orders. The possibility exists that a payer who is quite justifiably challenging the CSA on an outstanding payment issued could be either denied departure from this country totally or delayed literally up to the last minute of departure upon the whim of the CSA. In America the child support industry has degenerated to the level of literally computer tracking, with ankle bands and surveillance 24 hours a day for non compliance.

“God help this country if we ever contemplate this level of surveillance in this country. This legislation does not at any stage classify what level of non-compliance would have to take place in order to have the DPO initiated upon the payer”.

We will keep you informed of the progress of this bill.

Please contact your Federal MP to discuss these issues, particularly concentrate on Labour and Democrat politicians.