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Separated parents unfairly grounded in Australia

Separated parents unfairly grounded in Australia
04 June 2009 |
 

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By Susanna Dunkerley

CANBERRA, June 3 AAP - The Child Support Agency has come under fire for preventing an unemployed carer from travelling overseas to visit his sick mother because he owed a small child support fine.

The case is one of many highlighted in a damning report by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into the use of Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs) to prevent child support cheats from leaving Australia.

The man, who is referred to as Mr H, was issued a DPO by the agency after they learned of his plans to travel overseas.

The agency questioned why he had money to leave the country when he had a debt of around $5,000.

He explained that he had no personal income because he was caring full-time for his partners' two children, and his parents had paid for the tickets.

But the agency decided he was not going anywhere.

The Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, said Mr H was not a flight risk, and the agency had failed to make any arrangements for him to repay the debt.

He said it demonstrated "weaknesses" in the agency's use of its DPO powers.

"(The case also) highlights the need to consider all relevant information when making decisions that affect a person's basic right to freedom of movement," he said in a statement.

The Ombudsman's report focused on 21 cases where DPOs were issued and complaints were made.

All of the cases were found to be "problematic", and many of the DPOs were invalid.

Only in one case had the agency proved the payer had "persistently and without reasonable grounds" failed to pay their child support debt.

Prof McMillan said the Child Support Agency had "a lack of quality" in decision-making processes that could lead to serious errors and invalid DPOs.

Around 1,000 parents have been grounded in Australia on a DPO.

The report questioned the agency's target to issue an additional 4,500 DPOs by 2010, as a way of cracking down on child support debt.

"It is questionable whether it is appropriate for the CSA to have such targets for matters of this type," Prof McMillan said.

The agency collected $9.8 million over a two-year period to July 2008, representing just one per cent of the nation's overall child support debt.


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