I am pleased to present the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs on the Inquiry into the Child Support Program.
From the outset, a relationship breakdown can be an extremely difficult time for all family members with different points of stress evident between separating parents and children. With a change in family dynamic comes the need to redefine relationships and ensure that decisions taken reflect the needs of all family members, but with a particular focus on the welfare of children involved. In many cases, separating parents are able to come to amicable resolutions in developing new family arrangements, however in some instances a high degree of conflict may be present.
The Child Support Program (CSP) aims to provide administrative support, advice and financial adjudication for separating parents. The CSP is one of the Australian Government’s more significant social services programs interacting with the family assistance system, family law and taxation streams, and affecting some 1.1 million children.
The report of the Committee presents a detailed analysis of the issues raised in the context of the inquiry’s terms of reference. The Committee received a significant response to its call for evidence, with many written submissions and oral testimonials presented along with some 11 300 responses to a questionnaire developed to gauge the experiences of those who have interacted with the CSP.
The Committee’s report addresses a number of themes that emerged as areas of concern in the course of the inquiry – mediation, ensuring that the child support formula reflects contemporary Australia, improving communication between the program and its clients, special support services for where there is family violence and the merits of guaranteed child support payments.
The Committee’s findings have resulted in a total of 25 recommendations. In making these recommendations, the Committee notes that the CSP has evolved so that it is able to fit the needs of a vast and varied clientele, some with complex requirements. The system is not designed as a ‘one size fits all’ mechanism and all decisions made in the context of the CSP must consider the effect on individuals and families as well as the ‘flow-on’ impacts of the wider program. Key amongst the recommendations were:
- the use of mediation at the initial stages of new child support cases,
- amending the CSP to ensure the adequacy of calculated amounts and equity for both payers and payees with respect to the self-support amount, the cost of children table and indexation mechanisms, the use of gross income levels for payment calculations, and consideration of child support income management where substantiated allegations of payments not being adequately used on the needs of the child;
- significantly improving Australian Government agency communication and explanation of decisions linked to the CSP; and
- the assessment, modelling and potential trial of a limited financial guarantee for either vulnerable families or a randomised sample of CSP clients.
The Committee hopes that all of the recommendations presented will be adopted and implemented in a timely and collaborative manner.
Mr George Christensen MP
Membership of the Committee
Chair Mr George Christensen MP
Deputy Chair Ms Sharon Claydon
Ms Terri Butler MP
Mrs Louise Markus MP
Mr Graham Perrett MP
Ms Melissa Price MP (from 25/9/2014) Mr Michael Sukkar MP
Mr Clive Palmer MP (supplementary)
Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
Mr Tony Pasin MP
Hon Christian Porter MP (until 25/9/2014) Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP