10 December 2010
By Michael Madigan
* Crackdown on parents who dodge child support
* Video surveillance to be used only as last resort
* Other measures include withholding passports
PARENTS dodging child support payments while enjoying a luxury lifestyle may find themselves under video surveillance as the Federal Government pursues Queensland's $239 million child-support debt. Queenslanders are among the worst in the country when it comes to financially supporting their dependent children.
In one of the worst cases, one parent owed more than $150,000. The parent paid up when prevented from leaving the country. In some areas of the Gold Coast almost one in three liable parents is in arrears. More than 151,000 parents in the state are obliged to make support payments, with the outstanding debt now at an average of nearly $1600 each.
The figure per capita is higher than in NSW, where 201,000 parents owe about $1250 each and Victoria (143,000 parents at $1200 each).
But deadbeat parents with the means to pay are in the Government's sights - literally.
Human Services, which covers Medicare and Centrelink as well as the Child Support Agency, flagged the use of surveillance to ensure that reluctant parents paid up.
The Government stressed video surveillance would be used only as a last resort. Other measures could include:
An unamed spokesman for Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek saidIn a few cases there is the possibility of using video surveillance if there is a suspicion someone who is not paying is living a luxurious lifestyle.
- Intercepting tax refunds.
- Withholding wages.
- Investigating whether the parent is minimising income.
- Taking them to court.
- Preventing offenders from leaving the country.
Between July 1 and September 30, 28 Queenslanders were forbidden from leaving the country because of their failure to pay child support. That compares with only 18 in NSW, 17 in Victoria and three in South Australia.
Customs officials get constantly updated lists of parents who fail to meet their obligations.
In the case of the Queensland parent who owed more than $150,000, the Child Support Agency which had already taken him to court received information that the parent intended to move overseas. A departure prohibition order was issued and, as a result, the parent paid the debt.
The Child Support Agency said more couples were also embracing "private collect" arrangements. Parents arrange the transfer of payments between themselves, rather than ask the CSA to do it on their behalf.
Ms Plibersek saidAustralians generally were getting better at supporting their children after relationship breakdowns, with many able to work out the financial arrangements between themselves.
The good news is the number and proportion of actively paying parents without a child support debt is steadily increasing. At the end of October, the national proportion of active paying parents without a debt was a little under 75 per cent, up by almost 3 percentage points compared with the end of June last year.
Such arrangements have been steadily increasing from 52.1 per cent of parents in 2007-08 to 53.76 per cent nationally in 2009-10.