Taskforce to examine child support scheme
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony today announced the terms of reference and membership of a Ministerial Taskforce and Reference Group to examine Australia’s child support scheme.
This follows the Prime Minister’s announcement of 29 July 2004 of proposals to reform the Family Law System in Australia in response to the House of Representatives Committee on Family and Community Affairs Inquiry into child custody arrangements in the event of family separation.
The Committee made a number of recommendations in relation to the child support scheme including a comprehensive re-evaluation of the scheme, focussing on contemporary work, parenting and family structures as well as the income profiles of child support payers and payees.
The Taskforce will be headed by Professor Patrick Parkinson, a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney and Chairperson of the Family Law Council. He is also a member of the Executive Council of the International Society of Family Law.
The Taskforce will provide advice on the House of Representatives Committee’s short-term recommendations, and evaluate existing child support formula percentages and associated exempt and disregarded income levels. It will also evaluate research, debate policy issues and propose practical options for change.
The Reference group, also chaired by Professor Parkinson, will support the Taskforce. It will consider broader policy and stakeholder issues such as the extent to which the scheme is meeting its objectives. It will also provide guidance on ideas and policy positions referred to it by the Taskforce.
The child support scheme was created in 1988 and there are now more than 1.3 million parents registered with the Child Support Agency involving 1.1 million children. In
2003-04, $2.19 billion in child support was transferred between parents for the benefit of their children.
The objective of the scheme when it was created was to ensure that separated parents share the cost of supporting their children, according to their capacity, and that adequate support is available for all children not living with both parents.
The Australian Government continues to support these objectives and the current balance between private and government contributions to the support of children in separated families. We are also keen to encourage as many couples as possible to reach positive and amicable agreements about parenting arrangements after separation.
All submissions presented to the House of Representatives Committee will be available to the Taskforce and Reference Group, and there will not be a call for further submissions.
The child support scheme is a difficult and complex area and I am confident that the Taskforce with the support of the Reference Group will develop a range of practical options to address community concerns about the scheme.
The paramount concern of the Government is to ensure that the child support scheme operates in the best interests of the children of separated parents.
The Taskforce will report back to Government in March 2005.
Terms of Reference – Review of Child Support Scheme
Following the Report from the House of Representatives Committee on Family and Community Affairs’ Inquiry into Child Custody Arrangements in the Event of Family Separation, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has adopted the Report’s recommendation to establish a Taskforce to provide advice on whether particular changes to the Child Support Scheme are warranted.
The objectives of the scheme are to ensure that:
- parents share in the cost of supporting their children, according to their capacity;
- adequate support is available for all children not living with both parents;
- Commonwealth involvement and expenditure is limited to the minimum necessary to ensure children’s needs are met;
- incentives for both parents to participate in the work force are not impaired; and
- the overall arrangements are simple, flexible and efficient.
The government continues to support these objectives and the current broad balance between private and public contributions to the support of children in separated families.
In its work, the Taskforce (with the support of the Reference Group) is to have regard to contemporary work, parenting and family structures as well as the income profiles of child support payers and payees, and pay particular attention to the Government intention to support the active involvement of both parents in parenting after separation, where feasible.
The Taskforce will:
1. Provide advice around the short-term recommendations of the Committee along the lines of those set out in the Report (Recommendation 25) that relate to:
- increasing the minimum child support liability;
- lowering the maximum ‘cap’ on the assessed income of parents;
- changing the link between the child support payments and the time children spend with each parent; and
- the treatment of any overtime income and income from a second job.
2. Evaluate the existing formula percentages and associated exempt and disregarded incomes, having regard to the findings of the Report and the available or commissioned research including:
- data on the costs of children in separated households at different income levels, including the costs for both parents to maintain significant and meaningful contact with their children;
- the costs for both parents of re-establishing homes for their children and themselves after separation.
- Advise on what research program is necessary to provide an ongoing basis for monitoring the child support formula.
3. Consider how the Child Support Scheme can play a role in encouraging couples to reach agreement about parenting arrangements.
4. Consider how Family Relationship Centres may contribute to the understanding of and compliance with the Child Support Scheme.
The Taskforce will provide a final report to the Minister, including recommendations, no later than March 2005.
Any recommendations should clearly explain the outcomes that any proposed changes would deliver, have regard to the primary responsibility of parents for supporting their children and consider the costs and benefits to government.
Patrick Parkinson (Chair)
Patrick Parkinson is a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, and Chairperson of the Family Law Council. He is the editor of the Australian Journal of Family Law and has been the principal national examiner for specialist accreditation in family law since 1999. He is also a member of the Executive Council of the International Society of Family Law.
Prof. Parkinson is co-author of Australian Family Law in Context and has written widely on family law and child protection. He has been a member of the NSW Child Protection Council, and was Chairperson of a major review of the state law concerning child protection which led to the enactment of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 in NSW.
David Stanton (Deputy Chair)
David Stanton is currently a Consultant Social Security Planner, Policy Analyst and Director of Stanton Strategic Solutions. He was Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) from May 1999 to January 2003.
Bruce Smyth is a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He has published in the areas of post-separation parental responsibilities, spousal maintenance, pre-nuptial agreements, spousal violence, post-separation financial living standards, patterns of parenting after divorce, parent-child contact and child support, and child support for young adult children.
Deborah Mitchell is Director of the ACSPRI (Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research) at the Australian National University. She is currently the Editor of the Australian Journal of Social Issues and an Associate Editor of the International Social Security Review. Dr Mitchell’s primary research interests include microdata analyses and their application to a range of social, economic and political questions. Her most recent research projects have focused on the panel data of the Negotiating the Life Course project, examining the impact of child care on women’s labour force participation and the income mobility of Australian families.
Paul Henman has conducted a study into the cost of raising a family in Australia examining the cost of housing, food, childcare, health, transport, leisure, personal care, energy, household goods and services
Matthew Gray was appointed as Principal Research Fellow leading the Family and Society Research program at AIFS in November 2000. Previously, he was employed at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU. Mr Gray has undertaken research on a wide range of Australian social and economic policy issues.
Wayne Jackson has been Deputy Secretary in the Department of Family and Community Services since July 1998. Formerly he was Deputy Secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, responsible for the Social Policy Group.
Professor Ann Harding is Director of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM). Prof. Harding is particularly experienced in analysing data and constructing models to answer questions about social and economic issues and has overseen the development of microsimulation and other models and research spanning tax, social security, wealth, superannuation, health insurance, pharmaceutical benefits, education, HECS, child care, effective tax rates, housing, and the costs of children.
Reference Group Membership
- Patrick Parkinson (Chair)
- David Stanton (Deputy Chair)
- Michael Greene QC
Sydney-based senior criminal barrister, a divorced father and author of ‘Fathers After Divorce’
- Clive Price
Executive Director of Unifam Counselling and Mediation, NSW
- Dr Elspeth McInnes
Convenor of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
- Kathleen Swinbourne
President of the Sole Parents Union of Australia
- Tony Miller
Founder of Dads in Distress
- Barry Williams
Founder and National President of the Lone Fathers’ Association of Australia
- Bettina Arndt
Social Commentator and member of the former Family Law Pathways Taskforce
- Jocelyn Newman
Former Senator for Tasmania and Minister for Family and Community Services
- Judy Radich
Early Childhood Association