Senate? I’ll never forget it!

When coming back to this blog, I decided to be less personal with it. My reasons are for another blog, which I’m still thinking about.

But I am going to get somewhat personal here. Back in late 2014 there was a Senate Inquiry into the Child Support Agency. The purpose of the report had the following terms of reference:

Terms of reference
The Committee will inquire and report on the following:
* methods used by Child Support to collect payments in arrears and
manage overpayments;
* whether the child support system is flexible enough to accommodate
the changing circumstances of families;
* the alignment of the child support and family assistance frameworks;
* linkages between Family Court decisions and Child Support’s policies
and processes; and
* how the scheme could provide better outcomes for high conflict
As part of this inquiry, the Committee has a particular interest in:
* assessing the methodology for calculating payments and the adequacy
of current compliance and enforcement powers for the management of
child support payments;
* the effectiveness of mediation and counselling arrangements as part of
family assistance frameworks; and
* ensuring that children in high conflict families are best provided for
under the child support scheme.
In carrying out this review, the Committee should assess whether any problems
experienced by payers or payees of child support impact on the majority of
parents and other carers involved in the system, or a minority, and make
recommendations accordingly (e.g. there may be a case for specialised processes
and supports for some parents meeting certain criteria).

The committee held public talks in various locations, but due to being in WA, I had to do a phone call instead. The conditions of the phone call were:

Under 4 minutes.
No references to personal situation. I could only talk “in general”
No names could be used, so that no one could be identified.
I couldn’t be rude, and I had to be restrained.

All understandable things. The following is what I said to them. It is an edited version of what I wanted to say, but it was what I was allowed to say under the terms.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this Inquiry today.

I wish to speak today from the point of view of paying parents, particularly those, who do not have contact with their children.

In some cases there are parents who chose to not have an active involvement with their children, a disappointing situation indeed. For others there are reasons of safety for the children, as the reason they don’t have contact, and the safety of children should be paramount.

For a small number, one parent uses the children to cause damage, by denying the other parent any contact. It is this situation in particular I would like to discuss. For this situation, the Child Support system is flawed.

When parents have no contact with their children, the rate of payments is adjusted, so that the children receive additional finances. While this is understandable in the first two circumstances, for those parents that are denied access to their children, this is a kick in the teeth. It could be said in this situation that the CSA is, in a way, “rewarding” the custodial parent for being manipulative and dishonest. As a simplistic example, it is akin to fining drivers who drive at the limit, and giving the revenue to speeding drivers, as an incentive to not speed.

While this situation is in the minority, the CSA is not suited for this scenario, and the “one size fits all” model simply doesn’t work. CSA representatives say to go and get a court order, yet many of the paying parents have got multiple court orders in their favour, but for one reason or another, the receiving parent ignores the court orders.

One must seriously question the mental state of anyone who uses children to cause harm, and the harm they are also doing to the children, by denying fair and reasonable access to the other parent. It is disturbing that there are people out there who believe that money is more important than human rights.

It truly is baffling that the CSA is only interested in the money, and not the rights of children, and all parents involved with the CSA. In my view, “child support” involves much more than just a financial contribution. If we truly are concerned for the welfare of children, then that must include all welfare. Money alone does not solve problems.

While the CSA simply says that this is an issue for the courts. There is a significant financial and emotional burden in doing so. This does nothing but add to the pain and suffering of the paying parent, and causes additional stress for the children.

In this situation, the CSA on one hand washes their hands of any responsibilities, while on the other hand demand increased payments. I really don’t know how I could more simply put that the system is flawed than that.

To counter this, I propose the following changes, to make the system fairer for all, and one that can’t be used as hateful manipulation by parents who receive payments.

1. Where access to children is denied, payments are held by the CSA until the receiving parent abides by court orders and access rights.

2. In situations where access is routinely denied, payments should only be that of for which there is 50/50 custody, until such time as access is reinstated.

3. The CSA should appoint a CSA case manager to deal with these cases. They make up a small percentage of all payments, but do require special attention. The case manager’s dealing with both parent should be transparent to all parties, so that only facts are dealt with.

Finally, as a broad point. Paying parents of all kinds hand over large sums of money each pay, yet have no idea if that money is actually being spent on the children’s needs. Therefore I propose the following:

The receiving parent is require to prove that 2/3rds of all payments are spent on the children. This would be easily covered by things like school fees, clothing, after school activities, food, etc.

By knowing that the money is actually being spent on the children, it allows the children a better opportunity to make the best of their life.

I thank you for allowing me this time today.

I was happy to have had my chance to at least have a say. I was surprised when the committee informed me they didn’t know there were people in this situation. I was in shock, given 3% of people who pay are in this situation. Surely I couldn’t have been the first person to speak about this, given I was one of the last people to get a chance to speak to the committee.

We then waited for the report.
And waited.

It turns out the first draft of the report was rejected, hence the delay. According to that report, the CSA wanted even more powers, and to make it even harder for paying parents. Thankfully the committee rejected that report as being at odds with the information they had received during the inquiry. This was promising indeed. Maybe this was the time that the CSA was finally going to be held accountable for their actions.

We then waited for the new report.
And waited.

Finally the report got released. There were 25 changes to the system proposed by the committee. Most of them are rather pointless but kind of needed. They basically say make sure the structure around the system is funded correctly, and make the system work better in initial stages, so things don’t get out of hand. This means a lot more training for the CSA minions.

Point five had a couple of interesting things, 1. A review of the use of gross pay to calculate the payments. 2. Looking at ways to manage the payments when there is proof the money isn’t being spent on the child(ren).
I tentatively agree with both of these points. I can see the first point being ignored. While the system in this regard is broken, there is no interest in changing it. Point 2, there is already enough lying done to the CSA, and even when you prove it, they have no interest in taking action against the money grabbing parent. I don’t have any faith that this would change, even in the rules were changed.

Point 6, an investigation into the lodgement of tax returns. Paying parents already have to do their tax return, or get fined. Money grabbing parents don’t have to, which is a license to lie. If they don’t have to actually declare their income, it affects the amounts paid by each parent towards the care of the child(ren). Or another way to put it, if they delare an amount lower than the self support amount, they then don’t pay a cent towards raising their child(ren), but at the same time get to claim more money.

Point 9, actually enforce contact/parenting orders. This is a good thing and relates to the submission I made. Currently if a parent ignores court orders, they then get to claim extra child support. It leads to the system being abused by vindictive parents. Sorting this out will be better for the child(ren).

Point 13, an ongoing audit to ensure there is consistency in the information stated by CSA minions. I’ve dealt with them for over a decade now, and I still have no idea what is going on with them. Even when you call them out on misinformation, for some reason it all vanishes, or the call ends, and there is no reference. Making the minions more accountable is a good thing.

Point 15, more face to face contact. Sure it via video conferencing, but at least it is back to face to face. I find this way they are more accountable for their actions, and it helps to keep the minions in check. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the current system.

Point 16, reduce the complexity, and stop so many mail outs, to the point where it gets confusing as to what paperwork you are meant to be using. There have been days where I get three letters at the same time, all of them contradict each other, and none of them is clear as to what the ruling is.

Point 21, limiting the powers of the CSA to issue Departure Prohibition Orders. This is a good thing. When I was in the early stages of being ruined by the CSA, I was doing some overseas work. They put a stop to that. I also haven’t had a passport because of them. It’s not because I want to go overseas, but they did, and still do, limit my work options by restricting overseas travel. Given the world is shrinking, overseas travel is used more and more for work, so this is a good idea.

Point 22, more flexibility in debt repayment. A good thing indeed, particular when the debt has been created by the CSA, which is a frequent thing, given their mismanagement of payments.

While I have only glossed over some of the points here, in general I am happy with the report. It does look like the committee wants to make changes that will actually make a difference. Now all we need is for the minister to rubber stamp the report. Except the minister for human services changed at the last reshuffle.

So now we wait for the rubber stamp.
And wait.

So much for this all being a priority. If only someone would think about the children. But of course, the CSA isn’t interested in these changes, after all, why would they want to be held to account for what they do?

Oh, and the bit that was edited out of my statement to the committee?

The CSA has blood on their hands. Their actions towards paying parents, their harassment, their bullying, their lies, their intimidation, it has cost lives. Too many people have seen no other option but to end their own life because of the CSA, and the sooner they are held accountable for what they do, the better.

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