Monday, 14 July 2014
Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I wish to make to make a statement regarding the progress of the committee's inquiry into the child support program. I rise to inform the House about the committee's inquiry into the child support program. The committee launched the inquiry in April this year, follow referral by the Minister for Social Services. The inquiry is considering methods for dealing with arrears and overpayments, the flexibility of the system, the alignment with family assistance, the links with Family Court decisions and ensuring outcomes are in the best interests of the child, particularly where there is conflict.
When we commenced the inquiry we carefully designed a community engagement strategy to ensure that we could gather evidence from a range of people in a sensitive way. The Child Support Program assists people in some very difficult stages of life and we wanted to engage with these people without causing additional stress or anxiety. As part of the strategy we created an anonymous online questionnaire, which has been very successful. It takes about 20 minutes to complete and asks people a range of questions about their experiences.
So far over 10½ thousand people have completed the questionnaire. If each person takes roughly 20 minutes, that is over 3½ thousand hours of time collectively given to the inquiry by members of the public. That is an outstanding response to the inquiry. We will use the questionnaire results to guide the inquiry and our final report and we have already released two snapshots of questionnaire responses. The theme of the first snapshot was negotiation and the second was flexibility. We will publish more snapshots as the inquiry continues.
We have published over 50 submissions and we will publish more later this week. Many individuals have prepared submissions to the inquiry and all published submissions are on our website. Members may notice that many submissions have been published with names withheld. We have done this to get as much as possible on the public record without breaching the privacy of individuals and their families. We have also received a large amount of correspondence where people have provided more detail on their personal experiences.
We are now in the middle of our public hearing program. We started our hearings in Canberra and then had a full day of public hearings in Sydney. In Sydney we also held a community statements session and 16 individuals spoke to us about how they think the Child Support Program could be improved. On Thursday this week we will hold our third hearing here in Parliament House and on Friday we will have full day of hearings and community statements in Melbourne. After Melbourne we will travel to other cities for hearings. We will travel to regional centres including Newcastle, Mackay and Ballarat.
I would like to thank the Australian community for its contribution to the inquiry. The Child Support Program deals with tough issues and many people have a difficult story to tell us. Almost everyone who has written or spoken to us has tried to focus on the bigger picture. As well as telling us about their personal experiences, they have clearly thought about how the program could work better for everyone, especially for children, who are the ultimate purpose of the Child Support Program.
Finally I would like to thank my deputy chair, the member for Newcastle, and all other committee members for their work in the inquiry. I would also like to thank the indefatigable staff at the secretariat for their assistance in this. I look forward to giving the House a further update later this year. With those words, I present a copy of the statement.