Canberra Times - Wednesday, 15th November 2000, By Roderick Campbell
It was “a tragic indictment of the system” that a Canberra man had committed suicide holding a letter of demand from the Child Support Agency, the ACT Coroners Court was told yesterday.
Barrister Richard Thomas said the receipt of the letter two days before Warren Gilbert's death in August had “tipped him over the edge”.
He said Mr Gilbert, 28, had died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a friend's car after being “hounded” by the CSA.
The CSA had been taking 47 per cent of his gross salary in tax and another 30 per cent for child support.
With a massive 80 per cent of his wages gone, Mr Gilbert had $150 a week to live on.
Mr Gilbert's body was found on August 20 in a car parked at the Namadgi National Park visitor's centre.
Constable Clorinda Iannucci said Mr Gilbert's former partner had told her that Mr Gilbert hated having to pay so much child support for his three children because they could never go anywhere or do anything.
“He couldn't get anywhere in life because they [the CSA] kept taking all his money,” she had said.
Constable Iannucci said she had contacted the CSA, but it had refused to provide any information.
She said the mother of two of Mr Gilbert's children had told her she had not been concerned about obtaining child support until social security had told her she would lose her welfare benefits if she did not get Mr Gilbert to pay maintenance.
Mr Thomas, appearing for the former partner, said Mr Gilbert had been “very frustrated” by the situation. He had been unable to realise plans to buy a home and get married. He had mentioned his massive debt - the full extent of which he had only discovered the previous day - to the last person to see him alive.
“We say it was the Child Support Agency letter that was the precipitative event that tipped him over the edge,” Mr Thomas told Coroner Warren Nicholl. “It may be appropriate that you make a comment on the situation he was in.”
Mr Nicholl did not comment directly on this, but did say that it was clear that Mr Gilbert's problems in meeting his child-support obligations had played a large part in the lead-up to his sad death.
Earlier, Mr Thomas said Mr Gilbert had been trying “to do his best,” but was being “hounded” by the CSA.
He could see no other solution to his problems than taking his own life. It was “a tragic indictment on the system, one which Federal Parliament might ultimately seek to address”.
Barry Williams, the Canberra-based national president of the Lone Fathers' Association of Australia, was an observer at the inquest.
Outside court, Mr Williams said the association had been trying to convince the Federal Government that child support and family law issues were factors in many suicides.
“But deaf ears are turned to people like us because of the money factors involved,” he said.
He said his association supported the CSA and believed parents should pay child support, but this should be based on a flat rate calculated after tax had been deducted.
He challenged the Government to try this approach for two years. If it did not work, he would “shut up”.
And a follow-up article
Parental payments cost 'three lives a day'
By Megan Doherty - Canberra Times front page 19/11
As many as three men a day are committing suicide because the nation's child-support system is driving them over the edge, according to the Lone Father's Association Australia.
Association President Barry Williams said the claim was not based any official figures but on anecdotal evidence such as phone calls made to its 22 branches around Australia.
"People will ring to say their son or partner has deliberately driven into a truck or driven off the road because they can't take it any more," he said.
ACT Coroner Warren Nicholl acknowledged this week that a struggle to meet child-support payments had played a large part in the suicide of Canberra man William Gilbert.
Mr William said the Lone Fathers Association supported the Child Support Agency and believed non-custodial parents should pay child support, but believed it should be based on a flat rate calculated after tax had been deducted.
Earlier this month Labor and the Democrats defeated in the Senate the Government's proposed changes to child support which would have seen non custodial parents pay $48 million less a year to custodial parents.
A spokesman for Family and Community Services Minister Larry Anthony said negotiations with Labor and the Democrats were continuing.
Australian Democrats Senator John Woodley said no-one denied injustices were occurring in the child-support system, especially to non-custodial parents, but the solution was not to shift the problem on to custodial parents. He hoped a compromise could be reached.
Yet another valuable life has been cut short and three more children have lost their father.
The relationship of male suicide to child support, and denial of contact to children must be obvious to all politicians, but they refuse to enact changes that may provide some relief.
This article should be sent to all Labour and Democrat politicians to support the message that the high level of child support paid under the CSA legislation is a major cause for male suicide.
They must be encouraged to rethink their decision to reject the minor changes in the CS Amendment Bill that would have provided a long awaited, small measure of relief for paying parents.
By the way, CSA refuses to release the figures of "unexpected" deaths - and they do have that information because to terminate a collection a death certificate has to be supplied.
Our sympathies go to Warren Gilbert's family.
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The Attorney-General commissioned a review of the practices, procedures and laws that apply in the federal family law courts in the context of family violence. The Family Courts Violence Review considered whether improvements could be made to ensure that the federal family law courts provide the best possible support to families who have experienced or are at risk of violence.