Canberra Times, 12/1/2000, by Aban Contractor
Attorney General Daryl Williams has been accused of deliberately misleading a Government Senator over plans to jail parents who fall behind in child-support payments.
Prominent advocacy group, the Men's Rights Agency, claimed yesterday Mr Williams was wrong when he said tough new jailing provisions planned for maintenance defaulters would apply only to those with court orders predating the Child Support Agency.
Men's Rights Agency director Sue Price said legal advice showed that proposed legislative changes currently before the Senate would give the Family Court new powers to jail thousands of men and women regardless of whether they separated before or after October 1989.
But a spokeswoman for Mr Williams said the information given to Queensland Senator Brett Mason was correct.
"It is the Government's view that the legislation does not apply to Stage 2 ( parents who separated after October 1989 ) people," she said.
Mrs Price said the legislation was also unfair because jailed parents would still have to pay the outstanding debt. "It penalises parents and children; they should be encouraging contact with kids, not locking people up," she said.
Mr Williams's spokeswoman conceded those jailed would still have to pay child-support arrears.
"Just because they haven't paid on time doesn't mean the children don't need the money," she said.
In a letter to Mrs Price dated November 14, Senator Mason wrote: "The amendment will only allow the imprisonment of a maintenance defaulter where the failure to make payments in respect of a child is wilful or fraudulent".
"It will not apply in cases where the paying parent cannot afford to pay or who is simply late in paying, or where there are other mitigating circumstances".
"The Attorney-General emphasised that these amendments do not apply to people whose child support liability is assessed under Stage 2 of the Child Support Scheme."
But legal advice obtained by Mrs Price said Stage 2 parents would be caught by this provision. "This amendment gives the court power to impose an order that a person be imprisoned for non-payment of child support," the advice said.
This power did not previously exist. This power can apply to all Stage 1 and all Stage 2 Child Support Scheme matters where the court has made a Departure Order.
Mrs Price said she was convinced Stage 2 people would be caught in the net.
"Part of the appeal process for an unsatisfactory review of child support is to have the matter determined by the Family court," she said. This results in a court order for maintenance which, under the new legislation, could, if the parent defaults in their payments, result in a prison sentence."