The Child Support Agency was established in 1988 in the wake of Bob Hawke’s declaration that “no child shall live in poverty”. Initially the Australian Tax Office collected and enforced payments, before the scheme was handed over to the Department of Social Services and the Department of Human Services – which complainants can find themselves bouncing between.
Kay Cook, associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Swinburne University, says: “The tax office never wanted to deal with child support. It viewed its role as collecting income, not dispersing private income. That’s sort of the problem that child support has always had, that it’s private money being transferred, rather than public money.”
Cook’s research includes analysis of child support systems in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US. “In Australia we’re really cheeky in that single parents’ family tax benefits are typically calculated on how much child support they expect a parent to receive, not so much on how much they actually receive,” she says. “The government gets the savings of reducing family tax benefits so there is no incentive to the government to collect child support because if anything it costs them money.”
There’s also little or no will, she says, to solve the problem generally.
“It feels as though Australians are encouraged to look at me as somehow defective and deserving of suffering because I don’t have a male patron,” Amanda says. “And it’s at my former patron’s discretion as to whether or not me and his child are worthy of being supported.”