Philomena O’Grady – Master of Criminological Studies (LaT), Master of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (MQ), Master of International Security Studies (MQ)
I dedicate this article to the countless thousands of parents and their children who have suffered at the hands of Child Support. Australia’s children deserve a better future, a future inclusive of both parents who will love, nurture, guide and support them, but above all, be available to share the amazing journey that is “life”.
Decades of neglect by successive governments has cemented Australia’s Child Support as an “oligarchy” of Australian bureaucracy, where power is vested with bureaucrats and not with the elected Minister of the Department. It is not surprising that given these factors, the Australian public are increasingly losing confidence in the integrity and honesty of both Government and the public service.
“Effective democracy depends on informed voters. In a truly open society, citizens are entitled to full knowledge of government affairs. Information about official conduct does not become any less important because it diminishes official reputations”
Federal Court judge and commissioner of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, the Hon Tony Fitzgerald AC QC
Over the past few decades, Australia has witnessed a dramatic rise in complaints lodged by ordinary Australians fighting to ensure the rights of their children. Until recently, these complaints failed to ignite public debate, despite growing evidence highlighting Child Support’s actions had resulted in decades of human rights abuses, injustices and failure to comply with “Rule of Law.”
Legislative “secrecy provisions” prohibiting victims from “speaking out” publicly have acted to facilitate Child Support’s ongoing concealment of abuses that are being perpetrated against the average Australian parent. However, we are now witnessing a growing uneasiness and anger within the wider Australian community, as more and more parents are choosing to come forward with their stories of abuse.
Current protocols surrounding Child Support’s complaint processes fall well short in adequately supporting parents to provide a nurturing, stable and loving environment for their children. Instead, Child Support’s actions are less than conducive to the long-term wellbeing of either parents or their children, with those making complaints often experiencing bullying, victimisation and prejudice. Child Support’s actions isolate, divide and pit parent against parent often leading to animosity between parents to the detriment of their children.
Whilst there have been numerous inquiries investigating Child Support, the Agency has failed to keep successive Governments, their Ministers and the Australian public fully informed of the serious problems which are faced by parents and their children. At times Child Support decisions have led to serious and often fatal consequences.
”It would appear the senior officers of the Agency have not fully informed successive ministers as to the keeping of records on the deaths. Clearly there has been no public policy response to these deaths. There has been no critical incident team to deal with the trauma to parents, children and extended family.”
“Child Support the Financial Cost to the Taxpayer – A review of the unemployment and welfare costs of the Child Support Agency – A Community Awareness Project” PIR Independent Research Group September 2004. p.18.
Considering years of complaints that have been lodged with numerous Members of Parliament, it is difficult to fathom how Government Ministers remain unaware of the serious problems confronting families in these situations.
Child Support’s lack of integrity, diligence and treating parents with little dignity, coupled with their ongoing consistent failure to adhere to “Rule of Law” has acted to systematically weaken and threaten the very foundations of democracy. In doing so, it has cemented Child Support’s powerbase, where power is vested in bureaucrats whose actions have consistently failed to see the importance of upholding either democratic rights, or “Rule of Law.”
Recently, the Public Service Commission highlighted that the “Australian Public Service had given itself a clean bill of health and a Federal Anti-Corruption Commission was not necessary stating “…most public service misconduct was “of the less serious kind””
“The Australian Public Service has given itself a clean bill of health and says it does not want or need a new federal corruption-busting commission……Most public service misconduct was “of the less serious kind”, Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has argued, and most perpetrators already get caught with departments and agencies doing a good job in preventing or detecting corruption.”
The case presented in this article, has been extensively documented, it not only highlights serious misconduct, but also portrays the Child Support Agency as one which is “out of touch” with community expectations. Furthermore, its behaviour in concealing evidence from its Minister, Parliament and the Australian public highlights a disdain for human rights, Rule of Law and democratic process, which fall well outside the expected norms of conduct stipulated under the Public Service “Code of Conduct.”
The fact that Child Support has been able to successfully conceals decades of bureaucratic incompetence, negligence, misconduct, human right abuses should now be of concern to both the Australian public and the International community. Their action has resulted in thousands of mismanaged cases leaving many children without the basic necessities, hence also breaching “UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child”.
The case revolves around a corporate employee working for the subsidiary of an Australian company in another jurisdiction, the pertinent facts being: –
Child Support grossly understated income which led to an incorrect financial assessment.
Child Support was made aware of the error, however failed to investigate why the assessed income fell well below the average occupational salary paid by the marketplace for similar corporate positions.
Change of Assessment lodged by the single parent who had full-time custody of the child.
Child Support amended data to reflect correct amounts but failed to comply with legislation requiring back-payment of Child Support which in this case was nearly 12 months of incorrect payments.
Child Support requires any Change of Assessment documentation collected as part of the Change of Assessment process, to be provided to parents.
Child Support provided the parent who had originally lodged the Change of Assessment with documents in two identities, which included: –
Handwritten Change of Assessment in an Australian identity
Salary slip / Taxation assessment issued by another country, both documents were in a secondary identity
It is concerning that the onus is placed on individual parents to identify errors and in this case illustrates Child Support’s lack of necessary expertise to either, verify financial information or ensure the accuracy of documentation it disseminates: –
Child Support should have taken the imitative and queried the initial assessment amount especially considering that the amount fell well below the average occupational salary paid by the marketplace for similar corporate positions.
Child Support failed to verify client identity.
Child Support should have queried why documents it received were provided in two identities.
Child Support also failed to seek clarification from the Taxation Office in the other country as to how verification of identity was made. (Especially considering evidence suggested that an Australian Immigration document may had been used to legitimise the second identity in that country).
Child Support failed to verify whether Child Support payments were made using bank accounts in two identities.
The lack of expertise within the Agency in failing to either query or see the legal ramifications of accepting documents in two identities resulted in the matter being continually “stone-walled.” Considering anecdotal evidence from other parents which also highlighted that documents in different identities were routinely accepted by Child Support, the parent requested meetings with Child Support’s Department Head, as well as, suggesting that the matter was forwarded for investigation. These requests were denied.
Child Support’s failure to comprehend the broader social, economic and security implications should be of national and international concern.
In order to alert the Government of Child Support’s practices a meeting was organised a former Labor Minister. Whilst relevant documentation highlighting the two identities was provided to the Minister, the parent was later advised by the Minister’s office that after due consideration, no offences could be established.
A complaint (together with supporting documentation) was then lodged with the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office. The Ombudsman’s office being responsible for any complaints against Government agencies.
In providing the Ombudsman’s with relevant documentation, the Ombudsman was also advised of the serious legal implications of the allowing documentation in two identities. Despite being provided with this information the Ombudsman’s response dated 8 February 2013 (Ref 2012-500647) clearly also showed a lack of legislative knowledge.
скачать документThe Commonwealth Ombudsman’s also failed to seek clarification as to how a taxation document from another country had come to be in a second identity, or whether bank account/s in two identities were being utilised to make Child Support payments. An excerpt of their reply is as follows: –
“We accept that Child Support will rely on financial information it receives from the payer, and agencies such as the ATO, in making a child support assessment. In this case, it appears Child Support accepted financial information that ………. provided using two different names. However, there is nothing on the information available to suggest that ……… did not declare his income, or that he provided Child Support financial information under one name, while hiding the income he derived under another. In my view, the fact that documents with both names were provided to Child Support by …….. suggests he did not intend to conceal this information, and it is relevant that Child Support seems to have taken account of both sets of documents. I cannot identify any evidence that there is any other financial information that should have been taken into account by Child Support – it you are aware of any, it would be open to you to tell Child Support.”
Further complaints lodged with Child Support by the parent, were treated with contempt. A letter received dated 11 February 2014 drawing the following response: –
“I am writing in relation to your recent telephone contact with the department, I refer to your request to make an appointment with the head of the department, and the matter that you raised regarding breaches of ………….
We take your concerns seriously and our letter of 26 September 2013 we advised the options available for you to escalate these matters. I would also like to take this opportunity to confirm that we no longer continue to discuss your broad allegations in the future.
If you call to discuss matters relating to ………………., fraud and legislative breaches we will again confirm that we will not discuss this matter further.”
In March 2014, in response to decades of complaints and widespread public condemnation, the Government set up the House of Representatives Standing Committee of Social Policy and Legal Affairs into the Child Support Program to ascertain whether the administration of the Child Support Agency could be better managed.
Government called for public submissions. Public hearings were held as part of the assessment with evidence tendered by members of the public to the House of Representatives Standing Committee, being recorded in Hansard. Prior to tendering evidence members of the public were reminded: –
“Please note that these meetings are formal proceedings of the parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest. It can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. The hearing is open to the public and is being broadcast live. A transcript of what is being said will be placed on the committee’s website”
House of Representatives Standing Committee of Social Policy and Legal Affairs Child support program (Public Hearing Melbourne) Thursday 21 August 2014. p.1.
Despite evidence tendered forming part of the formal Parliamentary proceedings, only a small proportion of evidence tendered was placed on the Committee’s webpage. The rationale for this remains unclear, however, as it is a requirement of Parliament that evidence recorded in Hansard is made publicly available, Government should now list all evidence presented to the House of Representatives Standing Committee of Social Policy and Legal Affairs into the Child Support Program hearings on the Government website.
In addition, Government should provide an explanation as to why the public was not made aware of the full extent and nature of complaints levelled against the Agency. Instead its Summary of Findings painting a favourable picture which failed to mentioned human rights and “Rule of Law” breaches: –
“The report contains 25 recommendations in total. The Committee found that the CSP is generally functioning as intended: evidence to the inquiry indicated that in approximately 75-80 per cent of child support cases, parents are meeting their child support obligations and have established friendly or cooperative post-separation relationships. As such, the challenge faced by this inquiry was to try and find ways to improve the system for people who are experiencing child support problems while not disrupting the areas in which the CSP is working well”
The Statement of Findings also failed to highlight a number of serious issues that had been raised for discussion during the public hearings: –
“………I believe the government is being compliant in this, because to deny loved ones the opportunity to see their children, when it is unjustified, is a form of child abuse and should be a crime. It is cruel. It is vicious…….I speak for all parents when I say that legal, moral and financial responsibilities must be met by both parents, irrespective of who has custody of the children. There needs to be accountability. There need to be consequences…..”
Source : Commonwealth of Australia – Proof Committee Hansard, House of Representative Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Child Support Program (Public) Thursday 21 August 2014. By Authority of the House of Representatives [PROOF COPY (unpublished)] p.30.
“……We cannot let this go because people are dying. I am not just talking about fathers committing suicide or mothers being bashed to death. I am sick of turning on the news and seeing these situations. What about the ones we are not hearing about? What about the children who are taking their lives? We do not ever hear about that. We do not hear about suicides…. We need to, as a society, look at this. Why is this happening?”
Source : Commonwealth of Australia – Proof Committee Hansard, House of Representative Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Child Support Program (Public) Thursday 21 August 2014. By Authority of the House of Representatives [PROOF COPY (unpublished)] p.31.
“………… identified a number of flaws within the Child Support Agency that could be addressed. Firstly, the financial analysis. Child Support staff currently lack the financial analytical expertise that is required to properly assess the financial data in relation to child support assessments, given the enormous cost to the taxpayer in relation to the appeals process based on these incorrect assessments of financial data. Currently, there are no financial analysts literally to look at the data that is coming in. It is recommended that Child Support employs a fully-qualified financial analyst whose role is to assess the financial data provided to the Child Support Agency. Secondly, training is to be provided to Child Support staff in identifying and acting upon breaches of section 24 of the anti-money-laundering legislation pertaining to the use of false-name bank accounts. Thirdly is the introduction of mandatory reporting of taxation offences to the tax office. Fourthly, that policies be implemented that apply to Child Support having due diligence in reporting matters to other government agencies in instances where legislative breaches have occurred. Fifthly, documents and correspondence received by Child Support and on forwarded to carers and/or payers be scrutinised for correctness to ensure that the documents are legally correct. In relation to health issues: in instances where Child Support officers or case managers need to make decisions in relation to medical claims relating to child-support assessments, these decisions should be evidence based and backed by those Child Support officers and case managers who hold proper medical qualifications. On the issue of accountability, the Child Support Agency should be accountable to an external authority to ensure transparency of processes and accountability to the public and to federal parliament. This is particularly important in matters where information has been provided to Child Support which has highlighted breaches of other federal legislation that, in turn has led to the financial abuse of the child; the actions of the Child Support staff have a negative flow-on effect to state governments, aware that these decisions may have an indirect impact on other international jurisdictions; and Child Support identifies what constitutes a specific time frame and works within that time frame to ensure that carers and/or payers are able to lodge objections within any given specified period……”
Source : Commonwealth of Australia – Proof Committee Hansard, House of Representative Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Child Support Program (Public) Thursday 21 August 2014. By Authority of the House of Representatives [PROOF COPY (unpublished)] p.27.
Concealment is an “indictable offence” and as such, an “open” and “transparent” investigation should be conducted to ascertain why the information provided to the Committee was concealed from public scrutiny.
As the case also highlighted numerous issues which had been raised in evidence tendered to the House of Representatives Standing Committee, the parent also lodged a complaint on 20 October 2016, (together with evidence) with the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and the Minister for Women, Senator Michaela Cash requesting meetings to discuss the issue.
Senator Cash’s office forwarded the request to Minister for Human Services, The Hon Alan Tudge. As a result of the request Child Support contacted the parent on 23 November 2016. During the phone call the parent advised the Agency’s representative of a number of offences that had come to light, including possible Immigration fraud and given documentation Child Support had provided in two identities, the possibility of multiple identity bank accounts running concurrently.
Child Support advised parent was later advised in a letter dated 9 December 2016 that “a personal meeting with the Minister was unable to be facilitated as the Department was best placed to answer your concerns…” as is evident in their reply: –
“Thank you for your correspondence to the Minister for Employment, Minister for Women and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Senator the Hon, Michaelia Cash, about support concerns and other issues. Your correspondence has been referred to the Minister for Human Services, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, for your consideration of the child support issues raised. I have been asked to respond on the Minister’s behalf. I apologise for the delay in responding.
I recognise that although you raised your concerns about the Department of Human Services (the Department’s) management of ……………. issues with the Commonwealth Ombudsman, …….. are frustrated that these issues have not been resolved ……… .
To properly respond to your correspondence, I arranged for an experienced Service Officer for the Department to investigate ………………. concerns and discuss them with you. I understand
…….. .contacted you on 23 November 2916 and discussed ……………. issues ……….. confirmed that a personal meeting with the Minister was unable to be facilitated as the Department was best placed to address your concern.”
In an email dated 17 February 2017, Child Support provided misleading information to Senator Cash in an act to conceal “Rule of Law” breaches in relation to the case stating: –
“…remains dissatisfied with the response to…concerns, however this matter has been thoroughly investigated by a number of agencies that investigate fraudulent behaviour. The outcome is that no further investigation into…claims is to be made” and ”any further correspondence submitted by………..to the Department about this matter will be read and filed but not responded to”
If evidence in this case has been suppressed and misrepresented to an elected Member of Parliament, how many similar cases have been concealed by Child Support?
The case is a reflection of decades of inaction by successive governments, who despite ongoing public outcry continue to fail to address evidence that is not only presented to Members of Parliament but also Parliamentary Committees, highlighting Child Support’s ongoing human rights abuses and their disdain for “Rule of Law” principles.
The case also raises serious concerns in the area of: –
The failure of on-boarding processes in relation to proper verification and identification procedure.
The failure of Child Support to address the use of bank accounts in multiple identities for Child Support purposes, the actions of which contravene Australia’s Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act (AML/CTFA).
Child Support’s lack of understanding in this area highlights a failure to keep abreast of legislation that requires identities to be verified especially, if documents are received in two identities, as was this case in this instance.
Prior to dismissing the case, Child Support also failed to verify whether bank accounts were held in these two identities. Their failure highlights a serious weakness to support the Government’s AML/CTFA imitative. This is concerning especially given the current global security terrain.
The issue certainly warrants further examination by Government and should be taken into consideration by the Financial Action Task Force when they next undertake an evaluation of Australia’s AML/CTFA protocols.
Despite Australia ratifying the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child in December 1980, the actions of Child Support are both deplorable and inexcusable and illustrates an ongoing failure to comprehend the importance of their role in assisting to foster an environment conducive to the welfare of the child.
In 2017, the Senate unanimously voted against the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission on the basis that Australia was “one of the least corrupt countries in the world” (Hansard No 9, 2017. 15.8.2017, p.5656). This case and thousands of similar cases highlight decades of systemic abuse, incompetence, negligence and corruption that has been allowed to fester unabated within Child Support.
The full extent of Child Support’s social and economic “harm” to victims, their children and the wider Australian community is yet to be fully realised. The intergenerational costs of Child Support’s negligent and incompetent actions may never be fully evaluated. Child Support’s failure to act in an accountable and transparent manner, instead choosing a pathway of ongoing concealment emphasises urgent need for both a United Nations Review into Human Rights abuses in Australia and the establishment of an Independent Federal Anti-Corruption Commission, with the power to both investigate and prosecute those who have misused their vested power and authority.
Finally, I dedicate this article to the countless thousands of parents and their children who have suffered at the hands of Child Support. Australia’s children deserve a better future, a future inclusive of both parents who will love, nurture, guide and support them, but above all, be available to share the amazing journey that is “life”.
The article was originally published on News247WorldPress – British News Agency