A tragic decline in living standards

November 29, 2000


CANBERRA — The ACT Coroners Court was told on November 17 that it was "a tragic indictment of the system" that a Canberra man had committed suicide while holding a letter of demand from the Child Support Agency (CSA). Warren Gilbert died in August from carbon monoxide poisoning in a friend's car at the Namadgi National Park visitor's centre.

The federal government had been taking 47% of Gilbert's gross salary in tax and another 30%, through the CSA, for child support. Gilbert was left with just $150 a week to live on. Social security had also threatened to cut the welfare benefits of the mother of two of Gilbert's children until he paid child support maintenance.

The anti-feminist Lone Fathers Association used Gilbert's suicide as an excuse for a media frenzy. Association president Barry Williams, who drafted the regressive family policy for Pauline Hanson's One Nation party, claims that as many as three men a day are committing suicide because the child-support system is driving them over the edge. The claim however is based purely on their own anecdotal evidence and not on any official figures.

It is true that working class men are deeply feeling the effects of the capitalist austerity drive. But it is important not to blame women for these difficulties. Inadequate wages and taxes that are even higher with the GST, mean that many men do find child support payments difficult to make. Despite record company profits and the federal budget surplus, even men who are unemployed are obliged by the state to pay child support from their measly benefits.

In August the government proposed amendments to the child support scheme which would have resulted in non-custodial parents paying a total of $48 million less per year to custodial parents. The government falsely claims that the amendments would "improve the child support scheme in a balanced way, resulting in a fairer scheme".

The amendments were defeated in the Senate because they would have further impoverished custodial parents.

Punishing custodial parents by cutting their child support payments will not relieve the pressure on non-custodial parents who are really struggling because of low wages, miserly government benefits and high taxes.

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