Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (13:03): As Senator Fifield pointed out, the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Amendment Bill 2011 amends section 15 of the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act, allowing, amongst other things, the registrar to delegate his or her powers to persons engaged by the Commonwealth. There were some concerns expressed to me about this particular bill because it permits the outsourcing of child support payment debt collection, which is normally carried out by the Child Support Agency.
Debt collection work that is done by the CSA is very complex. They are dealing with quite complex family matters, and CSA workers provide advice about tax obligations and Centrelink entitlements, which assist parents in ensuring that their children are adequately provided for. CSA employees also have access to complex and confidential information, including court orders, which may contain activation clauses for the repayment of debt and they also mitigate debt repayments and negotiate alternatives if one parent finds themselves without an income. In other words: they play a very sensitive role. It is a highly skilled role, dealing with parents and negotiating and facilitating between parents in some cases. It is sort of like that.
There has been some concern expressed to me that private providers would not have the knowledge of Human Services and the depth of training that I know CSA provides to be able to provide this level of advice, and we believe they should not have access to sensitive information. We raised these concerns with the minister, Minister Plibersek, and I wrote her outlining some concerns. I am very pleased to say that Minister Plibersek responded; we have met with officers and got a briefing on this legislation. I put on the record that I very much appreciate that. I also acknowledge that the agency has been doing a lot of work in developing its processes, particularly around debt collection, and I understand there has been a significant improvement in the debt that has been recouped.
I would like to acknowledge the fact that the minister has written back addressing the issues I raised with her office; I thank her for that. She has indicated in the letter that outsourced providers will provide staff with limited specialised skills to be used in particular circumstances. As I said, they will be used only in very particular circumstances. I understand why, in particular circumstances, it may be advantageous to outsource that process.
The minister also outlined that outsourced debt collection will complement the Child Support Agency's existing compliance tools and will only be used when CSA staff have exhausted all avenues for collection. Importantly, she also committed to consult with staff and the CPSU on plans for implementation of the legislation, including the nature and scope of any proposed outsourced work as specified in a delegation instrument. As I said, I appreciate that very much. That reply deals adequately with the concerns we raised. I understand that the minister will be confirming these responses on record in here. I thank the government for their response. I do understand this is a sensitive issue. I think they have handled our concerns sensitively and because of that we will now be supporting this legislation.