MPs back Costello plan to redirect welfare pay

Date: December 6 2005

By Misha Schubert

MORE Liberal MPs have backed Treasurer Peter Costello's call to redirect family payments from unfit parents to grandparents or legal guardians, but welfare groups have branded it "punitive morality".

As the Senate last night began debating other big changes to the nation's welfare system, Victorian Liberal backbenchers Jason Wood and Sophie Panopoulos endorsed the plan.

Mr Wood said he had seen ample evidence of parental neglect during his days as a policeman.

"I saw a lot of kids in hardship where the parents weren't looking after them and there may be a grandparent who could spend the money better on the child," he said.

Ms Panopoulos, whose seat of Indi lies in north-eastern Victoria, was also enthused. "The primary concern should be for the welfare of the children and if parents have shown themselves to be negligent and incapable, then taxpayers- money should be going to those who can adequately care for these children," she said.

But Opposition Senate leader Chris Evans said there were already provisions to redirect family payments, based on state rulings about which adult was caring for a child.

"Do we really want Centrelink determining who are good parents and bad parents?" he asked.

Welfare agencies were scathing, with Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Tony Nicholson saying battling families did not need "punitive morality".

Mr Costello stood by his call yesterday. "Family tax benefits are for the benefit of children … in those cases where the parent, for one reason or another, is not looking after the child it stands to reason that in order to help the child there ought to be alternatives," he told Parliament.

Family and Communities Minister Kay Patterson refused to answer questions on whether she would consider the idea.