Explanatory statement – SSAT Child Support Review Directions 2009
Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988
Directions by the Executive Director of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT)
Subsection 103ZA(1) of the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 (the Act)
provides that the Executive Director may give General Directions as to the procedure to be
followed by the SSAT in connection with the review of decisions conducted under Part VIIA of
the Act. It is usual for the head of a Commonwealth Tribunal to have power to make directions
within their jurisdiction. General directions given under this subsection are a legislative
The purpose of the proposed General Directions regarding procedures in Child Support reviews
conducted by the SSAT is to provide formal directions in relation to some common issues and to
clarify the SSAT‟s powers and procedures. These General Directions are the first to be issued
under subsection 103ZA and are based on the SSAT‟s experience in child support appeals
since 1 January 2007. At present directions are made by Tribunal members on a case by case
basis in relation to some of the issues in the Instrument. The General Directions will therefore
remove the need to issue directions on some issues and will promote consistency in the
procedures adopted in these matters.
The SSAT‟s objective is prescribed in section 88 of the Act. That section states that the SSAT
must pursue the objective of providing a mechanism of review that if fair, just, economical,
informal and quick.
The intended impact of the General Directions is to provide clarity around the SSAT‟s
procedures in Child Support reviews, including the responsibilities of the parties to proceedings
at the SSAT and their representatives, limits on their conduct before, during and after
proceedings, and to provide information and direction to assist the SSAT in the effective conduct
of matters. The Directions will be uniform across the Tribunal. The Instrument will remove the
need to individually make particular directions in each case. Many of the Directions in the
Instrument replace directions or procedures already adopted on a case by case basis so the
functional impact on parties will not be significant. The Instrument will be included on the SSAT
website making the procedures transparent and allow them to be more widely known by the
parties, their representatives and members of the public.
It has to be recognised that the child support jurisdiction has particular features which require
acknowledgement; these include – a high degree of conflict between the parties; low levels of
co-operation between the parties; a reluctance to provide relevant personal and financial
information in a timely manner; confusion of other family law disputes with child support matters;
and perceptions of financial and power imbalances.
The General Directions include directions regarding:
Limits on disclosure by the parties of Child Support Agency (CSA) and SSAT documents;
Limits on disclosure of the documents or information provided in proceedings;
The limits on the use by a party‟s representative of the information or documents received
before or during proceedings;
The provision of documents to the SSAT;
Statements of financial circumstances;
The SSAT‟s use and disclosure of documents;
A requirement to take part in pre-hearing conferences when required;
Giving evidence at the hearing;
Adjournment of cases;
Requests for reinstatement of an application for review that has been dismissed;
Commencement: The Directions are to commence from the day after they are registered as a
Consultation: Consultation was not considered necessary in relation to these General Directions
because they are largely machinery in nature and will not substantially affect or alter the basic
conduct of appeals or pre-hearing conferences as established by the SSAT. Section 103ZA
specifies that the General Directions cannot be inconsistent with a provision of the Act.
Notes on sections of the General Directions:
Section 1 provides the name of the directions: the SSAT Child Support Review Directions 2009.
This section provides that the Directions commence on the day after they are registered.
Section 3 is the definition section. The following are the more salient definitions:
A definition of authorised representative is included because the directions limit the use or
disclosure of documents and information obtained during the course of proceedings to a party‟s
authorised representative. For the purpose of the directions, an authorised representative is a
person who is authorised by a party to represent them in a review and who the Tribunal accepts
as their representative, or who represents the person in CSA, AAT or court proceedings about
The definition of departure determination review is that this term means a review of a
Registrar‟s decision to make or refuse to make a determination under Part 6A of the Child
Support (Assessment) Act 1989. Part 6A of that Act deals with applications for departure from
the administrative assessment of child support. These departure determination reviews make up
the largest proportion of child support appeals dealt with by the Tribunal.
The definition of family violence order is that the term has the same meaning as in the Family
Law Act. As a result, family violence order means an order (including an interim order) made
under a prescribed law of a state or territory to protect a person from family violence. The
prescribed laws of a state or territory are the family and domestic violence laws of the states and
territories set out in schedule 8 of the Family Law Regulations 1984.
The definition of party provides that unless otherwise stated in the directions, party means a
party to a review as mentioned in subsection 101(1) of the Act, other than the Registrar. The
intention is that most of the directions will not apply to the Registrar unless expressly stated
otherwise. The parties to SSAT reviews under the Act are the Registrar, the applicant and the
other person entitled to apply for review. In practice, this generally means that the parties are the
payer of the maintenance liability, the payee, and the Registrar.
This section prescribes that the directions apply to reviews of decisions conducted by the SSAT
under part VIIA of the Act.
This section places limits on the parties‟ capacity to disclose documents provided by the
Registrar of the CSA or information contained in those documents to any person except their
authorised representative. This restriction does not apply to general information about the review
procedures such as details about the date and place of a pre-hearing conference or hearing, so
that a person can advise others, for example a person who is going to be providing evidence at
the hearing, about the hearing details. Documents provided by the Registrar often contain
sensitive personal and financial information; it is important that such information not be disclosed
to persons not directly involved in the appeal.
Section 6 limits disclosure of documents or information provided by a person (including a party)
before, during or after a pre-hearing conference or hearing. Once again this limitation does not
apply to the provision of documents or information to an authorised representative.
Examples of this restriction would include the following:
During a hearing, a party may provide evidence regarding their business income
including the names of their partners or customers. The other party cannot disclose
information about the partners or customers to any other person, other than their
Prior to the hearing, a party may provide a medical report regarding their current
partner‟s medical condition. The other party cannot disclose that report or the information
contained in it to any person other than their authorised representative.
Section 7 then provides that the authorised representative may only use the information and
documents referred to in sections 5 and 6 for the purpose of representing the person in the
SSAT review or in relation to child support proceedings with the CSA, in the AAT or a court.
Section 8 requires the person to provide all documents on which they intend to rely at the
hearing, at least 14 days before the hearing. Procedural fairness requires all parties to have a
reasonable amount of time to consider all relevant documents. Section 8 provides guidance in
this regard as information disclosed only, say, on the day of the hearing places the other parties
and the Tribunal members at a substantial disadvantage. Adherence to Section 8 should
substantially reduce this occurring and avoid delays and adjournments while documents are
copied and exchanged.
This section requires parties to provide copies of family violence orders that the person has
obtained against another person who may be a party to the review and any family violence order
to which they are subject, to the SSAT as soon as possible after lodging an application for
review of after being notified of the review.
Where a party obtains a family violence order or becomes subject to a family violence order after
the SSAT review application is made, they must also provide a copy of that order as soon as
possible. Notice of such an order allows the SSAT to make appropriate arrangements in the
conduct of hearings or conferences by, for example, enabling parties to use separate hearing
rooms or participate by telephone or video conference.
In many reviews, the SSAT is required to undertake a detailed analysis of the financial situation
of the parties. To facilitate this, the Tribunal requires parties (other than the Registrar) to
complete a “Statement of Financial Circumstances” form. Section 10 requires that the party must
complete and return the form to the Tribunal within 14 days after receiving the form.
This section provides that the Presiding Member of the SSAT has discretion to accept or not
accept documents which are provided to the SSAT less than 14 days before the hearing.
Occasionally a document might be created or only become available less than 14 days before
the hearing and the Presiding Member needs the flexibility to accept such documents if they are
relevant to an issue on appeal.
Section 12 prescribes that documents given to the SSAT will be fully disclosed to the other
parties, including the Registrar, unless the document or information is not relevant to the review.
Some parties to appeals write extremely derogatory and inflammatory material about their ex-
partners and/or their new partners. It is not the responsibility of the SSAT to edit such
documents before being seen by other parties. It is hoped that this Direction will also discourage
parties from such behaviour more generally.
This section states that for all of Division 5, “party” includes the Registrar of the CSA (except in
section 14 which deals with participation in pre-hearing conferences). Section 13 provides an
exception to the general position prescribed by the definition of “party” in section 3 (see above).
Division 5 contains sections 13 to 22 so that other than for the purposes of section 14, the
Registrar is subject to the requirements contained in each of these sections.
This section prescribes that where the SSAT decides to conduct a pre hearing conference, the
parties are to participate in that conference and the conference will be conducted by telephone.
Pre hearing conferences have a number of objectives, including settling agreed facts if possible,
and clarifying and limiting issues of substance. Participation by telephone is adequate for these
purposes and avoids the need for unnecessary personal appearances which can be costly and
time consuming for parties.
This section provides that evidence and submissions given by a party must be given under oath
or an affirmation. This direction is self-explanatory and recognises the seriousness of child
support proceedings at the SSAT.
Section 16 prescribes that the SSAT will record all hearings. A copy of that recording will not be
made available to any party.
A party is not permitted to record any part of a hearing or pre hearing conference.
Note: Although copies of the recordings are not available to any party, parties may obtain a copy
of a transcript.
This section prescribes that the SSAT can arrange an interpreter for a hearing or pre hearing
conference. Subsection 17(2) states that any request by a party for an interpreter must be
received at least 14 days before a hearing.
Subsection 17(3) provides that a person can act as an interpreter only with the approval of the
SSAT. This particular direction enables the Tribunal to refuse to accept immediate members of
the family or close personal friends from being interpreters. The Tribunal arranges appropriate
interpreters in all cases where it is necessary.
Subsection 17(4) provides that interpreters must take an oath or affirmation before providing
interpreter services at a hearing. This direction is consistent with direction 15.
This section provides that a child cannot be a witness in SSAT hearings and that the Tribunal
must be notified at least 14 days before the hearing of any witness that the party intends to have
give evidence at the hearing.
This section prescribes that children are not permitted in hearing rooms during a hearing.
Section 20 deals with requests for adjournments. Subsection (1) provides that a request for
adjournment must be made in writing, the request must be made at least 14 days before the
date set for hearing or pre hearing conference, the request must state the reasons for the
request and attach any supporting documents.
Subsection (2) provides that a request received less than 14 days before the hearing or
conference will not be granted unless there are compelling reasons. The SSAT is required by its
establishing statute to be, among other things, „economical‟ and „quick‟. The SSAT tries to avoid
adjournments if at all possible because of the added delay and expenses incurred. Also,
unfortunately, some parties seek adjournments to inconvenience the other party rather than
having a real need to adjourn.
An application for review can be dismissed under section 100A of the Act where the applicant
advises the SSAT that the application for review is discontinued or withdrawn. The application is
then taken to have been dismissed. Subsection 100A(3) then provides that a party to the review
may request that the application be reinstated but is silent on how such an application is to be
made. Section 21 of the directions provides that this request must be in writing, include the
reasons for the request for reinstatement and must be made within 28 days after the person
receives notice that the application was dismissed.
This section specifies that a party must not attempt to contact a Tribunal member and cannot
have contact with a Tribunal member other than in a hearing or pre hearing conference. After
the decision of the Tribunal has been communicated to the parties, the SSAT‟s role is complete.
This direction is designed to „educate‟ parties that once a decision has been handed down; it is
not open to parties to attempt to „renegotiate‟ the decision with the Tribunal members.